Barn Quilt Tour

An exciting new trend for the heritage traveler...

A colorful patchwork is sprouting up on barns around Fayette County. Three self-guided driving tours showcase 60 traditional barns, corn cribs, and other buildings with an interesting variety of quilt patterns.

(Click to view patterns.)
(Click to view map.)

Once an icon throughout the Midwest, today barns are rarely constructed and more often demolished to make way for progress. Fayette County is part of a growing number of Iowa counties choosing to tell the story of their heritage by merging quilt patterns with the timeless charm of weathered wood or the well-painted look. A group of dedicated volunteers paint the mostly 8'x8' squares and hang them on structures throughout the county.

The folk art displays of color known as the Clothesline of Quilts consists of three driving trails across Fayette County in Northeast Iowa. In between sites, motorists will encounter some of Fayette County's most beautiful countryside and charming small towns with unique shops, restaurants, and a number of camping and lodging choices. Quilting and fabric shops in West Union and Oelwein offer supplies and gifts for your favorite quilter.



Historic Barn Types

Barns are an integral part of our heritage. They store a great many tools and equipment used by the farmer. They provide shelter for farm animals and store their feed. And a number of barns have even been remade into unique homes and businesses.

Sears & Roebuck's famous catalogs sold almost everything that rural America required including houses and barns. Sears archives in Chicago show pages of 1911, 1918 and 1929 catalogs that describe available models. The barns, sold as kits, included all necessary materials and could be customized for size. The kit was transported by rail to the closest depot, and then by horse and wagon to the building site. The kits included framing lumber, plank flooring, shingles, hardware, siding, and enough paint for two coats.

Dutch Barns - The first great barns built in this country were those of the Dutch settlers from the Netherlands. Dutch barns were typically built 30'x30' with large center doors for wagons with stock aisles on one or both sides. A pent roof over the center doors gave some protection from the elements. Relatively few survive today, most of these date from the late 18th century. Fewer yet survive in good condition and almost none unaltered. Yet the remaining examples of this barn type still impress with the functional simplicity of their design and the evident pride the builders took in their work.

Prairie Barns - A peak roof projecting above a hayloft opening is one of the most familiar images associated with barns. The feature belongs to the prairie barn, also known as the Western barn. The larger animal herds required great storage space for hay and feed. Long, sweeping roofs mark the prairie barn, the extended roof creating great storage space.

Crib Barns - Crib barns were a significant part of American agriculture. Composed simply of one, two, four or sometimes six cribs that served as storage for fodder or pens for cattle or pigs, crib barns may or may not have a hayloft above. Unaltered examples normally have roofs of undressed wood shingles. In time, shingle roofs were usually replaced with tin or asphalt. The rustic appearance of crib barns is one of their most striking features. The cribs sometimes face a covered gallery or aisle running across the front. In another arrangement, the cribs are separated by a central driveway.

Round Barns - The circular form of a round barn has a greater volume-to-surface ratio than the rectangular or square form. Therefore, fewer materials are required, saving on material costs. Such barns also offer greater structural stability. George Washington owned a round barn. And Shakers built a few in 1826 Massachusetts. However, round barns were not built in numbers until the 1880s when agricultural colleges and experiment stations taught progressive farming based on models of industrial efficiency. Round barns appeared on farms throughout the country into the 1920s, especially in the Midwest.

Other Barn Types
- The barn types discussed here are only some of the barns that have figured in our history. Others are Bank Barns, Finnish log barns, German-Russian house barns, threebay English barns, and others.




Along the countryside, see....

  • Montauk Mansion, the majestic home of Iowa's 12th governor, William Larrabee, at Clermont
  • Trout streams meandering through the countryside
  • Country churches and cemeteries
  • Abundance of wildlife - whitetail deer peeking out between tall rows of corn, wild turkey picking their way across a hilly pasture
  • Volga River Recreation Area, the 5,000-acre, 24-hour state recreation facility with boating and fishing from a handicapped accessible pier, 50 primitive campsites including equestrian trails and facilities, dozens of miles of snowmobile and cross-country ski trails, bright blue indigo buntings, colorful grosbeaks and orioles singing from the oak and cottonwood trees. (An expansion is underway to construct a 47-site modern campground with showers and electrical hook-ups near Frog Hollow Lake)
  • Historical museums in Oelwein, Hawkeye, Elgin, West Union, Clermont, Maynard and St. Lucas
  • Wildflowers - colorful roadside displays of Queen Anne's Lace interspersed with butterfly weed, black-eyed susans and wild tiger lilies
  • Restaurants and cafes offer a wide variety of foods. Many offer home-baked goods to take home and enjoy.
  • Motel lodging available in West Union, Oelwein, Fayette and Clermont
  • Campgrounds in or near Elgin, Clermont, Fayette, Hawkeye, Wadena, Oelwein and Maynard


Oelwein Chamber

Oelwein was named "Hub City" because of the rail lines coming into town and the repair shops located there.

Deb Howard

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  25 West Charles St. Oelwein, Iowa 50662