Quilt finds its way home

The Elizabeth Neff quilt, made in 1843, was recently purchased by the Shenandoah County Historical Society and Virginia Quilt Museum and will soon be on display. The inscription reads "Elizabeth Neffs Property Shenandoah County VA 1843. Courtesy photo
A closeup of the Elizabeth Neff quilt. Courtesy photo
The quilt is 98 inches by 91 inches and is a variation of the birds in the air pattern.

A quilt, made in 1843, has been purchased by the Shenandoah County Historical Society and the Virginia Quilt Museum and will be on display in early summer.

The quilt bears the inscription, “Elizabeth Neffs Property Shenandoah County VA 1843,” written in ink.

Barbara Adamson, president of the historical society, said the maker of the quilt is unknown, but they “hope to discover that.”

Elizabeth Neff, whose name is featured in the inscription, was born in 1833 and would have been only 10 years old when the quilt was made, and that is why the historical society doesn’t believe that Neff was the maker of the quilt.  Historical society members have speculated that she may have helped make the quilt or it was given to her.

Adamson said she hopes experts at the Virginia Quilt Museum may be able to determine more by examining the complexity of the quilt and the stitching that was used to create it.

Historical society members know that Neff was born in Shenandoah County to parents John and Catherine Wine Neff in the Rude’s Hill and Shenandoah Caverns area. The house she was born in is no longer standing, but the house she grew up in is still standing near the Interstate 81 exit.

In 1856, she married Samuel Miller and moved to Bridgewater. She died in 1917.

“That’s how the quilt made its way to Rockingham County,” Adamson said. It was then passed down to her grandson, Ralph Miller. Ralph did not have children, so when he passed away in 1979, his wife Mary Miller sold the quilt after finding it in a blanket chest at the foot of her bed.

The quilt was then purchased by Jeff Bradfield, owner of Rolling Hills Antiques in Harrisonburg. He later sold it to a quilt shop owner in San Diego, California, who was traveling from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Williamsburg for a quilt seminar.

The owner of the San Diego quilt shop contacted Gloria Comstock, curator of the Virginia Quilt Museum, about selling the quilt and returning it to Shenandoah County.

When the quilt museum and the historical society heard about the quilt, they began researching women who lived during 1843 in both Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. Eventually, all the pieces fell into place and they found an Elizabeth Neff who lived during the correct locations and time period.

Adamson said it was “fun to discover the details.”

“We are very pleased that the quilt is back in Virginia and will be preserved and exhibited,” she added. “So many people have old family quilts at home and often they have questions about them or don’t know how to take care of them and I know the quilt museum is really interested in making sure that they survive and stay right here in the valley.”

The quilt is 98 inches by 91 inches and is a variation of the birds in the air pattern.

“It’s in very good condition,” considering how long it has lasted and how far it has traveled, Adamson said,

The Virginia Quilt Museum will be doing some conservation and preservation work on it before it’s placed on display.

“It is in a safe place and it’ll be taken care of and we’ll all get to see it from time to time and learn from it,” she said.

The historical society and the Virginia Quilt Museum held a fundraising campaign to purchase the quilt and bring it back home to Shenandoah County.

The quilt was priced at $3,900 and was purchased for that price, plus a few hundred dollars to cover shipping and insurance costs.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

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