The Blackwell family and friends’ memory quilt

Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

This is not the Blackwell quilt, but it's an example of a hand-stitched quilt made of hexagonal pieces. Source:; some rights reserved.
This is not the Blackwell quilt, but it’s an example of a hand-stitched quilt made up of hexagons. Source:; some rights reserved.

A hexagonal quilt was found on the third floor of the historic Blackwell House, located at 3071 Sycamore View Road, after Walt and Becky Brown purchased the property in 1983. The home was built in 1869. There are over 130 names and initials on the quilt.

It was probably done by Mrs. Willie Blackwell Miller, daughter of Dr. Nicholas Blackwell and Virginia Ward Blackwell. Willie Blackwell was born in 1868 and died in 1943. She gave seven acres of land to Shelby County in 1917 for a new high school and asked that it be named after her father.

The quilt has dates of 1902 and 1903 on it. Names and initials are embroidered on the quilt’s individual pieces. Some interesting names include Gotten family members whose descendants are our own Dave and Willie Gotten, who still reside on Sycamore View Road. They purchased the property on which their home stands from Louise Miller. Dave Gotten was born in 1906.

Leona Bledsoe Gotten and David Gotten, Dave’s parents, are listed on the quilt. “Julie” may be Julia Gotten.

Susie Freeman, who died in 1904, is also listed. She was the daughter of W.A. and Bettie Freeman, who were the grandparents of former Bartlett Alderman W.J. (Jody) Freeman. Mr. Freeman’s maternal side of the family is present — they were the Smiths. Also included are S. F. and Mamie Bond, the Allens, Gowens, Taylors, Yates, Deesons, Rameys, Masseys, Tates, Ms. Elmore and the Millers. The Allens sold the land to the Methodist Church for $2,500 and then donated the money back to the church.

The Blackwell family

  • Dr. Nicholas Blackwell & Virginia Ward Blackwell
  • Willie Blackwell Miller & Ben R. Miller
  • Louise Miller
  • Nicholas Blackwell Miller
  • Katherine Miller

Louise Miller

The name Louise Miller is particularly interesting because she was born in 1893 and died at the Blackwell Home in 1982. She must have been very familiar with this quilt.

Miss Louise never married and seemed to devote herself to the Blackwell-Miller Estate, which was approximately 2,000 acres at one time. Her father was Ben R. Miller, who was a planter and banker. He raised cotton, hay, strawberries, goats and lambs and died in 1921.

In her early 20s, Miss Louise got her first car. The roads to Memphis were bumpy gravel, but everyone who lived in Bartlett and worked in Memphis drove, and eventually the passenger trains stopped coming to Bartlett.

When she was 32 she took over the responsibility of running her family farm. They used mules and plows. During the Great Depression they always had plenty to eat and helped others. Tenants were given plots of land, chickens and cows. Miss Louise enjoyed riding her horses over the cotton fields, and she supervised the workers and tenants. She stopped farming in the 1950s when “tractors and things that hooked behind them” replaced mules and plows. The remaining land was gradually sold and dwindled to six acres. In 1919 Miss Louise was elected alderman in Bartlett.

In 1948 the Blackwell Home was described as “preserved with original furnishings — lovely walnut bedroom suites, twin mahogany parlor suites, marble table tops, a silver water set given to Dr. and Mrs. Blackwell as a wedding present, and carpets put down over 80 years before.” In 1983 after the death of Miss Louise Miller, the house was in grave disrepair, and the Browns who purchased it attempted restoration. They bought an eight-foot-high walnut armoire with the house and acquired other pieces of antiquity, including the quilt.

The Blackwell House has been restored through the efforts of several owners and is still a private residence. This quilt is on display in the Children’s Bedroom at the Bartlett Museum/Gotten House.

The practical art of quilts

Quilting and piecing began in China and Egypt thousands of years before Christ. They used linens, embroidered work, yarns, woolen fabrics, cotton and silk. Quilts are made in nearly every land on Earth.
American quilts were a practical and common item of bedding. Especially in rural areas, many women’s amusement and recreation was in quilting projects.

“To make the great amount of bedding necessary in the unheated sleeping rooms, every scape of remnant of woolen material left from the manufacture of garments was saved. To supplement these, the best parts of worn-out garments were carefully cut out and made into quilt pieces.”

In the early 1900s quilts showed imagination and artistic handiwork. Marie Webster wrote the only full-length book on the subject in that period, and she contributed many designs and much interest.

Source of quilting information: Quilts, Their Story and How to Make Them by Marie D. Webster.

By Kathy Greene, special to the Express.