Sometimes notoriety comes at a price and The Sign Barn in Pickens County is a wonderful example. Mr. Madden, the owner, admitted that he never intended for his fascination with antiquities to spark so much public interest. Yet, within a few years, the internet has transformed one man’s personal hobby into a popular tourist destination.
Some changes have even had to be made due to the barn’s sudden fame and while this might be daunting to some, it hasn’t managed to keep Mr. Madden from continuing to enjoy his hobby. In fact, people show up from all around to see and photograph his barn. The most prominent interest being from college students and groups looking to get pictures in front of the barn, “Clemson comes by twice a year….Furman does photography classes here too. People come to take wedding pictures, graduation pictures, and all kinds of family pictures in front of my barn.”
When I asked Mr. Madden why he began the project he told me, “I like signs. Somebody gave me one and I just nailed it up….At first, I thought it was kinda tacky.” It turned out that the owner is actually a fan of a variety of antiques and not just old-timey signs. He has collected old farming equipment and even built a cabin from the remains of a local mill after it was demolished.
While he may have never intended for the barn to become a roadside attraction, he did have a number of interesting stories to share about the consequences of its sudden popularity. I can’t even begin to include all of the hilarious stories that were disclosed. I will say that I did enjoy hearing about all the unique visitors that have managed to find The Sign Barn. I will give you a few examples though. If you look at the photographs closely you’ll notice that in front of the barn is a set of outdated gas pumps. After the barn became locally renowned the lights began to attract an unexpected guest and ultimately had to be removed, “I made those pumps to light up. They used to light up but some drunk would come by trying to get gas at three in the morning.”
This, however, is not the only example of how new found acclaim has had unintended consequences. Wayne has on more than one occasion come home to find people inside his barn wandering around or groups walking on his land, “One time the yard was full of girls. I parked the truck. Girls sitting on the porch. They were girls in the front yard. Girls down at the creek. I just went inside and made myself a glass of my Ought-to-be Famous Sweet Tea™. I came back out to find out what they were doing and the girl said, ‘it is real pretty here. This is a public place ain’t it?’ It turned out they thought they were at Hagood Mill.”
As you can tell, The Sign Barn turned out to be one of my favorite destinations so far. While the Barn and its array of classic advertisements were fun to see and photograph, the real pleasure was getting to meet the owner. If you decide to visit make sure to be respectful and be ready for many wonderful stories.