Explore Backroad Treasures on Tennessee Quilt Trails
Following the trail of old barns and colorful quilts across the hills of Tennessee will take you deep into the heart and soul of this state’s heritage. The stories rooted in childhood memories may be connected with a grandmother’s favorite quilt or a barn on the family farm. Back to the days when folks took time to sit and listen, or worked side by side making a living off the land.
The Tennessee Quilt Trail takes you on this journey, following the highways and byways across the countryside through small rural communities. The ‘signposts’ are painted quilt squares fashioned on boards and mounted on barns or historic buildings, dedicated to all those stories and to the Ohio woman who unwittingly began what is now a national grassroots movement.
Wishing to honor her mother’s Appalachian heritage by hanging a painted quilt on her barn in Adams County, Ohio, in 2001, Donna Sue Groves’ dream took flight. It soon transformed into a sampler of twenty quilt squares mounted along a driving trail to encourage visitors to explore the local community.
In response to quilters from neighboring communities, Groves began working with organizations in surrounding states to develop new quilt trails. This simple idea has spread to 45 states and Canada, with over 6,000 quilts on organized trails.
Snaking through a growing number of regions across the state, Tennessee Quilt Trails will lead you on a discovery of backroad treasures. The Appalachian Quilt Trail segment alone boasts more than 130 quilt barns that stretch across 300 miles, linking historic sites, wineries, galleries and small businesses. There are trails in the Smokies, trails in the Upper Cumberland, trails in the Mid-South, Celtic trails, and Civil War trails, all showcasing quilt patterns that tell a story.
The quilt trails are bringing more than renewed economic development to rural communities. School kids, civic groups, arts councils and local businesses have become involved, donating their time and talents to building and painting the panels. Barns and historic buildings are being restored and painted, families have started to record their histories, and community pride has soared.
One of the most recent additions to the Tennessee Quilt Trail is the town of Goodlettsville, hosting the first Quilt Trail in metro Nashville’s Davidson County. Displayed on an old barn and several buildings in the Main Street Historic Antique District, the colorful quilt squares were painted by volunteers under the leadership of Beautification & Improvement of Goodlettsville chairman, Mary Jane Peace.
The designs were selected from traditional quilt patterns and co-sponsored by local businesses and residents. If you stop by Tommy Cunningham’s Grand Ole RV & Resort you can admire two quilt panels. One of them marries the widely-recognized design of Sunbonnet Sue from the late 1800’s with Nashville’s musical heritage.
On the wall of Haynes, Freeman & Bracey Law Firm, the Barrister’s Block quilt pattern was also known as Lawyer’s Puzzle and was used in Colonial times. Quilter’s Attic, a mecca for quilting supplies and certified instruction, sponsored the Wedding Star quilt, a popular design during the Depression with girls who would start the quilt from scraps when they got engaged and complete it after their wedding.
Any communities that would like to become a part of the Tennessee Quilt Trail or sponsor a quilt panel can contact the Southern Middle Tennessee Resource Conservation & Development Council. Be sure to ask about their Grant Program.
Quilt trails are fun to explore and a wonderful connection with our past. They can lead you to local attractions and sights such as art galleries, wineries, farm stands and historic points of interest along Tennessee’s byways. Keep the map on www.tnquilttrails.com at your fingertips or pick up a Tennessee Quilt Trail brochure from one of the state’s Welcome Centers or tourist information racks.
Do you have a favorite quilt story to share?