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The Barns of Madison County


One of the barns along the Quilt Trail of the Upper Cumberland region.
By Nancy Brannon

Just as tours of antebellum mansions are a spring tradition, tours of historically significant barns are popular in the fall. On September 13, 2014 the barns of Madison County, NC were showcased on a narrated tour, followed by a barbeque dinner, country auction, and performance by world championship Bailey Mountain Cloggers of Mars Hill University.

The fund-raising event was sponsored by the Appalachian Barn Alliance, celebrating local history and culture. Alliance member Taylor Barnhill (no pun intended) has been researching and compiling information on historic barns. “Their history dates to the first settlers in these mountains and continues through the era of big tobacco,” Barnhill explained. As tour guide, he points out the hidden clues in the barns that reveal the age and historical significance of the structures.
Completing the tour, guests were bused to “party barn” Steen’s Barn for cocktail hour and the opportunity to bid on items in the live and silent auctions. Water-color artist Polly Gott’s landscape of the sweeping vista beyond Steen’s Barn was the centerpiece of the auctions. There were works by other artists—Alex Matisse, Jim and Shirl Parmentier, Robin Carter, and Dennis Ruane. The silent auction gave guests an additional opportunity to get a special “insider’s” tour of Madison County by Jerry Plemmons.

On November 14-16, 2014 The Appalachian Barn Alliance will host a barn photography workshop with Don McGowan. Don’s photography workshops ( are highly regarded by professional and experienced amateur photographers from across the country.

Find more information about the Appalachian Barn Alliance at:

On September 27 and 28, 2014 the Iowa Barn Foundation held its 13th annual All-State Barn Tour, a tour which was the first of its kind in the U. S. Historic restored barns throughout Iowa were opened to the public during the free, two-day, self-guided tour. The tour featured restored barns that have received Iowa Barn Foundation matching grants, along with barns whose owners have restored their barns using their own money and received an Award of Distinction. The All-State Barn Tour was organized to encourage barn preservation in Iowa and to teach young people about the state’s rich agricultural heritage. 

See more of Iowa’s barns at the Iowa Barn Foundation:
Barn treasures are found in Tennessee along the Quilt Barn Tour.  Lindy Turner is coordinator of the Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation and Development Council, the organization that oversees the Appalachian Quilt Trail project. “Quilts speak so much of home and family. Many of us had mothers and grandmothers who quilted, and they passed that piece of warmth down to us. Quilts are part of who we are. They speak to everyone.”

Hanging historic quilt patterns on old barns simply marries two of the best known symbols of rural life.

“It takes the handiwork of farm women and the handiwork of farm men and showcases them together,” Turner says.
There are over 130 quilt barns along the Appalachian Quilt Trail. Beginning at the headquarters in Rutledge, TN, the trail extends approximately 300 miles across 19 counties, from Englewood in McMinn County to Kyles Ford in Hancock County.

Roy Settle, coordinator of the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council in Jonesborough, TN helped start a quilt trail in far east Tennessee. More than 80 quilts now dress barns in Carter, Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.

There are several organizations devoted to promoting the quilt barn trail:  Appalachian Quilt Trail (, Northeast Tennessee Quilt Trail (, Quilts in the Smokies Trail (, and Upper Cumberland Quilt Trail (

The National Barn Alliance has compiled a state-by-state list of resources pertaining to the study of the nation’s historic barns and agricultural architecture. The list highlights the resources available to assist in barn survey, identification, and research; it also includes links from federal agencies and academic institutions on topics such as barn repair and grant programs, rural heritage conservation, and agricultural history. The Barn Journal has the latest news from the barn preservation community. Find more information at the website:


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