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Fabric of a Community

A collection of antique quilts at the Atwood House Museum chronicles life in Chatham through the 19th century and beyond.

Atwood House Museum

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

The historic quilt collection at the Atwood House Museum in Chatham holds a treasure-trove of stories in its folds. Study the quilts’ intricate patterns, deep colors, rich textures—and sometimes even handwritten messages—and a swirl of history passes by.

Consider Marjory Smith, who bought the material for her gorgeous red and green quilt in Boston, when she traveled there to shop for bridal clothes for her 1833 wedding to John Atwood. Or Mehitable Atwood, whose friends and relatives pieced a multicolored “friendship” quilt in honor of her 1848 marriage to Benjamin Boylston and wrote bits of wisdom on its back (“Remember me when night closes in on thee” and “True friendship is everlasting” are just two of many).

With their captivating visuals and messages that were sometimes inked or stitched onto the back, the quilts give a glimpse of Chatham life in the 1800s and early 1900s—life that is as profound as any history book.

Last fall, the Atwood House Museum, home to the Chatham Historical Society, displayed 23 of its 30 historic quilts, dating 1833-1900, a first for the museum. The staff and volunteers of the Atwood House, a gambrel-roofed house constructed in 1752 and restored by the society, couldn’t be happier. “The display was well, well received,” says Janet Marjollet of Chatham, chair of the historical society’s Costumes and Textiles Department. “I’ve had many people call and say they loved the display. The quilts were shown the way they might have been used in that era, like the silk parlor throw we placed on a Victorian sofa.” Another piece, the bicentennial quilt, was created by Chatham quilters in 1976 and is scheduled to hang at Chatham Town Hall through 2012, Chatham’s tercentennial.

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