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Patchwork of quilts blazes trail through the mountains

By: Veronica Burniston
Freelance Writer

Known for its green summer mountains and rich autumn leaf colors, the Appalachian region is brimming with an old-land beauty, a beauty that encompasses history and heritage as much as it does singing creeks and endless cornfields. One doesn’t have to travel far to find an old barn or mill that accents a lush valley or the slopes of surrounding mountains. Like a quilt, every color, texture, shape, and memory interlace, bringing with them a history of early pioneers, daring expeditions, and struggles for liberty. It seems only fitting that a trail has been blazed through the Appalachian Mountains, not with axes but with colors, textures, shapes, and memories–with quilts.
In 1989, when she and her mother purchased a small farm in Ohio, Donna Sue Groves undertook a painting project. Hoping to give the tobacco barn more color, she painted a quilt pattern on it. Over the years, this small, seemingly insignificant project between mother and daughter has turned into a movement that has painted the countryside across forty-five states and two Canadian provinces. With the humble beginning of a tobacco barn in Ohio, the American Quilt Trail proudly surfaces in even the most tucked away communities of the Appalachian region, including Johnson County, Tennessee.
Spanning over 300 miles, the Tennessee Quilt Trail adorns over 330 barns, mills, historic sites, and culturally significant locations with 8’ x 8’ hand-painted quilt squares. Many of these squares are replicas of old family patterns passed down through generations or designs chosen and cherished by the owners. Varying in color, design, and meaning, each quilt square not only embellishes the barn or structure to which it is attached but also encourages a blossoming curiosity for Appalachian heritage.
A growing project of the Appalachian Resource Conservation Development Council, in collaboration with numerous volunteers and local organizations, the Quilt Trail was adopted as a natural attraction, a way to draw in and introduce visitors to the beautiful rural areas of Tennessee. In addition, the year-round Trail helps preserve historic locations and supports local businesses, artists, and farms by increasing the number of visitors in the region. The Trail also provides a delightfully scenic adventure for local and visiting families, offering tours of century old farms, art galleries, museums, downtown shops, Farmer’s Markets, and more.
Unknown to some individuals, a handful of barns and other sites in Johnson County participate in the Tennessee Quilt Trail. The quilt locations vary in distance, some of the squares embellishing barns as far away as Shady Valley and Butler while others reside so close to town that locals might pass them on a regular basis without knowing. One of these quilt squares, for example, is located right in the middle of downtown Mountain City.
Perched above the Tributary Restaurant’s awning, a red rooster, painted by local artist Teri Angel, adds a flare of brilliant color to the brick buildings down West Main Street. This rustic quilt square with its warm summer hues is only one of about eight squares located within the borders of Johnson County.
Not far outside Mountain City, Shoun Barn with its “Double Wedding Ring” quilt waits just off Highway 67 South. Then there are the two quilts that reside in Butler: the “Mariner’s Compass” is located at the Butler Museum while the “Iris” sits patiently beside Dry Hill Road at the Mountain View Nursery & Landscaping LLC.
Located in Trade, the Pa and Granny May Farm, purchased by Boone and Grace May in 1941, hosts the “Lemoyne Star,” a design copied from a quilt made by Grace May that her daughter, Audrey May Younce, the current owner (along with her husband) of Pa and Granny May Farm, “proudly owns.”
Just down Roan Creek, the Wagner-Worley Farm holds the “Corner Star.” Founded before 1796, the Wagner-Worley Farm has been owned and operated by the same family for over a century. The quilt pattern mounted on the tobacco barn is modeled after a quilt that had been passed down through the Wagner family.
The Howard Farm, situated on Drystone Branch Road, is a multi-generational farm that raises llamas, cattle, sheep, horses, and longhorn. The 250 acre farm was bought by the Howard family in the mid-1950s. It often hosts school field trips to teach children about farm life, and it displays the “Tulip” mural, which was painted by a Johnson County High School art class and based on a “family-owned” quilt made specially by a neighbor who is a local quilter.
Lastly, hidden within the green beauty of Shady Valley, the Kiley Barn exhibits the “Tennessee Tulip,” which was painted by local artist Rick Bellamy. Toting the title of the oldest barn in Shady Valley, the Kiley Farm raises “U” pick fruits, vegetables, and flowers in season. The 150 year old barn is open to the public May through October on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
For more information on the Tennessee Quilt Trail, visit the websites: and, or locate the nearest Tennessee Welcome Centers for a free “Follow the Quilt Trail” pamphlet.