Quaint quilt top offers both history and mystery at fair

Friday, July 25, 2014
With an old quilt top made by members of the former Bainbridge Homemakers group behind them, Sara Bridges (right) and Edith Fry share their thoughts on the names sewed into it and the possible age of the handmade local creation. (photo by ERIC BERNSEE)

The Putnam County Fair may be coming to an end, but the mystery of the quaint quilt persists.

On display in the Community Building at the local fairgrounds has been an embroidered quilt top, rather plain looking to the naked eye to be truthful.

The beauty is that its panels -- four wide and five deep and apparently made of separate sections of sugar sack material, longtime local resident Edith Fry noted --- are steeped in history as well as mystery.

Quilt top panel appears to be logo for Bainbridge club.

Each panel bears the name of one of the members of the Bainbridge Homemakers club, founded in 1937 but now known as the Bainbridge Community Service Home Ec Club. Since one panel addresses Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941, of course), the quilt top could be more than 70 years old.

But before you scoff at that and say Aunt Hazel or Granny Smith has quilts older than that, let's get to the real mystery.

A little more than a year ago, an 88-year-old Lewisport, Ky., woman bought a box of quilting material that caught her eye at a yard sale in her neck of the woods. Tucked among the odd pieces of material, folded up at the bottom of the box, was the quilt top in question.

"Remember Pearl Harbor" is the message of another panel.

Determined to return the quilt top to someone who might know or be related to the original quilters, Shirley Young looked up Bainbridge in her atlas and set out to have the quilt creation sent to the local group.

First, however, she spent hours restoring it since the quilt top was stained, dirty and wrinkled when she unearthed it.

"To not have any holes in it or any places where a mouse has gnawed on it is pretty remarkable," Sara Bridges allowed.

The Kentucky woman's son, Steve Young, lives in Indianapolis, and he was enlisted to return the quilt top to its rightful home about two months ago.

"She decided it needed to go back where it belongs," recalled Bridges, who helped display the mystery quilt top at the fair this week and welcomes information from anyone who might know anything about its origin or its creators (persons with such information may call Bridges at 720-2025).

"It's pretty nice someone would return it," Bridges said of Young. "She just asks that I get back to her when we find out more about it."

Of the 20 names embroidered on the quilt, only Ora Hale thus far rings a bell with anyone. Longtime northern Putnam County resident Edith Fry remembers that Ora's husband Gilbert Hale was a barber in Bainbridge (in fact, Fry says she took her son there to get his first haircut).

Hale's name was located at the top left corner as the quilt top was displayed during Family Fun Day Wednesday at the fair.

The other names sewed into posterity are Clara Crowe, Tessie Shepherd, Mamie D. Hite, Irene Brashears, Helen L. Brashears, Ruby Cresham, Lala Moore, Elva McCargo, Mrs. Clyde Rogers, Pauline Smith, Verna Woosley, Louise Moore, Dorothy LaNelle Hale, Pauline Hale, Laura Louise Poindexter and someone just known as Hazel (perhaps the maid?).

The Pearl Harbor square was created by someone signed in only as Lavela, while Francis W. Fleming's name appears within the embroidered logo of the old Bainbridge club.

Another name on the quilt top appears to be Pearlie Massey, although her true identity remains open for debate, thanks to some erratic embroidery.

"I was raised in Bainbridge," Bridges said, "and I've never heard of these names, other than Hale and Smith, of course."

All identities aside, the Bainbridge group is proud to have the heirloom, Bridges said, and will likely put it on display in the Bainbridge Community Building, alongside memorabilia from the old Bainbridge High School.

A little mystery right alongside a little history. Perfect.

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