Part 25: Memory Quilts

Ten years ago, when Nora and Richard Worthen retired and built their home on land that was part of the old Sprouse farm on Brackett Town Road, they became interested in preserving the memories of the area. One day they made an excursion to Burnsville and noticed the quilt blocks on buildings, an art form made popular in Ohio. “Old barns seem to come alive when you put a quilt block on them. It was a way of preserving the barns and the idea of quilting, and beautifying the county.” Nora got together with Jill and Mike Lucas and talked to Susan Pyatt, the director of MACA (McDowell Arts Council Association), about starting a rural quilt trail in McDowell County. “Each block tells about the family who owns the barn or the house and why they chose that block. Usually there is a unique story associated with a family.”

It is appropriate that the first quilt block on the Rural Heritage Trail is located on the feed shed of the Reid Holland General Store that operated at that location for forty years. An article about this #1H block was written by Nora Sprouse Worthen for the Mcdowell Quilt Trail website. She tells about the scraps used by people who did not waste anything. It is a memory of a different way of life when there were no automobiles, electricity or plumbing. “Folks went to town on Saturday and to church on Sundays.”

“Reid had a lot of credit business, and once took in a sewing machine on a bad debt and made a space in the store where Mrs. Holland could sew while minding the store if no customers were about.  She often used feed sack material to make their clothes, and many, many quilts to keep the family warm.  Their daughter Ruby remembers her grandmother Susie Pyatt living with the family, cooking and helping with the household duties.  One of these quilts made by Ruby’s mother and grandmother was used for the pattern for the quilt block design called “Scrap Quilt”.” (See Part #13: Late 1940’s)

“Reid and Josie Holland were married for 65 years and both lived into their ninth decade.  Everything was saved and used, with nothing being thrown away.  The scraps Josie Holland saved from her dressmaking were used in her quilts.  These particular scrap
quilts were made using various scraps of fabric cut into wedges sewn together to form a hexagon, with a disk of red fabric appliquéd over the center points of the wedge.   These quilts were made for warmth, but today are heirlooms to be treasured.”

“The entire family worked in the store. Ruby remembers when her grandmother came to live with the Holland family; she brought with her a milk cow. Bantam chickens were raised in an enclosure underneath the feed store. The Holland children’s college education was paid for with eggs, milk and butter money that Josie Holland and Susie Pyatt saved by placing it in a jar earmarked for that very special purpose.”

Ruby Holland taught sixth grade in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg School System for 39 years. Her brother Harry served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Korea for a period of time.  He worked at Broyhill Furniture Company in the Rutherfordton and Marion plants for a total of 41years.  Upon reflection, Ruby says, “One of the things I am most grateful for is that I grew up in a family where we were taught to work, and if you needed something, you knew you had to work for it.  If you didn’t have the money for it, you didn’t need it.”  This philosophy was taught in many homes and is reflected by the offspring of families in McDowell County today as a result of those hard times.

Memory of Hard Working Pioneers

Memory of Hard Working Pioneers

These quilt blocks represent memories not told in any history book. In Images of America, McDowell Co 1843-1943, by Jim Haney, I saw a 1890s photo of John J. Sprouse standing in front of his mill with customers Jethro Ward of Vein Mtn and Deed Arrowood of Mud Cut. Nora’s quilt block for her grandfather’s grist mill also honors her husband’s workshop. This block is listed as #21 on the historic McDowell County quilt trail. (See prior post Part 18: Sister Ann’s Turn).

Memories Over the Creek

Memories Over the Creek

Nora also has a painted block design on a utility building.  It is a design called “Attic Window”, #106 on the quilt trail. She said, “When I saw it, I remembered one Easter when there was a three-day storm, and there was no way to ford the South Muddy Creek, except on the backs of Ole Hanna and Liza, the farm mules. I had a brand new dress and shoes to wear to church. But I couldn’t wear my new outfit because the creek got up, escaped its banks. I stood in the attic and watched the rain. I was so disappointed, I thought I would die. I cried and cried.”

A Child's Dream and Disappointment

A Child’s Dream and Disappointment

Today when there are no leaves on the trees, the old homeplace and the attic window beside the chimney can be seen from her sunroom as she enjoys her new hobby of making bobbin lace, a craft not taught in home economics.

In addition to the two quilt blocks on the Sprouse Farm, there is also #30, “Little Dutch Girl” at the home of Pat Allison Arrowood on Brackett Town Road (Also at Part #13).

One of the latest blocks is “Glenwood Gold”, #144, the second quilt block to be hosted by McDowell Hospital on one of their community facilities. The colors of maroon and gold are now the colors of the Glenwood Elementary School which opened in 1904 as the first public school in the area. Where the Sprouse children went to school, and drove the bus, as told in preceding posts. The gold color represents the importance of gold mining in this community as reported in the early Brackett Town Saga articles.

The popularity of quilt blocks spread into the commercial sector. “Marion has a lot of old buildings, and owners wanted to put blocks on historic storefronts because these designs tell a story.” For a hundred years,  Marion Manufacturing Company had employed thousands of local people. It made the national news in 1929 when six strikers were killed in a union attempt to take over the factory. (This story was written in 2004 by Mike Lawing, The Marion Massacre.) The building that was woven into the fabric of so many lives was torn down in 2012.

“With a deposit of $5 in a savings account, the workers had been able to become members of a credit union established in 1967. Cornerstone Credit Union commemorated Marion Mfg Co with #37 quilt block named “Stacks of Memories.” The wagon wheel design with eight burgundy spokes represent the smokestacks and the factory’s four eight-hour shifts. The jagged border replicates the roofline of the façade of the mill where the big clock was situated so that the folks on the hill in company housing could see it and hear the buzzer that sounded ten minutes before a shift started. Start walking! On the four sides of the quilt block are the times of the shift change. In this historic section of town, most of the houses have been treated with tender loving care, including one owned by a Sprouse family brother, Wayne.

Nora said, “We see our blocks as community art that are connected by name or design to the history of the land, building, or family.” In a McDowell News article two years ago, she wrote, “There are more interesting stories and more histories to be told using the vehicle of a traditional quilt pattern or a special design on a handcrafted quilt block.” http://mcdowellquilttrail.org

I hope to hear some of these stories by those who want to share by emailing me at: georgiaruthwrites@gmail.com

Wishing all my readers a Happy New Year to make memories that will one day be history!

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2 Responses to Part 25: Memory Quilts

  1. Nora Sprouse Worthen says:

    Well done. Thank you for telling about the McDowell Quilt Trail in your blog.

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