If you’re an East Tennessee native or have visited the Smoky Mountains, you’ve probably seen a colorful square design painted on the side of a barn or building. What exactly do these designs mean and why are they displayed along the beautiful country roads of East Tennessee? These bright geometric designs are more than decorations, they are quilt squares–a celebration of the rich history of quilt making in Appalachia.
If you want to explore East Tennessee, visiting the quilt squares is a great way to get off the beaten path and experience the Smoky Mountains and Lakeside of the Smokies in a unique way. Following the quilt trail is a fun adventure for history buffs, art enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a fun way to spend the day. You’ll enjoy beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains, lakes, sprawling farms, and charming towns during your journey.
In this article we will highlight some of the East Tennessee quilt squares and fun places to stop along the way.
Bear Claw with Strawberries Quilt Square
Throughout the late 1700s Andre Michaux, a French botanist and explorer, explored the Eastern United States. He studied plant life and collected American plants and seeds to send home to France. During his time in Jefferson County, he wrote about the flourishing wild strawberry plants—”The berries covered the ground as with a red cloth. The fetlocks of a horse walking through the fields became red like blood”. His description of the area inspired the name of the community, Strawberry Plains, TN.
The Bear Claw with Strawberries quilt square is painted on the Parrott family’s white barn in Strawberry Plains. Strawberries are a popular snack for Black Bears, so a logical guess can be made for where the rest of the title and design came from.
Rush Strong Star Quilt Square
Rush Strong School, located in Strawberry Plains, TN, was founded in 1923 with only 3 teachers on staff. Today, Rush Strong Elementary and Middle are thriving members of the Jefferson County Public School System, with over 450 students in grades Pre-K through 8th grade. With a 100-year history educating the children of East TN, they have earned a spot on the quilt trail. The Rush Strong Star is painted on the front of the school in Rush Strong Plainsmen colors—red, white, and blue.
If you’re in the mood for barbecue, stop by Patches BBQ & More, located just down the road. The Holston River is also a short drive away. If you want to get out of the car and take a walk by the water, head to McBee Landing Park.
New Market Train Wreck Quilt Square
A 10-minute drive down the road from Strawberry Plains you’ll find New Market, TN, the site of an infamous historical tragedy. Two passenger trains collided on September 24, 1904 killing 64 people and injuring over 100. The New Market train wreck is one of the deadliest head-on train crashes in American history. Both trains were traveling over 100 mph when they crashed. The sound of the collision was heard from miles around. The scene was gruesome and according to legends, the crash site may even be haunted. Some locals claim that they hear train horns and other unusual sounds near the tracks in the morning around the time the New Market Train Wreck occurred.
The New Market Train Wreck quilt square was painted on the New Market Senior Citizens Center in remembrance of the tragic accident. It shows a simplistic image of the train crash with the Smoky Mountains in the distance.
While you’re in the area take a stroll or a drive down the road to Lost Creek Mercantile, a general store with old timey charm, to bring home a souvenir. They have a unique selection of décor, jewelry, and local goods. For high quality produce grown in the area, head to From the Ground Up. This charming fruit and vegetable store also sells flowers, preserves, Amish goods, bread, meat, pastries, and more.
Weathervane Quilt Square
After exploring New Market you’ll continue on Highway 11E for a few miles until you reach Jefferson City. The Jefferson City Senior Center is the home of the fourth quilt square of your journey, the Weathervane. The weathervane pattern is an eye-catching and colorful quilt design that originated in Switzerland.
If you’re in need of a pick-me-up before you continue on the quilt trail, stop by 60 Beans Coffee for a delicious cup of coffee, a smoothie, or a crepe.
Train Depot Quilt Square
The Jefferson City Train Depot was completed in 1870 as part of a railroad project that connected Bristol and Knoxville. John Roper Branner donated 3 acres of land to build the Jefferson City Train Depot with the stipulation that all passenger trains had to stop in Jefferson City, known at the time at Mossy Creek, TN. The railroad helped the town grow and thrive throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Two smaller communities merged with Mossy Creek to form Jefferson City.
Unfortunately, the original Jefferson City Train Depot burned down in 1930, but the Train Depot quilt square, depicting the original building can be found on the side of a historic building alongside the tracks. Mossy Creek Station, a community park that hosts festivals, concerts, and activities, was constructed on the original train depot site.
In addition to providing a site for the Jefferson City Train Depot, John Roper Branner built one of the most famous homes in East Tennessee, Glenmore Mansion. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Jefferson City, visit Glenmore Mansion for a tour or check out their event calendar.
Dresden Plate Quilt Square
Across Douglas Lake is the quaint community of Chestnut Hill, TN. You’ll follow beautiful country roads until you reach the next quilt square, Dresden Plate. The Dresden Plate quilt square design was originally part of a quilt made by Eliza “Pet” E. Christman. When the quilt fell apart, her granddaughter, Terri J. Runyan, made a replica of the quilt to keep her artwork alive. The pattern was later painted on the side of their family barn, a structure that spans four generations.
Visiting Douglas Lake is a no-brainer since you’re already in the area. Soak in the beauty of East Tennessee with waterfront views of the Smoky Mountains. Rent a boat, go fishing, enjoy a waterfront meal, plan a camping trip, or rent a cabin and stay the weekend at Douglas Lake.
Explore Jefferson County, Tennessee
When you follow the Quilt Square Trail, you’re just scratching the surface of what Jefferson County, TN has to offer. Charming towns, friendly people, great restaurants, unique shops, two beautiful lakes (Douglas Lake and Cherokee Lake), a wide variety of places to stay, and a lively calendar of events make the Lakeside of the Smokies a worthwhile destination for your East TN vacation.
Explore Jefferson City, Dandridge, White Pine, Strawberry Plains, New Market and the roads in between to experience the history, culture, and natural beauty of East Tennessee.
Header photo courtesy of Tennessee Quilt Trail’s Facebook page.