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A Clothesline of Quilt Barns

Submitted: August 3, 2009 by Linda M. Erbele

Have you ever seen a barn with a brightly colored geometric square painted on the side? You may have seen one of the fastest growing roadside attractions in the United States - the National Quilt Trail.

In 2001, Donna Sue Grove met with a group of friends who wanted to help her honor a promise to her mother to paint a quilt square on the barn at the old farm they had moved to in Adams County, Ohio (just east of Cincinnati.) The idea of a "clothesline" of quilt barns across the countryside germinated there and it has grown exponentially ever since.

According to Suzi Parron, co-author along with Donna Sue Grove of the forthcoming Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail, (Ohio University Press, 2011) the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Iowa each have over 250 barns. The squares are not randomly chosen, but rather often represent a pattern that is important to a woman in the family. The idea of honoring family members in this way pulls sentiment from a lot of people - barn quilting has an organization, and there are websites, blogs and forums dedicated to the idea.

Organizers of Quilt Trails haven't missed the tourism potential - quilt stores advertise on the trail websites, geo-caches include quilt square coins and in November there's a road rally in Western North Carolina to find the 15 quilt blocks by driving the fewest miles.

Most Quilt Barns are not seen from the interstate. If you're driving in northeast Tennessee, there is a large concentration of barns between Knoxville and Kingsport on 11 West and then from Kingsport to Johnson City off Interstate 26. Download the Appalachian Quilt Trail Guide for a map. They are not limited to rural roads - downtown Rogersville, Tennessee has five along N. Depot and N. Church streets, painted on the side of the courthouse annex, an art gallery, antique store and a museum.

On your next trip through the countryside, check the web to see if a little bit of Americana is just a side road away! (Photos courtesy Suzi Parron.)