Clark Byers was born in Flat Rock, AL on January 25, 1915. He went to school at the Overlook School outside of Flat Rock in the Bethlehem Community. His first grade teacher, Mrs. Opal Hogue, drove a horse-drawn buggy to school.
Clark left Flat Rock at the age of eight and moved to Ringgold, GA where his family started a dairy farm. They raised fodder crops to feed their cattle. Mr. Byers told of how they would haul the fodder at night so the dew would keep it moist. This was used in place of hay. The first winter they started out with three cows.
Years later, Clark moved to North Carolina with his father and worked in a mill where his dad was an overseer. At the age of fifteen or sixteen, Mr. Byers hitchhiked back to Chattanooga to live with his mother. He told that while hitchhiking, he got stuck in the mountains late one night, fearful of bears and wondering if he’d have to spend the night stranded there. Finally, a truck came through and the driver offered Clark a ride for the Elgin watch he was wearing. The driver took him within two or three blocks of his home in Chattanooga, TN.
Later, Mr. Byers received a sign-painting job with Southern Ad Company in Chattanooga. He was later introduced by the owner, Mr. Maxwell, to Mr. Garnet Carter, owner of Rock City. Then for thirty-four years, Mr. Byers painted signs atop barns across the country, going into nineteen states. He did this without using a pattern and the designs were left totally up to him. The paint he used to paint the signs consisted of black soot powder purchased in one pound boxes and then mixed with linseed oil. The mixing process usually required up to one hour and the mixture had to set overnight before use.
He told of an experience on a painting trip on Highway 64 around Monteagle, TN where he and his helper, Mr. Winston Gonia were painting a barn on a cold winter morning. The temperature was so cold, their hands began to freeze. Down the highway, there was a cabin owned by a black family. The family generously took the men into their home until they were rested and warm enough to finish the sign. Mr. Byers continued to paint signs until entering the Armed Forces. At his discharge in 1945, after one year and fifteen days, his rank was Buck Sergeant.
After leaving the Army, Mr. Byers contacted Garnet Carter and began painting barns again for Rock City. In his latter years of painting his farthest destination was Lansing, Michigan.
Having become interested in tourism through his trade, Mr. Byers and friend Alva Hammond decided to open their own tourist attraction. They knew of the Ellis Cave, located on some property, north of Hammondville, AL, owned by Mr. John Humble. After leasing the property from Mr. Humble, Mr. Byers and Mr. Hammond proceeded to construct and design the cavern for commercialization. After long hours and months of hard work carving out trails and installing electricity, Sequoyah Caverns was opened to the public on April 1, 1964. Mr. Byers and Mr. Hammond managed the attraction the first year and then Mr. Byers continued alone for the next six to eight years before selling the attraction. He continued to occasionally paint signs for Rock City.
Finally, after retiring, Clark Byers went into farming, raising beef cattle on his farm in the Rising Fawn community. He lives there now with his wife Frances Chadwick Byers. Clark had three sons, Fred, Jim and Richard and two daughters, Emma Dean and Nancy.
Written by Pam Byers Brodie