Monroe Stories and Tips

Green County Barn Quilts

"Summer Sunday" Photo, Monroe, Wisconsin

Scattered throughout Green County, visitors may happen upon the one of the many (over 100!) barns and farm buildings that are adorned with the rustic looking "quilts" that provide a touch of Americana through artistic expression in the form of huge painted quilt panels.

I believe the first time I ever saw such symbolism was in the Pennsylvania Dutch community in surrounding towns such as Lancaster and Lebanon. As a child, my family used to take weekend trips to that area and I remember seeing the pretty designs painted on the dairy farm barns throughout the countryside. Some say that today's barn quilt phenomenon is a tribute back to the days of Amish settlement in the United States. Others say it dates back to Europe before immigration to America.

Here in Wisconsin, there are several counties that have embraced this unique means of promoting agriculture as a tourist attraction through the 8' x 8' brightly painted wooden panels. The "barn quilt project" here in Green County started in 2008 with the formation of the "Green County Barn Quilt Committee". Such groups often exist as part of the Extension Services of the University of Wisconsin system, with support from local 4H, FAA and agribusinesses from within the community.

Many barn quilts have designs that are personally meaningful to the farm owner, while others depict patriotism or community pride. I found several throughout my journey that were a representation of the farm itself, either in the form of a corporate logo or perhaps a local landmark on the property.

Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State and as I traveled the 200 plus miles of country roads, I fondly remembered time spent on my grandmother's farm in Georgia. Even as late as the 1970's she was milking her cows and churning butter by hand. And no summer visit was complete without homemade ice cream out on the front porch.

This area of Wisconsin was largely settled by immigrants from Switzerland in the 1800's, bringing with them dairy farming and the production of cheese and beer. In the City of Monroe, this heritage is celebrated through their biennial celebration of "Cheese Days" in September of the even years which dates back to 1914. Many of the farms I visited continue to raise brown Swiss cows, known for their rich milk and high productivity. These are the cows that I think of when I hear "Elsie the Cow" - the Borden Dairy Company logo dating back to the 1930's.

As for the quilts themselves, I was able to photograph roughly 60 of the 115 found in Green County, being ever so mindful of not trespassing while not creating a possible obstruction on the country roads that wind throughout the towns and villages in this rural community. Not only did I enjoy the colorful and artistic quilts; I also enjoyed seeing the many farms and different styles of barns and farm buildings. Some were very old, dating back more than 100 years while others were new and very modern. It was apparent that the small family farm, while perhaps struggling to make ends meet, are still out there trying to maintain their many generations of pride and culture.

For those interested in more information, including a map of the locations of the barns that are host to these wonderful creations, check out their website at: www.greencountybarnquilts.com.

More info on Cheese Days may be found here: http://www.cheesedays.com/ .

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