The Childress Brothers Farm is one of several sites in Sullivan County that are part of the Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail. Photo by David Grace.
Just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Quilt Trail, Cleek Farms has been added as the 110th site in the region. The Quilt Trail, a program of the Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council, combines the artistry of the traditional quilts with backdrops of historic barns.
The Charles and Margaret Cleek Family Farm, which dates to the late 1700s and sits on a portion of 3,000 acres of wilderness granted to Edmund Pendleton, is now operated primarily by their youngest daughter Kay and husband Zane Vanover.
“Five generations of family have lived and worked on the farm. We raise beef, corn, tobacco, hay and a dairy herd,” Vanover said. “This is the third year for our corn maze.”
Artist Jill Parsons painted the quilt square from a “churn dash” pattern created by Kay Vanover’s grandmother, Florence Cleek.
The Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail was patterned after the very first quilt trail, created in Ohio in 2001 by Donna Sue Groves, who wished to honor her mother, Maxine, and her Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt hung on her barn in Adams County, Ohio.
“We saw a quilt square from southeast Ohio. We thought that might be nice. We might do a few. We got a grant and got into the quilt trail business,” said Roy Settle, founder of the Quilt Trail in Northeast Tennessee and a former coordinator of the Appalachian RC&D Council. “We were already working with farmers who were looking at ways to hold on to that heritage. The Quilt Trail offered recognition, and it helped bring economic incentives to the farm and bring people to the farm. We didn’t have any idea it would become as popular as it has.”
As the Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail gained popularity, Settle began taking persistent calls from a group of quilters from Asheville, N.C., wanting a formal tour of the quilt trail. Problem was, a formal tour hadn’t been organized.
Settle recalls that conversation: “She said, ‘We’re gonna come and if you don’t show us around, we’re not gonna have a good time and it’s gonna be your fault.’
“We got into the motorcoach business and doing tours. That led to visitors getting directly on farms, and they traded their dollars for homemade vegetables, flowers.”
Quilt trails are available in more than 40 U.S. states now.
Linda Crouch-McCreadie, co-owner of Tennessee Quilts in Jonesborough and Crouch Farm in Johnson City — which features a Rose of Sharon quilt square — calls quilt trails “an education process, a commercial process and a heritage preservation process.”
“It’s amazing to me how many people come through our [Tennessee Quilts] door [with quilts]. ... They’re not quilters. They say someone has died. They do not understand the treasures they have in their hands,” Crouch-McCreadie said. “Quilting is a multi-billion dollar industry. ”
The Quilt Trail is present in Greene, Washington, Unicoi, Carter, Sullivan and Johnson counties in Northeast Tennessee . Sites in Sullivan County include the Kingsport Farmer’s Market, Exchange Place Living History Farm, Yancey’s Tavern, the Childress Brothers Farm, Massengill Barn, and Allandale Barn & Mansion.
The Quilt Trail can be navigated using GPS, and a Quilt Trail app is now available as another way to connect mobiles users with local farms.
• There are several considerations for prospective new Quilt Trail sites:
• Can the site be seen from the road?
• Is there a safe place to park and view the Quilt Square?
• Is it a true barn, rural setting or location that sells and agriculture or local product, with service or ties to cultural or historical sites?
• Is it near other quilt squares or can it join one site to another?
• Are the barn and surrounding area appropriately maintained for its current use?
• Are the activities on the farm and community in harmony with the goals and theme of the Quilt Trail?
The Appalachian RC&D Council recently lost its longstanding federal funding. In order to continue the Quilt Trail and related cultural and agricultural programs, it is holding the Farm to Table Dinner and Quilt Trail Open House on Oct. 11-12.
The Farm to Table benefit will be held at 5 p.m., Oct. 11, on the grounds of the historic Embree House and Farm near Jonesborough. The evening will feature local farm fare and wine from Northeast Tennessee, prepared by the gourmet chefs of Tributary Restaurant. There will also be tours of the Embree House and live music. Donna Sue Groves, the Ohio resident who started the first quilt trail, will be the guest speaker. Tickets are a suggested donation of $75.
On Oct. 12, sites along the Quilt Trail will participate in a special regional heritage festival open house. Visitors to the various farms can take advantage of special discounts, refreshments, demonstrations, antique quilts and seasonal local goods. A day pass for the event is a suggested donation of $10. The day pass includes a commemorative 10th Anniversary Passport.
For reservations to the benefit dinner, tickets to the open house, or more information about the Quilt Trail, visit www.quilttrail.org? , or call 979-2581.