Hometown Heritage — the Canal Fulton Quilt

If you’re a subscriber to American Quilter Magazine, I invite you to read my Stray Threads column in the January, 2022 issue. This particular article is near and dear to my heart because I was able to share the story of my incredible chance encounter with a special quilt in the museum in my hometown of Canal Fulton, Ohio. 

The backstory

I took my husband to visit Canal Fulton during their annual summer carnival, Canal Days, last July. We visited the museum and while there, I saw a beautiful quilt hanging on the wall depicting the history, important buildings and landmarks in the community. There was no placard or information about the quilt. I even asked if I could carefully check the back for any sort of label, where I found none.

After our trip, I posted a photo of the quilt on social media lamenting the fact that the quilt, while beautiful, was missing the history of the name of the maker or makers. Shortly afterward, I was contacted by a friend I knew from when we lived in Germany. He is now living in the US and by a strange coincidence, we realized his fiance grew up not far from Canal Fulton in Portage Lakes, Ohio. They were planning to visit the area just a few weeks later. Gordon and Laura were very eager to see the quilt in person so I gave him the information on where to find the museum.

Turning point

Their visit several weeks later turned out to be a true turning point in the story of the quilt! While visiting the museum, Gordon befriended the docent there named Dennis Thornton. They instantly hit it off because of their shared military background and they talked for a long time. At Gordon’s urging, Dennis (who incidentally, almost didn’t volunteer in the museum that day) promised to look into the back story of the quilt — to see if he could find out any information about the date it was made and the maker(s).

Full circle moment

Fast forward a couple of weeks later and Dennis contacted Gordon with good news; after some sleuthing he had found an original, full-length article in the local paper, the Canawler, written in July, 1976 with full details about the quilt!

The article went into great detail about Joetta Brownfield, the woman who came up with the plan and the additional the makers who worked to create the quilt for the Bicentennial.

It was a full-circle moment! Dennis sent copies of the newspaper article to both Gordon and me, and he arranged for a professional photographer, Cliff Franks, from the Historical Society, to take photos of the quilt. Here, I’ve included those photos and photos of Gordon and Dennis together (they are now friends.)

The men who brought the history of this treasure to light: Gordon Ashlee, left, and Dennis Thornton.

I’m so pleased this quilt will now have the group of makers listed on a placard, and it continues to be cherished as a Canal Fulton treasure. Dennis has even started researching whether there are still any of the makers who might be living. Perhaps their descendants are in the area but may not be aware of the quilt’s existence. Wouldn’t it be amazing for them to visit the quilt to experience a part of Canal Fulton history that their beloved mother, aunt, or grandma contributed to create? Isn’t this a wonderful outcome for a beautiful piece of Ohio history? It showcases the power of social media in bringing people together but it also highlights the great need for us to label our quilts appropriately. This will save those who come after us hours of time searching for our quilts’ histories and ensure our legacies are never misplaced or forgotten.

Interesting Stats:

  • The number of people who worked on the quilt: 33
  • It is made entirely by hand.
  • Size: 86” x 114”
  • It took almost a year to complete.
  • Many of the blocks were hand drawn by Joetta Brownfield; all are original designs.
  • Number of blocks:
  • 39 – 9” x 12”
  • 1 – 20” x 40”

An invitation

If you’re in the Northeast Ohio area or need a destination for a fun road trip, I hope you’ll consider visiting the Canal Fulton Museum to see this incredible quilt in person. Ask for Dennis and be sure to thank him for doing so much to bring the history of the makers together with the quilt itself. What a glorious reunion! 

Visit the Heritage House Museum (Click the link for lots of terrific information!)

Public and private tours

Addmissions: FREE (but donations are appreciated)

Address: 103 Tuscarawas St., Canal Fulton, OH 44614

With sincere thanks to Gordon Ashlee, Dennis Thornton, and Cliff Franks. 




  1. I hope local Canal Fulton residents get to see the history of the quilt. You have brought to light the saying “ it takes a village” . Who would have thought so many people and places are revealed in a quilt?

  2. Kimberly, you brought my wife to tears over this article. My mother was Joetta Brownfield and she passed on July 3, 2021. My wife was so moved by your words that she cried. My mother and her husband, the late Thomas Brownfield, were very interested in their local history and I will be forever grateful to have had them in my life. Thank you so much for exposing this wonderful aspect of all those who worked diligently on that beautiful quilt. I know how proud my mother was to be a member of the Historical Society in its infancy.

    • Oh my goodness, Craig! It is a pleasure to “meet” you and to think that I am now in touch with the son of the talented woman who created this amazing piece of Ohio history! It is truly a treasure and one which will live on for generations. Thank you SO much for reaching out and commenting here. I would very much like to send you a copy of the magazine if you’ll kindly email me at moc.omnieylrebmiknull@ylrebmiK. Thank you so much for sharing your reaction. I wish I could have met your Mom in person. My goodness….what amazing stories she could have shared with the world! But at least we have her “stories” forever depicted in fabric and thread. God bless you and your sweet wife!

  3. Wow Kimberly! I really enjoyed your article in American Quilter about the Bicentennial quilt. My dad grew up on a farm in Canal Fulton and we went every Sunday to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles and many cousins at the farm.
    I eagerly checked the newspaper article you shared hoping to find a familiar name. My grandma quilted and the family attended SS Phillip and James Catholic Church but didn’t work on this beautiful quilt I guess.
    Some of my cousins still are parishioners and my mom and dad are buried in the church cemetery there in Canal Fulton continuing my feeling of connection. Thanks for sharing this quilt and the wonderful story!

    • Karen – Such a small world! I love that you have long-held ties to Canal Fulton, too. Great memories….thank you for sharing!

  4. All of your articles in American Quilter are excellent but this one was tops! I just loved how the connected community of quilters and historians gave this quilt a “voice”. And to come full circle with Craig’s note just blew me away. I too have ties to the area (canal builders) although the California desert has been my forever home. Best of luck to you and your family on your move. Thank you Kimberly!!

    • Thank you very much for your words of high praise! And I agree with you — this column is personally important to me because of the connection of quilters who gave this quilt not only a documented history, but new life!

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