The Story of Appalachia’s “Quilt Barns”

Photo courtesy of Home of Suzi Parron, author of the book "Following the Barn Quilt"
Photo courtesy of Home of Suzi Parron, author of the book “Following the Barn Quilt Trail”

It’s an incredible sight — driving through dozens of miles along an unnamed country road in the heart of Appalachia when suddenly, without any warning, an old country barn appears around an unsuspecting corner.

As if the sight of an ancient tobacco barn or the glimpse of a horse stable rising against the backdrop of a picturesque mountain landscape isn’t splendid enough, a relatively new tradition is working to make this already impressive view even better.

In 2001, a woman from Adams County, a rural farming community in Southern Ohio, made a simple action that would soon grow into a modern Appalachian tradition.

In an effort to honor her mother Maxine, who was a noted quilter, Donna Sue Groves painted a square in a pattern of a quilt and hung it on the side of her family’s barn.

In the days ahead, other local farmers would follow her lead and soon Adams County, Ohio, had over 20 “barn quilts” affixed to rural farming buildings.

Calling the 20-barn collection a “clothesline of quilts”, local tourism leaders seized the opportunity to promote tourism to the farming region along the banks of the Ohio River.

In the years ahead, the “quilt barn” tradition would cross the Ohio River into Kentucky and West Virginia, and has now grown into a national phenomenon.

In the decade and a half since their inception, quilt blocks have taken on a life of their own.

Though there are now official quilt trails in over half the states in the Union, there is no national authority overseeing barn quilts or regulating design specifications.  As one website stated, “As for where your quilt block can be mounted–it’s your property and your painting!”

Typically painted onto a large square, barn quilts are now being spotted in many more places than barnyards or farms.

Individuals who do not own a large agriculturally zoned property are now affixing their own uniquely designed “quilts” onto their house, landscape and even businesses.

Born on the fringes of the Appalachian region, quilt barns have quickly become an American obsession!

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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