Since my last blog was about eating lunch
in an historic English/American village in East Tennessee, I guess I should
focus on our actual goal for this back roads Saturday drive in the country. The real objective of our day trip was to visit
and tour that historic village…Rugby, Tennessee.
The town is located in Morgan County just
south of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation area on the
Cumberland Plateau. Rugby was founded in
1880 by English author Thomas Hughes. He
was an English attorney, a Member of Parliament and author. He wrote a number of books but he is most
famous for his children’s books, especially “Tom Brown’s School Days”. This book was based on his brother’s character
and Thomas’s experiences at Rugby School in England…
Following lunch, Laurie and I went into
the old Rugby Printing Works. The original Rugby Print Shop was mysteriously torn down many years ago... No one knows exactly when, why or who tore it down. The
building shown above was actually moved to Rugby from nearby Deer Lodge Tennessee. It was built in Deer Lodge ca. 1885. It has been totally restored and it was open
for visitors during our visit. The
docent on duty was very informative and friendly…he’s a volunteer who makes the
hour and a half drive to Rugby every other Saturday from his home. We also picked up a couple of free signs that
were printed in the shop…the most important of these reads “Beware of the Cat”.
This home is adjacent to Rugby’s
Visitor’s Center. It called the Percy
Cottage. This reconstruction was
historically rebuilt in 1976-77 on the original foundation. It was originally built in 1884 and it’s furnished
for year around guest lodging.
Rugby was built as an experimental
utopian colony. While Hughes's experiment largely failed, (more on that later),
a small community lingered at Rugby throughout the 20th century. In the 1960s, residents, friends and
descendants of Rugby began restoring the original design and layout of the
community, preserving surviving structures and reconstructing others. Rugby's Victorian
architecture and picturesque setting have made it a popular tourist attraction. Despite its remoteness, 65,000 + visitors per
year visit the community. Rugby's
historic area has been listed under the name Rugby Colony on the National
Register of Historic Places. It is an historic
This is one view of Kingstone
Lisle…Thomas Hughes’ 1884 home. Its
design is based on an ‘English Rural Style’ cottage designed by Andrew Jackson
Downing, an American landscape and architectural designer. Downing is
considered by many to be the Father of American Landscape Architecture. For more on Downing and his work, just go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson_Downing.
The Rugby ‘experiment’ stemmed from of
the social and economic conditions of Victorian England, where the practice of
primogeniture, (i.e., the eldest son gets almost everything), and an economic
depression left many of the "second sons" of the English gentry
jobless and idle. Hughes envisioned
Rugby as a colony where England's second sons would have a chance to own land
and be free of social and moral ills that plagued late-19th century English
cities. The idea was that the colony
would reject Late Victorian materialism in favor of the Christian socialist
ideals of equality and cooperation Hughes espoused in his book, ‘Tom Brown's
Kingstone Lisle was on the tour
route. This frontal view shows that
painting is underway and that “Historic Rugby.org” is actively working to
maintain the village. Our tour docent
was very nice and informative as well. I
was happy because she didn’t dwell on every little detail but she could answer
any of our questions.
Hughes didn’t stay here very often. Most of his time was spent back in
England. However, he did move personal
belonging into the house…and they are still in place. The cottage is furnished with many original
Rugby pieces and it is painted in the original colors.
This is Christ Church Episcopal…an
example of ‘carpenter gothic’ architecture.
It was built in 1887, using local pine, walnut and poplar. It is also on the standard tour offered by
Historic Rugby. The church body itself
was established in 1880 with early services being held in the schoolhouse.
Rugby began as a project of the Boston’s Board
of Aid to Land Ownership, which focused on helping unemployed urban craftsmen
relocate to rural areas. In 1878, the
President of the Board of Aid, Franklin Webster Smith, visited the Cumberland
Plateau on a new route of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He and an agent for that railroad identified
the future site of Rugby. They were
impressed with the virgin forests, clear air and scenery. The railroad agent then secured options on hundreds
of thousands of acres on the plateau and the process of securing land titles
However, when Smith got back to Boston to
recruit families for the move, economic conditions had improved and most
families were no longer interested in relocating. Thomas Hughes had met Smith through his
friend, poet James Russell Lowell and Smith knew that Hughes was interested in
building a utopian community. Upon
learning of the land acquisition and the town site, Hughes formed a partnership
in England and then they bought out the Board of Aid.
This photo is a bit dark… Flash cameras
weren’t permitted in the church or any of the other buildings...and it was dark in here. FYI,
the church’s reed organ, built in 1849, is one of the oldest in the United
States. Our guide told us that it had
just recently stopped working. She also
told us that she is a member of Christ Church and that the congregation has met
here regularly since 1887. (She also told us that she believed that there were
at least 242 churches in the county!)
Smith had chosen the Rugby’s site for its
resort-like qualities, even though it was 7 miles from the nearest railroad
stop. The colony’s first structure was
what is now called Pioneer Cottage. It
was built in early 1880 and it’s now rented to tourists who want to stay in
town. The first wave of colonists built
tennis and croquet courts and built a walkway to a nearby juncture where local
streams came together. They also built
several homes as well as the 3-story Tabard Inn, named after an inn featured in
the Canterbury Tales.
