Get Away to Historic Rugby
That such an idyllic place as Rugby ever existed is miracle enough; that it’s still around is even more so.
But, there it stands just as surely as the wildflowers bloom in the spring—this little treasure right in the hills of East Tennessee.
The story of Rugby is one of those joyous quirks in history. The village evolved from the mind of Thomas Hughes, a popular British author in the 1800s. The story goes that British law at the time allowed that the first son in a family inherited the estate, leaving remaining sons with very little. His idea was to bring these slighted young men together to build a community of what might be called intellectual farmers. Land near Huntsville was picked for the experiment.
So, envision a place where tennis and croquet courts were among the first facilities constructed, where a town library held 7,000 books, where homes and community places were built in a strict Victorian style. So is Rugby.
I like strolling around here. With the smell of the surrounding forest, the friendly attitude of the town folk and the atmosphere of another time, Rugby to me means really getting away. A walking tour can take me to the Thomas Hughes Library, believed to be the oldest completely preserved “public lending” library in the United States; Kingston Lisle, a home built for Hughes; and Christ Church Episcopal. I’ll pass a row of tidy English-style homes and can’t help but think of neatly dressed families going to a church service or town gathering.
The grand experiment didn’t last long. After opening with a glorious Hughes speech on Oct. 5, 1880, Rugby’s boom days saw a population of nearly 400 and roughly 85 structures. For its demise, historians blame a typhoid fever outbreak, some land squabbling, unfulfilled promises of a railroad connection and a gentrified population not quite up to working the hard soil of East Tennessee—although locals debate that last one. By 1900, the glory days were over.
But, thanks to many years of dedicated work, the town and buildings remain. Rugby got on the preservation bandwagon early. In 1966, Historic Rugby was formed with a group dedicated to keeping the town intact. Then in 1972 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Due to those efforts, you and I can lodge at places like the Pioneer Cottage or the Newbury House. We can sample old British dining at the Harrow Road Café. Or, shop at the Carriage House Gallery or Spirit of Red Hill Nature Art Shop housed in the Board of Aid to Land Ownership Building.
Here’s a suggestion: You might consider making a weekend of it with Rugby as your launching point. The lodging here is fine. Tour Rugby for a day and use the other to visit nearby Big South Fork, a place of incredible natural beauty where trails, canoeing and horseback riding await.