Underground Railroad Museum gifted family heirloom

Published 6:00 am Saturday, July 8, 2023

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By Clark Curtis for the Washington Daily News

Mary Park of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, recently came across an old family heirloom while cleaning out the home of her parents, who had passed away. It was the quilting frame that her grandmother, Ruby Bake, had once used some 100 years ago. “My grandmother made quilts for as long as I can remember,” said Park. “I sat around countless hours just watching her make things on this very frame. She even tried from time to time to teach me as well.”

The old wooden frame, which is still highly functional and adaptable, was handcrafted by Parks’ grandfather. “Seeing that old quilting frame certainly brought back a lot of memories,” said Park. “We did not have room for it, but we didn’t want to give it away to just anyone. So, I contacted the history museum in Raleigh, which didn’t have space for it, but assured me they would find someone. Two days later, I received a call from Leesa Jones here at the Underground Railroad Museum. Without hesitation, with the help of my granddaughter Jazalyn, we packed it up and drove down to Washington to hand deliver it.”

Jones, director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, says this 100-year-old relic is the oldest historic artifact now in their possession. “This was such a generous and wonderful gift,” said Jones as she beamed in delight. “It was obvious from the start that she truly cherished the quilting frame and that she wanted it to be loved and cherished as well, which we obviously will do.”

Jones said they often do a lot of presentations with regard to the historical significance of quilts and how they were made and used. And that they can now incorporate the quilting frame into those presentations. “People will now be able to see the quilts on the type of frame that would have been used back in the day,” said Jones. “The age, construction, and utility of the handcrafted frame speaks volumes to the generation of those such as her grandfather, who made it. Not only was it very functional, but it was a piece of art. We are just so delighted to have it.”

Jones said they will have it out in front of the museum on the days they are open, where they will display quilts for all passerby’s to see. “I’m just beside myself with joy knowing that my grandmothers’ quilting frame is going to be taken care of and cherished,” said Park. “I will sleep well knowing that I did not have to give it away to just anyone and that it has a new home where it will be put to good use,” said Park, with eyes glistening from the hint of a small tear.