Athens-Limestone Alabama is home to the growing tradition of Barn Quilts. Originally found in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, the popularity has surged with small farms and homesteads seeking to add a touch of history and nostalgia to their barns, sheds and homes.
A grand reawakened tradition of rural life across America is the adorning of local barns with quilts. Sometimes the colors have meaning, sometimes it’s the pattern, but one outstanding aspect is the pride each family places in displaying these uniquely crafted treasure.
Originally, it’s believed barn quilts came to Colonial America with the settling of the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers from the Rhine region of Germany. They brought with them their brightly colored quilt patterns from their homeland as they fled to Colonial America in search of religious freedom. During their free time, the Pennsylvania Dutch Settlers would paint on the small ends of the barns to display their pride and heritage as well as to attract good luck and blessing to the farm. The quilt patterns from their homeland and families in the shapes of the Compass Rose, stylized stars or birds from their folk art traditions.
The modern rendition of the barn quilt is attributed to Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to honor her mother’s memory by hanging a colorfully painted quilt square on her barn. As things usually happen, one quilt square begot another, and a community project featuring twenty quilts were displayed along a driving trail to encourage visitors to travel through the countryside. This renewed interest in this Colonial-era treasure and art form led to the revived tradition of farmers, urbanites, and suburbanites decking their barns, sheds, and even their homes with a barn quilt square. The growing collection of barn quilt squares throughout communities lead to trails being developed all over the United States, including New Jersey, New York, Iowa, Minnesota and Alabama – drawing visitors through the countryside like Grove’s original trail.
The modern barn quilts are usually created on 8-by-8-ft. sections of plywood and painted with intricate patterns or traditional quilt patterns like Bear Claw, Ohio Star, Log Cabin Blocks, or Wedding Ring. Some barn quilt squares incorporate monograms or logos of the family farm operation -- like sheep, cows, bulls, or horses. You may find smaller sized barn quilt squares decking sheds, front doors, fence rows, and even mailboxes as the popularity grows.
A recent addition to Athens-Limestone County Tourism’s collection of trails, tracks, and treks for exploring is centered around Limestone County’s barn quilts in trail format. The circular trek kicks off with the beautifully crafted design at Isom’s Orchard and winds through the rolling countryside visiting four other family-owned farms and their bedecked barns, as well as small communities with roots deep in agriculture. If you’d like to explore the Athens-Limestone County Barn Quilt Driving Trail, a brochure featuring a map and addresses is available at the Athens-Limestone Visitors Center at 100 North Beaty Street in Athens. For more information on other trails and outdoor options, please call 256-232-5411 or visit VisitAthensAL.com and look under our new and growing section, “Plan Your Visit.” By: Cayce Lee Social Media Specialist, Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association