Quilted Community: Highland County’s Barn Quilts

Written By: Rebecca Landrum

Highland County, Virginia, barn quilt, tour, trail, attraction, attractions, Loveworks, Virginia Tourism Corporation, history, heritage

One of the over 50 Barn Quilt Patterns featured on the Highland County Barn Quilt Trail. (Photo Credit: David Cockerham Photography)

Looking for a reason to road-trip through Highland County’s beautiful countryside?  We suggest Highland County’s Barn Quilt Tour

The trail, which the Highland County Chamber of Commerce updated in 2020, features over 50 locally-made, hand-painted barn quilts with varying colors and styles and include patterns such as “Colaw Apple,” “Tree of Paradise,” “Love in a Mist,” “Five Reds,” and “Spirit Soars.”

The Highland County Barn Quilt Trail weaves through valleys, between mountains, and past expansive, pastoral settings. So, in addition to picking out the quilts along your drive, you’ll experience some of the most beautiful landscapes in Virginia. (Bring your camera!)

Brief History

Barn quilts are large, painted squares resembling actual quilt patterns. Each unique design consists of triangles, squares, and diamonds painted in assorted colors. When finished, quilts are displayed on barns or houses.

This tradition came to America mainly through European immigrants from Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, and it dates back to Colonial America when Pennsylvania settlers began painting these quilts to decorate their barns and symbolize their family heritage.

When paint became less expensive around the 1830s and 1840s, more barn quilts and artisans began to emerge.

Quilt Patterns & The Underground Railroad

There is a debate among historians and quilters as to whether Underground Railroad supporters used quilt patterns to signal runaway slaves. Many believe quilt patterns helped provide guidance to runaway slaves traveling North to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The patterns of each quilt supposedly hid codes to those traveling. 

Highland County, Virginia, barn quilt, tour, trail, attraction, attractions, Loveworks, Virginia Tourism Corporation, history, heritage

A massive “Bear’s Paw” quilt. This pattern is featured on Stops 27, 31, and 51 on the Highland County Barn Quilt Trail. (Photo Credit: Margie Boesch)

Some believe one pattern known as the “Bear’s Paw” signaled slaves to travel through the woods to gather food and supplies for their continued journey. An example of a “bear’s paw” can be seen at stop 27, 31, and 51 on the Highland County Barn Quilt Tour. (Click here to view the digital brochure.)

Additionally, some believe a message was hidden in the background of the “log cabin” pattern, which can be seen at stop 42 on our Barn Quilt Tour. If the background was black, the landowner agreed to hide any travelers. Any other background color meant for them to keep moving.  

These are only a few examples of how barn quilts may have played a part in the Underground Railroad.

The First Barn Quilt Trail

Moving through history roughly 170 years to 2001, Donna Sue Groves was the first woman to encourage a Barn Quilt Tour. A quilt she created for her mother was displayed on a tobacco barn in Ohio. Groves’ community liked the idea of representing their farms and businesses in such a colorful, artistic way, so others began displaying quilts. Now, there are tours all over midwestern states like Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota as well as eastern states like New York and, now, Virginia. 

Highland County – Virginia’s First Barn Quilt Trail

Highland County, Virginia, barn quilt, tour, trail, attraction, attractions, Loveworks, Virginia Tourism Corporation, history, heritage

Highland County’s barn-quilt-themed LOVEworks is the 50th in the series created by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. (Photo Credit: Dorothy Stephenson)

In 2011 with 13 barn quilts in its brochure, Highland County established Virginia’s first Barn Quilt Tour. The 2020 updated brochure has over 50 barn quilts for travelers to explore while traversing country roads with the radio tuned and eyes open for local art. Additionally, one of those stops includes Highland County’s Barn-Quilt-themed LOVEWorks project, which happens to be Virginia’s 50th LOVEworks project.

In the Spring and Summer, the colors of the quilts pop on a backdrop of green. When landscape colors change in the Fall, the quilts shine out in a completely different way making any time of year an ideal time to explore the trail.

Hands & Harvest Festival

Speaking of Fall, the Hands and Harvest Festival, hosted in mid-October by the Highland Chamber of Commerce, is a perfect time to visit whether you’re looking for a day trip, a romantic weekend getaway, or a family vacation. The trees have begun to change, and the mountains will be painted with vibrant orange, yellows, and reds. (Those colors can start developing around the last part of September to create an approximate two-week, leaf season.)

Along with the Barn Quilt Tour, the 2020 Hands & Harvest Festival will feature virtual vendors (for proper social distancing), on-site vendors (with proper COVID-19 practices in place), sugar camp tours, and a Harvest Trail to teach visitors about our agricultural community. 

You can set up reservations for a weekend getaway at many lodging facilities in the area. Among those options is Blue Grass Cabin, which offers a quiet and peaceful vacation in the Blue Grass Valley. Learn more about the cabin in our post Find Peace in the Blue Grass Valley

Enjoy the tour through history and beauty!



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