Thomas Hughes attended the colony's
"opening" on October 5, 1880, and gave a speech that laid out his
plans for Rugby. All colonists would be
required to invest $5 in the commissary, thus ensuring public ownership.
Personal freedoms were guaranteed, although the sale of alcohol was banned. The colony would also build an Episcopal
church, but the building could be used by any denomination.
This is the Thomas Hughes Library. It appears just as it was when it opened in
1882. It was one of the earliest free libraries
in the South.
Publications such as the New York Times
and Harper's Weekly, as well as various main stream London publications, all
followed the colony's progress. Rugby also published its own newspaper, ‘The
Rugbeian’. Several colonists even formed
a Library and Reading Room Society. In
the summer of 1881, a typhoid outbreak killed seven colonists and forced the
Tabard Inn to close for cleansing, but the colony recovered. By 1884, Rugby had
over 400 residents, 65 frame public buildings and houses, a tennis team, a
social club, and a literary and dramatic society. In 1885, Rugby even established
a university, Arnold School, named after Hughes’ former Rugby School headmaster
back in England, Thomas Arnold.
This photo of Thomas Hughes hangs in
Rugby’s Library. He was born in
Uffington England in 1922. Perhaps one
reason he was so interested in the welfare of ‘second sons’ was that he was
himself the second son of a prominent English editor and he had 4 younger
brothers too… He became a dedicated social reformer with an interest in
Christian socialism. Hughes was involved
in the formation of some early trade unions and helped finance the printing of
various Liberal publications.
One of the most interesting facts about
the Hughes Library is that it is virtually intact in all respects. It still contains the 7,000 original books
that were donated to the library. Many
of them are first editions and/or are very rare. The oldest volume in the library dates to
1687. The books were furnished by a
Boston bookseller who received them as donations for Rugby from various
Anyone wishing to use the library for
research may do so by contacting the Historic Rugby organization. Gloves must
be used when perusing the volumes and all researchers are accompanied by a
Historic Rugby volunteer.
The library is also on the standard
guided tour… Prices for the tour are very reasonable and a short movie about Rugby’s history
is included. Other than the print shop and a couple of gift shops, you may only enter the
historic buildings if you go on the guided tour.
Shopping anyone? For those who find a trip pointless unless
there’s an opportunity to spend a little money on gifts or souvenirs, welcome
to the Rugby Commissary! We picked up a
little jam, a bit of jewelry from a local craftsman and notecards from a local
This building is a faithful
reconstruction of the original Rugby Co-Op Commissary. Of course, in the old days, the store sold a
wide variety of merchandise ranging from clothing to plowshares… Profits from
this store go to Historic Rugby’s upkeep and improvements.
Newbury House was Rugby’s first boarding
house. It opened in early 1880 prior to Thomas Hughes’ purchase of The Board of
Aid and his subsequent colonization effort.
Lodging was available here well into the 20th Century… It has
been restored and modernized and is once again open for overnight guests. Rates run from $70.00 a night double
occupancy (weeknight - shared bath) to $130.00 per night for the suite. As I noted earlier, Percy Cottage is also
available for overnight stays. In
addition, another home, Pioneer Cottage, is also available for lodging. All lodging in Rugby is operated by Historic
So what happened to Rugby? The settlement struggled over land
titles. Options had been acquired for
almost 350,000 acres but many of the Plateau’s early Appalachian settlers became
suspicious of the development and they refused to sell their property. The lawsuits dragged on for years. Many colonists gave up and moved away. In addition, the town site had been selected
for its potential as a mountain resort and not farming. The soil was poor indeed. The 1881 typhoid outbreak slowed
development…but in 1884, the popular Tabard Hotel burned to the ground. This halted Rugby’s growing tourist economy
and damaged the Board of Aid’s credit standing.
There was one other ‘little’ problem with
the premise of Rugby… The English settlers, those ‘second sons’ who settled
Rugby, primarily came from well-to-do families and they weren’t used to
farming, cutting trees or, for that matter, any hard labor in general. They just weren’t well suited to establish a
viable working town…or colony.
This home is named Ruralia. Not much is known about its early history
except that it was built around 1884.
The current owner has fully restored it.
Frustrated by the colony's slow
development, the Board of Aid's backers replaced colony director. An attempt was made to establish a tomato
canning operation in 1883, but after the cannery was constructed, colonists
failed to grow enough tomatoes to keep it operational. Newspapers began to
ridicule Rugby and the New York Times claimed that Hughes was planning to
abandon the colony.
In 1887, the deaths of a number of
prominent colonists— including Hughes's mother, Margaret who had moved there to
support her son — led to the departure of most of Rugby's original settlers.
Hughes made his last annual visit to the colony that year and The Rugbeian
ceased publication. By 1900, the company
had sold its Cumberland Plateau holdings.
In 1966, local preservationists formed
‘Historic Rugby’, a non-profit group dedicated to restoring and maintaining the
communities surviving historic structures.
The organization maintains more than 15 buildings and there are many
privately owned homes in the village that date back to the Victorian era. Their next big project is the restoration of
Uffington, Hughes mother’s home in the village.
We enjoyed our visit and we would recommend Rugby to anyone who
appreciates history, preservation and beauty.
To learn more, you can go to http://www.historicrugby.org/.
Just click on any of the photographs to
Thanks for coming along with us on our
little drive down the back roads of Eastern Tennessee.
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave