COVID is putting a crimp in everyone’s weekend plans. My husband and I love to go out exploring and are always looking for ways to do so safely. We were familiar with barn quilts, having repeatedly driven past one on the route to my mother’s house, so we decided to check out some more with a car trip along the Carroll County Barn Quilt Trail.
The Barn Quilt folk art tradition, inspired by Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs that were painted on barns years ago, got its start in 2001 when Ohioan Donna Sue Groves hung a replica quilt square on her barn in honor of her mother. Soon, barn quilts were popping up all over the country. Besides the trail in Carroll County, Maryland boasts three others: Garrett County, Calvert County, and Harford County.
Armed with the Carroll County Barn Quilt Tour booklet and a cell phone (for GPS navigation), we headed from our home in Frederick northeast on Routes 26 and 31. We wound our way through the rolling hills and pristine tilled fields that reminded us of the significance of agriculture in both Frederick and Carroll Counties.
The stately barns and dairies dotting the landscape hearken to years past when this area was dominated by farmland, while reinforcing the critical role farms still play in producing fresh, nutritious food for our community today. The trail also toured us through quaint small towns, and past antique shops, breweries, distilleries, parks, and community markets. Along with contributing art to their communities, many barn quilt owners join the trail to bring tourists to their small businesses. What started out as a quick road trip turned into much more as we kept finding hidden gems to explore.
As we rounded a corner heading into New Windsor, we saw our first barn quilt on the right. Called “Tulips in a Basket,” this square features three pink tulips springing from a blue basket on the side of Zig-Zag Acres’ bank barn. According to the booklet, this block is one of the original blocks installed in Carroll County.
We were delighted to discover that our second quilt, “American Homestead,” was located at Local Homestead Products, a charming farmer’s market full of fruit, veggies, baked goods, their own meat, South Mountain ice cream, and other locally-sourced goods. We stocked up on apple cider, heirloom tomatoes, berries, and bacon – sadly skipping the ice cream and making a mental note to travel with a cooler in the future – and headed out back to explore the playground. This free play area would be a treat for small kids, featuring a tricycle race track, a play house, a petting zoo, hammocks, see saws, and a lot of room to run and play.
Our third quilt wasn’t quite as easy to find as the first two, due entirely to a malfunctioning GPS. My husband’s elated “there it is!” after we had turned around twice lent a scavenger-hunt-esque quality to the day. This “Stairway to the Stars” quilt featured a patchwork pattern on the side of a white barn. We then explored downtown New Windsor, noting a history museum, a veterans memorial, a vintage gas pump standing outside New Windsor Muscle Cars, and beautiful historic homes.
Further north on Route 31, we settled into an outdoor patio for lunch at Westminster’s O’Lordan’s Pub, located in a rustic stone building dating to around 1870. Here, we enjoyed sandwiches and studied a different type of patchwork, that of the black and tan Guinness beer.
Westminster is a walkable town, so after lunch, we headed on foot to the Visitors Center, happening upon a holiday market on the way. We popped into Gotham Comics for a bit of shopping and grabbed coffee at Birdie’s Café. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we could have seen another barn quilt in town, located on the side of the 1937 Carroll Theatre at 91 W. Main Street, now home to the Carroll County Arts Council.
Back in the car, we found several more barn quilts, two of which were located near each other at the Carroll County Farm Museum (“Birds in Flight”) and Ag Center (“County Fair”), where a flea market was just wrapping up. We had trouble finding the barn quilt located at 1901 Old Washington Rd., but an “open” sign for ReFabuluz Vintiques reassured us it was safe to head down the driveway. Greeting us was an old barn, doors wide open, overflowing with rustic antiques and twinkly lights. A quick perusal of the barn yielded a cool stoneware jug from the early twentieth century for our collection, and the proprietor directed us to the barn quilt, “Generation Star,” which was tucked behind a smaller barn to be visible from nearby Route 97. As we turned to leave, a braying donkey and oinking pig took umbrage with our failure to notice them, providing us another surprising delight in our day.
We headed south on Route 27 (part of the Old Main Streets Scenic Byway), to our last stop. “Rail Fence” is a traditional pieced four-square block, another of the original installation, according to the Barn Quilt booklet. This square was more modern than the rest, featuring colored blocks of red, orange, yellow, and blue.
Our Barn Quilt tour provided us with a fun day exploring some local sites that we never would have discovered otherwise, as well as a rural road adventure that enabled us to avoid large crowds and support local businesses. With 119 quilts to discover in Maryland alone, we will definitely be planning another road trip soon.
Barn quilt locations:
“Tulips in a Basket” – 1401 New Windsor Rd. New Windsor MD 21776
“American Homestead” – 2425 Marston Rd. New Windsor MD 21776
“Stairway to the Stars” – 750 Green Valley Rd. New Windsor MD 21776
“Birds in Flight” – 500 S Center St. Westminster, MD 21157
“County Fair” – 706 Agricultural Center Dr. Westminster, MD 21157
“Generation Star” – 1901 Old Washington Rd. Westminster, Maryland 21157
“Rail Fence” – 2504 Gillis Rd. Mt. Airy, Maryland 21771
Lead Photo: “Birds in Flight” barn quilt in Westminster, MD by Carroll County Tourism