July 2010 Issue
Patches of History
Ohio’s Appalachian counties feature quilt barn trails that offer lessons in heritage, culture and tradition.
Reflecting on the nearly 10 years that have passed since the first quilt barn square was installed in Adams County, Donna Sue Groves pauses with quiet amazement before expressing the gratitude she feels for the way her story has unfolded. “When this started, I knew it was going to be something,” she says. “But never did I think that quilt barns would be in 27 states and British Columbia.”
The colorful quilt-square-inspired murals that decorate the sides of rural barns in Ohio’s Appalachian counties celebrate the region’s proud traditions of quilting, storytelling and farming. Since 2001, when the first quilt barn committee formed in Adams County, an estimated 2,000 murals have joined the national clothesline of quilts, which today extends from New York to Texas and even across international borders.
Groves says the original plan — conceived as a way to add color to an old tobacco barn while paying tribute to her mother’s quilting talents — was to create a driving tour of 20 barns in Adams County that would help attract tourists and economic opportunities to the area. “We chose 20 because mother said that 20 quilt squares make up an average-size bed quilt,” she says. “And I felt like the trail needed a beginning and an end.” Since that time, Groves has helped countless other communities bring quilt trails to their area. Currently, there are trails in 22 Ohio counties.
And the grande dame of this grassroots art project hopes Ohio won’t stop there. “Iowa has roadside billboards that direct visitors into Sac County, and Grundy County markets to tour buses,” she says. “In New York, there’s an [audio tour] you can call into from your cell phone and learn about each barn’s history, its owner and so on,” she says. “There are still many opportunities for what Ohio can do.” But for now, Groves is focused on planning next year’s 10th anniversary celebration of the project, when Adams County can stand in the spotlight as the place where quilt barns got their start. “This whole project … [is] about the power of quilting and the power of community,” she says.
QUILT BARN TRAVEL TIPS
The quilt barn experience is unique to each county. Some counties offer detailed maps with addresses and GPS coordinates, others do not. When in doubt, call ahead for help planning your route.
Many of the quilt barns are located on private property. Out of respect for the owners, viewing should be done from the road or from a designated viewing area.
Most quilt barns are located on rural, winding roads. Be mindful of visibility when stopping or slowing down.
Fill up with gasoline before you start out and pack water and snacks. Some tours can take more than two hours to drive, and most are in areas where convenience stores aren’t all that convenient.
The “Clothesline of Quilts,” which Groves says now stretches across state lines and U.S. borders, all began right here. “People always think I had the first one,” says Groves. “But actually, my mother didn’t get her square until 2003, two and a half years after the project started.” The first mural, the “Ohio Star,” was painted on the barn at what was formerly Lewis Mountain Herbs and Everlastings on St. Rte. 247. Maps for the “official” 20 barns are available through the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau, but as executive director Tom Cross explains, “The original quilt barn trail is still there, but I daresay we have at least 40 other quilt barns that have popped up around the county since it all began.” Cross says he hopes travelers will be inspired to take advantage of these bonus barns, even if it leads to a little unexpected adventure. “I tell them, in Adams County, getting lost is half the fun.” adamscountytravel.org
Quilt barns are just one reason to visit picturesque Brown County, the western neighbor of Adams. Located along the banks of the Ohio River, Brown County offers a driving tour that leads to 19 quilt barns, all painted by Ripley artist JoAnn May, a graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In this area you’ll also find the historic river towns Ripley and Higginsport, Underground Railroad history, four wineries and five quaint covered bridges (officials say the county was once home to more than 80 of these structures). A map of the quilt barns, which includes street numbers as well as navigational coordinates, is available online at browncountytourism.com
Highland and Ross Counties
The more than 50 quilt barns in the tri-county area of Highland, Ross and Fayette (the latter is not considered to be one of Ohio’s Appalachian counties) are an incredible example of the spirit of community upon which the project was founded. Among the murals, visitors will find examples of Underground Railroad quilt code patterns, which were believed to be used to send secret messages to slaves, aiding them in escape. These include the “Double North Star,” a variation on the North Star pattern that signaled both to prepare to escape and to follow the navigational landmark to freedom, and the “Basket” pattern, which was an indication for slaves to gather food and supplies for escape. Maps and more information are available at greenfieldhistoricalsociety.org
