Driving into the countryside surrounding Washington, it is easy to see this is a community and county that values its agricultural roots.
One particularly unique feature that helps highlight those roots is the barn quilt tour of Washington County.
A joint project between Iowa State University Extension of Washington County and the Washington Chamber of Commerce, the tour features more than 110 barn quilts.
The project started in 2007 with support from local community members. Professional painters, carpenters, grant writers, quilters, historians, writers, photographers, and computer technicians all served on an advisory committee, said Nancy Adrian, director of the Iowa State University Extension in Washington County.
“There were many decisions that needed to be made, but finally we ended up with several requirements, including that the barns on which the quilts would be placed needed to be on paved road,” she said. “We created four tour loops, each starting in Washington and ending in Washington, making a kind of clover pattern, which is particularly unique in the barn quilt world. And we choose the Pumpkin Seed quilt pattern as our official project symbol to represent the four driving trails in the county.”
The group created the Amish Loop in 2007, the Liberty Loop in 2008, the Nature Loop in 2009 and the Agriculture Loop in 2010. More quilts have been added since then.
“We aren’t creating any new loops but individuals continue to add barn quilts to their outbuildings every now and then,” said Adrian.
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A map of the tour loops, barn quilt locations and more information can be found at barnquiltsiowa.com.
They selected display barns that were at least 50 years old, Adrian said.
“The number of old barns declines each year,” she said. “We hope the Barn Quilt project will bring attention to the unique architecture and history of barns, pay tribute to their craftsmanship and heritage and encourage preservation of these barns.”
She said the project also highlights traditional folk arts.
“We want to promote quilting as a form of public art and showcase the symbolism and heritage of the patterns on quilts that have provided warmth and comfort for generations,” she said.
Adrian said fall is a particularly lovely time to drive around the county to view the barn quilts.
“The Nature Loop is in the southwest section of Washington County draws people near Lake Darling State Park ... It is a beautiful place to visit in the fall.”