Barn Quilt Trail Leads Back to Yesteryear 

Make a game of spotting outdoor art in Neighboring Counties

BY Christine R. Gonzalez

 Barn quilt on US 421 in Sampson County. Photo by Allison Potter
Barn quilt on US 421 in Sampson County. Photo by Allison Potter

In many ways, hopping in the car to go look at quilt-themed art hanging on barns, houses and other buildings will bring back childhood memories for anyone who lived or traveled in rural settings. Long, slow drives with your parents, making up games or playing “I Spy” with siblings — if you’ve done that, then you’re well-prepared for the “game” of hunting barn quilts.

The barn quilt hunting game requires a sense of adventure, a good eye, and map reading skills, because there is a good chance your phone won’t have service in the country. Also, the driver must be adept in the fine art of U-turns, because, oh yes, those tricky multi-sized quilts will be difficult to spot. Thankfully, the quilt tour data on gives excellent hints where to look, such as “under carport” or “on the back building.”

Savvy hunters will be prepared, having seen the images of some of the 150 quilts on the trail website — which touts the county’s claim as the “Barn Quilt Capital of North Carolina” — and plotted a course before leaving home. Or they will have contacted the Sampson County tourism bureau for even more hints and route suggestions.

For the beginner, it may be important to know that the “quilts” are not fabric but are mostly painted on wood. Sizes vary from 2×2 feet to 8×8 feet. Less than half are on barns. Most are on buildings, including sheds, market pavilions, offices, businesses and schools. Some are located on houses, chimneys and fences. They all have one thing in common — to be listed in the tour guide, they must be visible by public access.

“Your quilt will only be listed on the trail if it can be seen from a road, not a driveway,” says Sampson County tourism director Sheila Barefoot. She says the trail map will soon grow to 180 quilts.

Sampson County, which is north and slightly west of Wilmington, is the second largest county in North Carolina at 945 square miles. With that and gas prices in mind, your first quilt hunting trek may need to narrow to one or two places.

“With 150-plus quilts, it is nearly impossible to see them all,” says Barefoot. “Only about three people have that I’m aware of.”

The town with the most barn quilts is Clinton, the county seat. Clinton, a little more than a 45 minute drive from Wilmington, has 50 quilts hanging in or near town.

If you are looking for a picturesque setting, the 4×4 Log Cabin quilt sample that hangs at the Sampson County History Museum village is kept freshly painted and is a good representation of bygone times, placed on a rustic barn side with an antique plow seat and picket fence in the foreground. Visit the free museum or drive on the street behind it for the best view.

Clinton has an angular downtown situated around the courthouse. There is a variety of places to eat, some boutiques, and thrift stores. 

If your quilt-viewing goal is to see the maximum number on the trail, consider driving farther north to Newton Grove. Of the 150 quilts listed on the Sampson County Quilt Trail, 32 are in or near the town. Autryville has 26, Roseboro 15, Salemburg 14, Harrells seven, Turkey five, and there’s two in Garland.

Other things to spot on a drive through Sampson County are the numerous crops grown, including sweet potatoes, tobacco, soybeans, cotton, peppers, blueberries, watermelon, and commercial turkey, pork and beef farms.

“I love driving through the countryside and seeing the old farms,” says Dana Holden, an educator from Boone. “The agricultural landscape is lovely. I wish I could visit the many family graveyards that one sees riding along the country roads. So many of the barns and old buildings are picturesque, even those that have fallen into disrepair. It’s easy to imagine Sampson County when most of the people who lived here were working in some aspect of farming.”

Barn quilt at a farm in Sampson County. Photo Courtesy Tew Barn Quilts

Barn Quilts of Sampson County

HIstory • Art • Tourism

In addition to the best places to see barn quilts, the friendly folks at the Sampson County tourism bureau are eager to give other recommendations, such as the white satin key lime pecan brittle at Elizabeth’s Pecans in Turkey. We did not see all five Turkey quilts — some may have been down to repair or repaint — but the small candy and gift store was worth the slightly out-of-the-way drive. Its website does not do justice to the cute, old-fashioned store and the small variety of pottery, dish rags and other gifts available.

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