The Pike’s Patches quilt barn trail in Pike County is a wonderful way to experience the connection between the quilt barns and the heritage of people who live in this area today. Many of the trail’s quilt squares depict a pattern from a quilt handed down through generations of a building owner’s family. One such square — the “Dresden Plate”— was inspired by a family quilt that was pieced together from feed sacks by owner Sharon Manson’s grandmother. Printable maps and more information are available at piketravel.com
Scenic Vinton County’s “A Stitch in Time” trail winds visitors through the back roads, hills and hollers to 27 colorful works of art honoring the Appalachian quilting tradition. Though most of the murals are on private property, make a point to see one of the more creative ones on a public site — the “Pine Tree” at Weaver’s Tree Farm (24808 Creola-Hue Rd., Creola). The multi-color plaid tree is a fitting symbol of the Weaver family’s business, and just one of the attractions on-site. Weaver’s also has lambs, llamas and other friendly farm animals, as well as Lois’ Antiques, where you can shop for quality antiques, glassware and more. Even better, you can buy Lois’ homemade jams, jellies and relishes at her store. vintoncountytravel.com
On a visit to Gallia County, it’s almost un-American not to make a stop at the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande. For more than 20 years, this site was the home of one of Appalachia’s legendary entrepreneurs, making it a fitting beginning for the county’s quilt barn trail project. On-site, you’ll find two colorful murals on the side of the Quilt Barn — which doubles as a craft demonstration barn and visitors center. The 1,000-acre property also offers horseback riding, a museum and other attractions worth a visit. Afterward, meander your way along the rolling hills to the trail’s nine additional quilt barns. visitgallia.com
Athens County is celebrated for its rich arts scene and unconventional attitude. So it’s no surprise that most of the more than 20 murals that make up its “Patchwork Path” are original designs by local artists rather than historically documented patterns. Still, the quilt squares do an excellent job of recounting the past and present: “Passion Flower” is a tribute to Passion Works, a local studio that supports collaborations between artists with and without disabilities; and “Star Brick Block” on the campus of Hocking College in Nelsonville celebrates the Nelsonville Brick Company and the important economic role of the brick industry in this area. (And leave it to Athens to put its green stamp on the project — the trail is also mapped out as three separate bicycle tours, ranging between 30 and 60 miles each). athensohio.com
St. Rte. 78 curves its way through Morgan County, delivering jaw-dropping views that beg you to pull over and take them in. Along this road, you’ll also find the Artists & Orchardists of Hickory Ridge barn (five miles west of McConnelsville on St. Rte. 78), which features a traditional quilt pattern called “Card Trick” and pays tribute to local artists, crafters and farmers who sell their wares in the shops at Hickory Ridge. morgancounty.org
Scott Hagan, best known in Ohio as the “bicentennial barn painter,” has another barn party to add to his legacy. The celebrated painter is the artist behind the 20 quilt barns along Monroe County’s scenic Patchwork Jewels trail. Get a preview at the county fairgrounds in Woodsfield, where a miniature version of each mural is on display. monroecountyohio.net
Belmont County’s verdant hillsides are pretty as a picture, and in many cases, so are the colorful scenes found on its quilt barns. “Steadfast Steed,” which depicts a sturdy horse and serves as a loving tribute to the owner’s deceased daughter, is a meaningful departure from the traditional. On the trail you’ll also find the “Ohio Bicentennial Logo,” where a quilt pattern now surrounds the first official Ohio bicentennial barn painted in honor of our 200th anniversary. There is a brochure, but directions can be a challenge, so visit belmontcountytourism.org
for help planning your route.
Harrison County’s trail winds you through a slice of Americana: roads offering views of farmland and passing through small towns. Make a point to visit the replica of Ohio’s “Make a Difference Day” logo on the Bicentennial Barn at the Harrison County Home. This national day of giving back to your community provided the helping hands needed to get the county’s quilt trail in place. Maps and directions are available at harrisoncountyohio.org
Quilting and storytelling are two of Appalachia’s richest traditions, and the Pomerene Center for the Arts in the city of Coshocton has done a remarkable job of teaching visitors how each preserves the other. Before you go, visit the center’s website and listen to the oral histories surrounding the quilts that inspired the county’s seven quilt barns, told by descendants of the women who stitched them. pomerenearts.org
The Carroll County Quilt Square Park, located at 88 W. Main St. in Carrollton, was developed through a Make A Difference Day Grant in 2005. The squares were painted by volunteers with supplies purchased through grant funds. The park is a variation of the popular quilt barn project; Carroll County decided to make a patchwork quilt of items that are significant to the history and heritage of the county. There are 14 patches in the park and the composite quilt is on the side of the Virginia Restaurant at 89 W. Main Street. For more information, visit carrollcountyohio.com
Visit firstohio.com for more information on Appalachian Ohio.