SHARPSBURG — This is the story of a quilt, friendship and community. It starts 140 years ago. The Civil War had been over for eight years, but the Philip Pry family in Keedysville was struggling to survive its effects. The Battle of Antietam, fought on Sept. 17, 1862, changed the Pry family fortunes, as well as those of many other families in the community.
Pry was prosperous and well-established with what was regarded as a “fine farm” prior to the battle. The brick house was one of the more elaborate homes in the area.
His own acreage, that of his tenant’s farm and a stockpile of lumber in Keedysville were destroyed or used by the Union Army. The grand house was used as the headquarters of the Medical Department of the Army of the Potomac during the battle and the house and barn were used as a field hospital.
Pry was never fully reimbursed for his losses and by 1873 had to sell the farm and moved his family to Johnson City, Tenn., where land was cheap and they could get a fresh start. But before the family left town, they were presented with a quilt signed by family and friends. It was passed down to children and grandchildren, and eventually left the Pry family’s possession.
About 125 years later, through the diligence of the quilt’s then owner, Maggy Sluyter of Plainfield, N.J., the quilt was returned to Maryland, where it now belongs to the Keedysville Historical Society.
Two years ago, Susan Yano heard about the Pry quilt and wanted to see it.
“We were able to figure out how it went from the granddaughter to a quilter in New Jersey,” said Yano, with guest services at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum in Keedysville, located at the Pry farm and a satellite museum of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick.
Annie Deaner Pry Jones (1861 -1936) was the sixth child of Philip and Elizabeth Pry. She inherited the quilt from her parents. Annie gave the quilt to her daughter, Elizabeth Jones. Upon her death in 1969, Elizabeth bequeathed her estate to her cousin and his wife, Frank and Wanita Jones. Some of the items were given to their daughter, who resided in New Jersey.
Sluyter purchased the quilt from Kerby Jones at a yard sale, said Sue Gemeny, president and a founding member of the Keedysville Historical Society. Sluyter wanted to return the signed quilt to its home.
Using the signed messages, Sluyter read “Keedysville” as “Kennedyville” and contacted the Historical Society of Kent County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, said Gemeny. From there inquiries went to Doug Bast, of the Boonesborough Museum of History in Boonsboro, who redirected the search to the Keedysville Historical Society. Sluyter donated the quilt in 1999. “She just wanted to get it back where it belongs,” Gemeny said.
The quilt pattern is Ohio Star, put on point or diamond, Yano said. The center square of each is a solid color and most of them have handwritten messages of well wishes for the Prys.
Yano photographed the quilt, block by block, and consulted with period textile experts about the colors and patterns of the fabrics. Today, the colors appear pastel, faded by use and light. Some of the pieces are tattered and there are a couple of walnut-size holes.
The original colors would have been brilliant but are now muted and muddy. “At this time, they would have been switching from natural to synthetic dyes, and this was probably a mixture of both,” said Kyle Wichtendahl, director of interpretation and programs at Pry House Field Hospital Museum. Some of the dye compounds were light sensitive or not stable, he said. Some were corrosive and ate through the fabric.
Yano worked with fabric experts at Needle & Thread in Gettysburg, Pa., and Traditions at the White Swan in Hagerstown to locate period fabrics to make a reproduction of the quilt to display at the Pry museum. Since sewing machines were available at the time the original quilt was made, Yano machine-stitched the colorful blocks together and enlisted another NMCWM volunteer, Sue Ketron, to hand-quilt it.
On a recent weekend in September, both quilts were displayed at the Dunker Church at Antietam National Battlefield for a textile program. Ketron and fellow Piecemaker Quilters Pat Farling of Libertytown, Pat Snyder of Walkersville and Burneda Russell of Gettysburg, are doing the quilting. “Six of us in the group do hand quilting,” said Ketron, estimating it may take them about six months to complete. The quilters’ main mission is to make quilts for wounded veterans.
Ketron also copied the messages from the original friendship quilt in her own handwriting. Among them: “Remember me when this you see though many miles apart we be. Your friend, Susie Hoffman.”
The 1873 quilt will return to the Keedysville Historical Society where it will be on display in the town hall, Gemeny said.
The reproduction quilt will be displayed at the Pry museum and instructions on how to create your own Ohio Star quilt are available for a $5 donation. The proceeds will be used to purchase the reproduction Civil War era ambulance, currently on loan to the museum, and refurbish it to look like an 1862 Ruckers ambulance.
The Pry House, located at 18906 Shepherdstown Pike, Keedysville, is open Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more on the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, visit civilwarmed.org or call 301-695-1864.
Patterns are available for a $5 donation at the gift shop of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, 48 E. Patrick St.