Quilt returns to Otisfield as 149-year-old donation

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OTISFIELD – A quilt stitched together by hand here almost 150 years ago has made its way back home.

Henry Hamilton, president of the Otisfield Historical Society, said the quilt would have been created by a circle of women.

“It was a quilt done for a purpose,” he said.

In this particular example, 47 names are inked into individual squares of the 83-by-86-inch covering. Many of the women chose to add Otisfield’s name to their square, or the date of June 1, 1858. Hamilton said it is likely that the date is a commemoration of an event such as a wedding, departure, or both.

The recipient of the quilt and the reason for its exodus from Otisfield are unknown, as are whatever trials and tribulations it went through out of state. Hamilton does know that it came to be owned by a woman in Illinois, who sent it to her daughter in Buffalo, N.Y.

The quilt was then put up for sale in Chester, N.Y., by William J. Jenack Auctioneers and purchased by Joseph DePaul of Tuxedo, N.Y., for $475.

“Thanks to the Internet, Joe was able to find us,” Hamilton said.

DePaul said he began research online after noting the recurrence of Otisfield in the quilt’s squares, sometimes with the state added for good measure.

“From there on in, it was pretty simple,” DePaul said.

He discovered the Otisfield Historical Society through the Maine Historical Society. He knew he was on the right track when he saw that several of the quilters shared their names with members of the historical society.

“There are numerous people in the historical society whose great-great-grandmother’s name appears on this quilt,” Hamilton said. “Many of these names are still found in Otisfield.”

Among the 47 names on the quilt are those with the last names of Scribner, Wight and Merrill, and Sarah Kemp, ancestor of the late David Hankins, whose wife, Jean, lives in Otisfield

DePaul struck up an e-mail correspondence with Hamilton shortly after he purchased the quilt in January. After some time of sharing Otisfield’s history, Hamilton started dropping hints that DePaul should visit the area for the society’s annual picnic, taking place on Sunday.

While DePaul had prior commitments on that day, he was able to stop in a week early with a surprise for Hamilton: he was giving the quilt to the society as a gift.

“It belongs here,” he said.

The only condition attached was that the quilt would always be under the care of a historical society.

“This becomes the Otisfield Historical Society’s most valuable item,” Hamilton said. “We were certainly overwhelmed by such a piece.”

The goals of the society are twofold: to preserve the quilt and to gather as much information on it as possible.

“The amazing thing is the condition and the survival of the names,” Hamilton said.

He said he will be contacting the Maine Historical Preservation Commission to find the best ways to store and display the quilt.

The society has already identified the relatives of some of the quilters, and Hamilton estimates that the descendants of half of the names on the quilt or more are still in the area, including himself.

“There are people on here who I share common ancestors with,” he said.

The quilt will be the centerpiece of the society’s annual picnic, which will take place at noon Aug. 5 at 877 State Route 121. The event will also see the dedication of the town’s last remaining public watering trough, which was moved to Hamilton’s property and restored with funds from the Maine Historical Preservation Commission.

The quilt’s return comes shortly before its 150th anniversary.

“We’re going to give it a big birthday party,” Hamilton said.

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