Barbara Ewing has a respect for her in-laws that goes beyond the fact they did a great job rearing her husband, Ted.
That’s why the sight of the 8-foot-by-8-foot painted barn quilt that hangs on the barn that her father-in-law, George Ewing built and in which he died in a farming accident, still brings a tear to her eye. “This quilt is to commemorate George and Josephine and the pride they took in the farm,” Barbara says. “They were so much in love with each other, life. They raised four boys without going bankrupt during the Depression…. They just kept it going.”
The Ewing barn quilt is one of more than 60 that hang on farm buildings, wineries, garages, covered bridges and even an airplane hangar in Ohio’s Ashtabula County. Launched just two years ago by fabric quilters Kathy McCarty and Chris Angerman, the Ashtabula County Barn Quilt Trail is one of more than 30 in Ohio and part of a network of barn quilts that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
“We have a rich history of farming in this county that is vanishing before our eyes,” says McCarty. “The trail, and many of the stories behind the barns and buildings that have a barn quilt installed, help to bring their existence to light.”
The barn quilt phenomenon dates back to 2001 in Adams County, Ohio, where an Ohio Star barn quilt was raised on a greenhouse. Donna Sue Groves wanted to honor her mother’s Appalachian heritage and passion for quilting and had local artists paint and raise the barn quilt. A second, in a Snails Trail pattern, went up on the Groves’ barn shortly thereafter. Thus was born the “American Quilt Trail,” which has 21 quilts.
The phenomenon spread throughout Ohio, then jumped the river to Kentucky, which has more than 800 barn quilts, and just kept going. According to the website barnquiltinfo.com, there are more than 7,000 barn quilts in North America on organized trails.
Barn-quilt patterns, typically built from geometric shapes, are often adapted from an heirloom quilt made by a matriarch and handed down through the generations, much as the farms were. The colors often represent the family’s ethnic heritage, the farm’s selection of crops, a grandmother’s flower garden or the trademark colors of a favored tractor brand.
In the far southeast corner of Ashtabula County, Gary Tabor, in his mid-80s, still lives on the farm that he and his late wife bought back in March 1962. The barn, built in 1884 according to the slate roof, was in danger of being lost due to years of neglect, but Gary rescued it and added other buildings over the years.
One of them houses his toy museum, and it was on this structure that Gary chose to place an 8-foot-by-8-foot barn quilt he painted. The pattern, Georgetown Circle, honors his mother’s interest in quilting and his interest in farm machinery.
“Every one of the colors on the quilt are of tractors that we used here on the farm,” Gary says. “I used all tractor colors. I didn’t want any of the girlie stuff.”
Suzi Parron, author of “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement,” will be at the Ashtabula First Church of the Nazarene on May 10 to introduce her follow-up book, “Following the Barn Quilt Trail.” In this book, Parron; her friend, Glen; and their dog, Gracie, follow barn quilt trails through 30 states to collect the stories behind the brightly painted squares.
Her visit will be especially significant for Ashtabula County because a photo of the local Benson’s Bridge quilt is in the new book. Further, Parron’s visit to this church some 30 months earlier inspired local quilters to start the county’s trail.
Parron’s program is free but reservations are recommended. Call Kathy McCarty (440-812-1997) to make a reservation. More information about Parron can be found at barnquiltinfo.com.
The Ashtabula County Barn Quilt Trail is comprised of 67 quilts. Visit barnquiltsashtabulacounty.com for detailed information on all of them.
• Benson’s Bridge. Bob Benson’s grandfather helped build the Graham Road covered bridge back in 1913. When the county replaced the bridge with a modern one in 1971, Bob and his late wife donated land for a metropark with the old bridge as its centerpiece. In 2014, the Barn Quilt Steering Committee honored the Benson family with this quilt.
• Freedom Farm. Two couples from the Greater Cleveland area, Joe and Lynne Cassell and Philip and Phyllis Forrest (the women are sisters), purchased this run-down farm and are reviving it for their retirements in the heart of Ohio’s Wine Country. Their stylized American flag barn quilt, painted by Jeffrey Scribben of Artistic Woodworks, honors the concept of “Freedom Farm” on several levels.
• Giddings Law Office. Joshua R. Giddings, the fiery abolitionist congressman from Jefferson, practiced law in this simple 1823 building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. At least one plank of the 1858 Republican Party platform was written by Giddings in this building, which is sure to be a stop on the Republican National Convention tours this July.
• Crescent Farm. Former Cleveland-area residents John and Mary Ellen Svoboda purchased the old Crescent Farm as their retirement home. Located on a main route of the Underground Railroad, the 1898 barn is a charming backdrop for a barn quilt that depicts the Big Dipper, or “drinking gourd,” that guided fugitive slaves to their freedom in Canada.
• Zaebst/Marrison farm. The rectangular silo is an agricultural oddity found throughout the southern portion of Ashtabula County, once a large dairy-producing region. Built circa 1920, the wooden silo is now highlighted by a bow-tie pattern quilt selected by Evelyn Zaebst, a prolific quilter.
More to Explore
• Lorain County’s Patchwork Trails in western Ohio has nearly two dozen barn quilts from Amherst to Wellington. visitloraincounty.com
• Western New York’s Country Barn Quilt Trail dates to 2006. More than 40 barns and other buildings are on the trail. partykafarms.com
• Numerous barn quilt trails are in southern Ontario, including the East Chatham-Kent Barn Quilt Trail, Thames River Barn Quilt Trail and Norfolk and Elgin counties trails. The latter stretches along the lake from Port Burwell west to Wallacetown. barnquilttrails.ca