Donna Sue Groves may seem an unlikely leader of a tourism phenomenon.
June 2011 Issue
Adams County's Quilt Barn Trail celebrates 10 years.
She’s not a public official, nor is she directly involved in any tourism agency. But in 2001, the resident of Manchester in Adams County conceived the idea of painting quilt squares on barns, and today, there are quilt barns in 30 states and two Canadian provinces — with more than 3,500 known squares — and 100 driving trails for visitors to view them.
Groves’ idea began as one painted square on a tobacco barn in southwest Ohio 10 years ago. As a child, she grew up taking weekend trips from Xenia to her family’s original hometown of Roane County, West Virginia. The long rides made her carsick, so her mother kept her entertained by counting barns. Each barn was worth a certain number of points, and the game stayed with Groves, as did the fact that her mother, grandmother and aunts were quilters.
“I was imprinted early with quilts and barns,” she says.
In 1989, Groves and her mother purchased a 30-acre farm in Adams County because it had a rural feel similar to West Virginia. The property had an unadorned tobacco barn on it, so Groves told her mother that she’d paint a quilt square and hang it in her honor. But the project took 12 years to complete.
In that time, Groves was working for the Ohio Arts Council, traveling throughout the state. Not only did she notice other public art projects, like the Portsmouth floodwalls, but she began to appreciate the value of such displays as well.
“We don’t have flood walls in Manchester or buildings to paint anything on,” she thought at the time. “Why not [develop] a driving trail using barn quilt squares?”
And so began her art venture. Although Groves never expected the quilt barn trails to spread so far, she calls it a “joyous project” that has brought people together from all different backgrounds.
“Neighbors are meeting neighbors,” she says. “And then, all across the nation, we’re finding that we’re not so different from one another.”
For Groves, aside from spurring local tourism, these connections have been the best part of the quilt barn projects.
“The most rewarding thing is the network and the friendships that I’ve developed with people all over the United States,” she says through tears, as she explains that many of the people she’s met supported her through breast and now kidney cancer. “All of the money in the world could not have given me the hope that I was given by being elevated and lifted up by those many, many people.”