Clays Choice, The Virginia Quilt Museum Quilt Square
After walking around Harrisonburg to see all the squares on the trail, you could end your day by visiting Virginia Quilt Museum, found at 301 S. Main Street. There are 3 different exhibits each year, a Civil War gallery, a small collection of antique sewing machines, and a delightful museum store found in this Civil War era home. It’s said that a ghost haunts the premises, and there are several architectural features of interest. Adult admission is $7 for the self guided tour, and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday.
The Virginia Quilt Museum opened its doors in 1995. The museum came out of the Virginia Documentation Project of the Virginia Consortium of Quilts, which was formed in 1984. The goal of this organization is to save the stories of quilts and quilters of both older and more contemporary quilters. The Virginia Quilt Museum provides a home to preserve the rich quilting heritage. In the year 200, the museum was designated the official quilt museum of the Commonwealth by the Virginia General Assembly.
The Virginia Quilt Museum is housed in what is known as the Warren-Sipe House. This home was built in 1856 for Edward Tiffin Harrison Warren and his wife Virginia Magruder. During the Civil War, Warren served in the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regulars. He was killed in May of 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness. It is said that the ghost of a Confederate soldier has been seen standing at the top of the center hall staircase in the house. Clad in full uniform, some say that the ghost silently peers down the steps and others say he slowly descends the staircase. A young Confederate soldier, Joseph Latimer, who was wounded at Gettysburg, died of his injuries in the house. Perhaps he is the ghost. A book about him is available in the Museum Shop. In 1894, the house was sold to George E. Sipe, a prominent local attorney and member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Mr. Sipe added an attic and a first floor kitchen to the original structure. His most admired additions are the beautiful carved mahogany fireplace mantels and the inlaid wood floors located on the main level. Both architectural features inspire visitors to create quilt patterns from their designs.
The City of Harrisonburg acquired the house in 1956 and for many years it was used as the recreation center, serving 120 children per day. The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society took up residence in the building in 1978 and remained there until the 1990’s. Prior to the opening of the quilt museum, court was held at the site while the old courthouse on the square was being renovated. A holding cell was installed on the first floor during that time to hold prisoners; the jail is now used to house items for incoming exhibits. Renovations to the house began in the summer of 2001. A new educational area, including a “Hands-On” children’s room, has been created in the basement level of the building. This was once the location of the original kitchen and Mr. Sipe’s billiards room. Termite damage to floor joists was discovered during the renovation, requiring the entire basement floor to be removed, creating a large dirt pit. The exposed dirt resulted in an archeological dig that uncovered artifacts, giving insight into the lives of former residents. Displays of these artifacts can be viewed throughout the museum. Other renovations include handicap accessible restrooms, a new quilt storage area and a research library.
The Virginia Quilt Museum chose to use the Clay’s Choice Quilt Square. This quilt square originally honored Henry Clay (1777-1852), a prominent civil war-era statesman who dominated American politics at the state and national level for over 30 years. Henry Clay is well-known for his stance against slavery during the Civil War and is noted for stating, “I’d rather be right than be president.” This quilt square symbolizes the celebration of Virginia’s rich quilting heritage at the Virginia Quilt Museum.