Tiny stitches that connect patchwork quilt squares share a common thread with old barns that dot Alabama’s rural countryside — both are rich in history.
A new art project of giant proportions combines quilts and barns to create a new tourist attraction for Lauderdale County. Organizers say it’s the start of the Alabama Barn Quilt Trail.
“I’ve seen this project in other areas of the country and loved looking at the different quilt patterns and old barns,” said Regina Painter, a traveling nurse from Killen who initiated the quilt trail efforts in her home county. “This project brought together different members of the community, and we hope it spreads to other areas of the state.”
Painter’s supporters include the Lauderdale County Farmers Federation and its president Joe Dickerson. A farmer and county native, Dickerson said he was excited to see the focus on agritourism, rural living and preserving history.
“It’s great to have something that’s a drive-by tourist attraction and gets folks out into the countryside,” said Dickerson. “These old barns have a lot of history and meaning to the families who own them and to the communities they are in.”
Three farm families with historic barns in the county agreed to participate by selecting a quilt pattern with a special meaning to them. One family was Lauderdale County Farmers Federation Board Member Charlie Thompson and his wife Cynthia. Charlie said the barn on their farm was built around 1920 by Cynthia’s great-grandfather, Tom Mitchell. The quilt pattern on their barn features a camellia, Alabama’s state flower, and a Yellowhammer, the state bird.
“Since the quilt piece went up on the barn, we have had so many people ride by here, it’s been unbelievable,” Charlie said. “I think this is a good idea. Any time we get people traveling to the country, it helps them reconnect to agriculture and our state’s roots.”
Similar projects, like the Gee’s Bend Quilt Mural Trail in Wilcox County, are popular tourist attractions in southwest Alabama.
Painter said reports indicate there are over 7,000 organized quilt trails across the U.S. The local project would have been impossible, she said, without help from the Northwest Alabama Resource, Conservation and Development Council (RC&D), which provided a grant to jumpstart the project, and the Lauderdale County Farmers Federation, which helped her apply for the grant.
Charlie Meeks, executive director of the Northwest Alabama RC&D Council, said his organization provided $1,500 to help with materials needed for the project. Naomi Skye, a University of North Alabama graduate art student, and other art students at the school, painted the quilt patterns on 4-by-8-foot wooden sheets. The wood was pieced together by students from Allen Thornton Career Technical Center, framed and hung on the barns.
“None of this would have been possible without these groups getting involved,” Painter said. “It’s really neat to bring together so many resources to make this happen.”
The three barn quilts in Lauderdale County are at Balch Farm on Lauderdale County Road 431 in Killen, Thompson’s Farm on Lauderdale County Road 48 in Lexington and the Wade Farm in the Greenhill Community on Lauderdale County Road 25.
Painter said she expects the tour stops to increase, based on interest the barns have generated.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from people wanting to be a part of this, which is great,” she said. We want to be able to showcase the heritage and the farms of the region.”
For more information, visit Alabama Barn Quilts on FaceBook or contact Painter at Regicrna@aol.com.