AMES, Iowa -- A surprising attraction causes some motorists to exit Highway 20 in Grundy County -- barns.
But these aren't just any barns, they each display a quilt square ranging in size from 8 by 8 to 12 by 12 feet. The quilt squares were chosen by Grundy County residents to represent agricultural heritage or rural life as part of the Barn Quilts of Grundy County.
Currently, 13 barns, a few of which are visible from the highway, display quilt squares. Organizers hope to complete 20 more quilt squares in 2005, in celebration of Iowa's "The Year of the Barn and the Family Farm."
Although barn quilt project organizers believe more people are visiting Grundy County because of the project, no studies have been conducted on this topic yet.
"We're still trying to figure out a way to evaluate the number of people the barn quilts have been bringing to the county," Janet Peterson, barn quilt project coordinator, said. "In general, we've received a very positive response from people inside and outside the community."
Pat Gorman, Iowa State University Extension field specialist, got the idea for the Barn Quilts of Grundy County in Fall 2003, when she visited Adams County in Ohio. Donna Sue Groves, a local resident and member of the Ohio Arts Council, painted a large quilt square on her barn in honor of her mother and other quilters in the area. The council encouraged barn owners to join in the project to increase tourism in southeast Ohio, and more than 20 barns now have quilt squares painted on them.
After hearing about the success of the project in Ohio, Gorman thought painting quilt squares on barns in Grundy County would be a great way to draw visitors from Highway 20, which carries thousands of vehicles daily. She began working on the project and in 2004 was joined by Peterson, who worked as an intern from the University of Northern Iowa. Peterson graduated in May 2004 and was hired by the Grundy County Development Alliance to work on the project full-time.
Bus tours are currently visiting Grundy County to view the barns, located on a loop of asphalt roads throughout the county. The tours will continue throughout the summer, and tourists will have the option to stop at Grundy County businesses, such as restaurants and antique stores.
Grundy County 4-H members will have a chance to participate in the project this summer by taking photographs of the barns to create a calendar of the Barn Quilts of Grundy County.
Peterson hopes the project increases awareness of Grundy County's agricultural history,and the importance of barn preservation. She also would like children to become involved in the project and learn about the history and role of quilting in farm life.
"It really has brought the community together," Peterson said. "It is becoming something that Grundy County is known for."
The Barn Quilts of Grundy County is sponsored by Grundy County ISU Extension, Conrad General Store, Grundy County Farm Bureau, Grundy County Farm Bureau Women's Committee, First State Bank, Grundy County Development Alliance, Peoples Savings Bank, Jean Trainor, Dorothy Bakker and Eileen Buiter.
Carol Ouverson, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-9640, firstname.lastname@example.org