December 17, 2018

The Melrose Quilt Returns to Melrose, MA

Since my previous post, the events I described then have come to pass.  A 3 1/2 year project had its milestone event.  I’m not going to say that the project reached its conclusion, because I really want the research and storytelling around this quilt to continue.  There are plenty of loose ends left to be tied!

In that previous post, you can read the process leading up to this exhibit.  And at the end of that post, there are links to other posts that I wrote along the way during that 3 1/2 years.

In a nutshell:
The quilt magically found its way to me. The names on the quilt were researched.  And researched some more with the help of Melrose community historians.  The results were nicely typed and formatted.  By happy happenstance found myself in contact with a woman in Melrose who was excited about the quilt and about creating an event around it.  She found a venue.  She planned several associated events.  Descendants contributed stories and photos.  I repaired the quilt.  I put on a temporary backing to help support and protect the quilt while hanging.  And finally, 120 years after it was dedicated and stitched, the quilt and I flew off to Massachusetts!



The quilt has now experienced an opening reception, a gallery walk, sharing space with an exhibit of art quilts inspired by its design and history, my lecture, and that lecture being filmed by the local cable channel.  At these events, I met local historians and quilt lovers.  So many great people and great stories!

The quilt is still on display at the Beebe Estate in Melrose, MA.  The final chance to visit it will be this coming Saturday 12/22 from 11-4. 

This photo documents the first meeting between the quilt and Alanna Nelson, the Melrose fiber artist and event planner who created the whole program.

Here’s the quilt, in all it’s glory, hung on a perfectly blue wall. 

And here you see it in the lovely setting including antique maps of Melrose from the same era as the quilt, and one of the art quilt interpretations, this one titled “Signature”, made by Agusta Agustsson.

Here are quilts by Janis Doucette, combining photos of her ancestors with her hand-dyed and printed fabrics.

Alanna had the idea to display some family photos on the mantelpieces around the estate along with a short write-up of their stories. 

The double photo with words on the right of the final mantelpiece deserves a transcription here:
Hannah Lothrop Mooers born April 28 1844.
Married November 28 1864 to Henry Watson Worth of Vassalboro and settled in Melrose Mass. 
Henry was a man pure in all the relations of life; whose honesty so natural that the occasion for its questioning seemed never to arise, and whose word was true.  He faced death with the calmness of one whose faith is fixed and who knows in whom he has believed.
He died October 29 1906.  Hannah died May 13 1925. 

The Beebe Estate is a lovely old building, carefully restored. 

I was especially fond of these doors that became mini-hallways lined with bookshelves!

The Melrose Library is hosting a exhibit of more quilts inspired by the history embodied in the quilt.  (See my entry in this show here.)

The library also has a marvelous set of maps of Melrose on display, dated 1874, 1875, and 1889.  The amazing thing about them is that the lots are labeled with names, not anonymous street numbers!  What a treasure trove of research possibilities!  Even on a quick glance, I found some exciting new tidbits.  I found the home of Dr. Erastus Phinney, husband of Eunice Phinney whose name is on the quilt.  Eunice was a widow and living with her niece at the time the quilt was made, but I now know where she lived while she was married! 

My very special treat was traveling around (in the very cold December weather!) and visiting houses where the people on the quilt lived.  A good number of their houses are still standing!  Some have been updated more than others, of course.  I got a sweet sense of connection at every one and said a fond hello to the folks who used to live there.  And at one, I met with the wife of a man directly descended from a woman named on the quilt (she just happened to be out on her porch, talking to the UPS delivery man).  Golden moments!

Here is where Sarah Lavender lived after she was widowed.  She had moved in with her married daughter and family, Carrie and Russell Sawtelle. 

Two houses down the block is the home of Sarah's niece Mary Ives Hersey.  Sarah's sister and brother, Eunice Phinney and Nehemiah Mayo Dyer, lived here also.  I told the story of these folks in a previous post.  From my glances at the older town maps, it looks like properties on this block had been in the Hersey family for many, many years.

This magnificent Victorian era home was the parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Rev. Joel Leonard and his family lived here at the time the quilt was made.  It was built in 1889. 

This was the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Emerson.  At the time the quilt was made, they had recently married.  George was 72 and Mary was 40.  It was George's third marriage, Mary's first.  By 1910, George had passed, and Mary's spinster sister Climena Parker had moved in.  People didn't live alone very often in these times.  Mary had become the treasurer of the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

This is the Grady home.  Alice Grady is a person of historical note.  She is quietly listed on the 1900 census form as a stenographer, but a family descendant filled me in on the details.  She started as a stenographer and moved up to become assistant to Louis Brandeis when he was a judge, before he became a Supreme Court justice.  She then took over management of an affordable life insurance program they had been forming.  Her descendant sent me copies of numerous newspaper articles.  She was clearly one of the first strong, professional women, and was quite revered.  It is her photo (dating c.1916) that is up above in my little review of the exhibit preparations. 

And this is the Atwood home.  The curious fact here is that Mr. Atwood's profession is listed as "physician (magnetic)".  Does anyone out there have an idea of what this meant?

The other golden moments were meeting up with descendants of folks on the quilt.  Here is probably my favorite photo from the whole event, descendants and their ancestor’s name.

I am so grateful to have been gifted with this magical quilt history project - the coincidences and stories are numerous! 

A second post tells the story of the other destination of this trip, Sugar Hill, NH - the quilters I met up there and some lovely mountain views.

Here are all the previous posts:
Part 1 describes the quilt and the initial research.  Part 2 details how I narrowed down the dates, and relates some of the interesting family stories I began finding.  Part 3 tells the story of the Phinney, Dyer, and Hersey families.  Part 4 has general observations on life in the late 1890s.   Part 5 sums up my research.  Part 6 shares the first information from librarians and historians in Melrose.  I wrote a little aside about the fun of being able to look at original records online.  And, since the quilt did initially come to me for repair, and I did eventually stop reading census forms and do the repair work, and wrote up the techniques and choices involved.  And then I went back to the research, and continued to find lots of great information.  I wrote about the little quilt I made that was inspired by the historical quilt.  A set of summaries of the data and stories that brought the quilt to life.  And a very astonishing coincidence with another quilt and a family tree.  I was given a photo of one of the people named on the quilt. 


  1. What synchronicity brings to this world! Thank you for all if your work and ability to tie this quilt with the names. It's been a marvelous ride.

  2. Hello!
    I came to this post while researching a late 1800’s early 1900’s silk crazy quilt in my possession with the maker name of Ida Belle written on the back.
    I found her name associated with this quilt and a few more clicks on came across your fascinating post here! I can send you a little video I made in preparation of writing my own blog post on it.

    1. Hi, Glennis - I'd absolutely love to learn about what you've found! Please do send the video. Thrilling! I think it's best to communicate via email at this point: