Barn Quilts Help Boost Northeast Iowa Economy

April 2012

Barn QuiltBarn quilts add interest and color to the Iowa landscape as a delightful way of celebrating the heritage of quilting while helping preserve the historical interests of barn architecture in the state. The first barn quilts in Iowa were placed in Grundy County, under the leadership of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.They also have become a source of economic development and tourism in other parts of northeast Iowa.

Pat Gorman was an ISU Extension resource management field specialist at the time construction of Highway 20 was completed. She was on her way to a conference in Nebraska in 2003, thinking about how the county might get the 3,000 cars and passengers that typically passed through Grundy County each day off the highway and back into the local communities.

Donna Sue Groves of the Ohio Arts Council happened to be a presenter at the conference Gorman was attending and told of her experience embellishing a barn in 2001 on the family farm with a pattern matching one from her mother’s quilts. The idea caught on and soon what began as a promotion of the region’s quilting heritage became a way to bring visitors into local shops and restaurants.

Gorman loved what she heard and brought the idea to Grundy County.

”We are an agricultural county. We don’t have another claim to fame as far as tourism is concerned,” said Evie Haupt, a Wellsburg business owner and Barn Quilt board member. “It really made sense to pull off of our agricultural heritage, which the barns do. The quilting is another part of our heritage here in Grundy County . . . so it seemed like the perfect fit."

Today the county offers not only a barn quilt tour, but a barn quilt calendar, a barn quilt cookbook, and brochures of county attractions, entertainment events, shopping and dining along its 64-mile Barn Quilt Loop.

Having a shop or any kind of business in the community where these barn quilts are located has definitely benefited from the barn quilt project.

- Julie McNair, Grundy County business owner and Barn Quilt board member

”It was a collaborative effort . . . including barn owners, property owners, extension folks, community people and business owners,” said Bill Arndorfer, ISU Extension and Outreach regional director. “People came together to make this happen. Then to watch it grow, people saw it here in Grundy County and it has expanded beyond that.”

Some 60 miles north and east, Bremer County has embarked on its own barn quilt project. The community expressed an interest, businesses and organizations committed funds to the project, and a number of passionate volunteers have made it a reality, with leadership provided by ISU Extension and Outreach.

”People take a lot of pride in our operation, and that’s what this brings out,” said Ron Lenth, ISU Extension county coordinator in Bremer County. “The next generation will inherit this as part of our agricultural heritage.”

”Those who got involved had a real passion and a real commitment,” Arndorfer noted. “I guess maybe that’s one of the take-home lessons, if you have those two things, just about anything can happen.”

To travel the Barn Quilt Loop in Grundy County, visit

For the map of Bremer County Barn Quilts, go to

For more information about the barn quilt projects in Region 9, contact:

Ron Lenth, Bremer County Extension Coordinator, 319-882-4275,

Bill Arndorfer, Regional Director, 319-234-6811,