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Rural Route

A colorful history of the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail
Dora's Star PatternDora's Star Pattern
Dora's Star Pattern

From hieroglyphics to today’s modern sculpture, the most interesting and beautiful art is the art that tells a story. In Daviess County, Ky., a leisurely drive through the country can rival a trip to The Guggenheim with stories told by each pattern, block, and color of the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail.

American barn quilts are believed to have originated more than 300 years ago with the arrival of immigrants from Europe. These painted wooden fixtures adorned on the sides and fronts of barns nationwide likely began in rural areas of the East Coast, particularly Pennsylvania. The quilts became an address of sorts, a way for travelers to find particular families, as it was easy for barn owners to tell visitors which pattern to look for. 

The art form evolved and peaked at the beginning of the 20th century. The idea became very popular with advertisers for products like tobacco, using barns alongside roads as a pseudo-billboard. However, barn quilting is returning to its more artistic roots, focusing on family histories and individuals more than just a marketing tool.

The 458-square-mile plot of Kentucky known as Daviess County has a population of just fewer than 100,000 residents. Between a popular museum, botanical garden, and other tourist attractions, the county received around $259 million for tourism purposes in 2011. A new attraction, the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail — established in 2010 by a local homemakers group — is becoming a promising new destination for people looking to experience the county’s rural side.

“A few of us ladies who comprise the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail committee made our first barn quilt in 2009,” says Edna McCrady, co-chair of the committee. “We now have around 125 contracts with people looking to us to make barn quilts for them.”

McCrady and the other county residents, who were passionate about the idea, began painting barn quilts upon request from individuals in a room in one of the county’s volunteer fire stations. Each quilt takes a month or two to complete, as only one color at a time can be applied.

“The quilts are made of either plywood or a lightweight aluminum board,” McCrady says. “Only one color can be painted at a time, because you tape the pattern, just like you would tape off a room you were painting.”

Demand grew, and McCrady and other members, including co-chair Jackie Snow, decided to make a trail for visitors looking to see all the barn quilts that have been created. To date, the tour includes close to 100 barn quilts, and can be divided into East and West Daviess County. The group charges around $300 for an 8-by-8 quilt, which can be custom painted for each client. And while the quilts are a great form of decoration, they often mean much more.

“Some people have quilt patterns that have been passed on for generations,” says McCrady. “Some have loved ones who have died of either cancer or multiple sclerosis and have had quilts done in the color of the ribbon supporting that disease.”

The tour has drawn visitors from all over the country, some interested in how they can start a barn quilt trail in their own town.

“We are promoting agritourism,” says McCrady. “But more than that, it is just something great to do on a Sunday afternoon drive.”

The tours are offered year round, though they are most popular in the fall months. A tour brochure comes complete with GPS coordinates so you can find your way along the trail. Whether you are looking to support local agribusiness or just want to get lost in the rich and colorful history of the countryside, the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail is worth the drive.

For more information on the Daviess County Barn Quilt Trail, visit www.daviesscobarnquilts.com.

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