Rugby, Tennessee

Location: Rugby, Tenn.

Acreage: N/A

Activities: History, culture, shopping, hiking

Briefly…

Time stands still at Rugby, Tenn. This Victorian English village, located on the edge of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, is a throwback to the late 19th century, when Rugby was established as a home for the second sons of English gentry. 

History

British author and social reformer Thomas Hughes — of Tom Brown’s Schooldays fame — had a vision and a dream. It was of a new community with an agricultural backbone, an abiding Christian faith, and a cooperative lifestyle, without the outdated class distinctions that existed in Britain.

So it was in 1880 that Hughes established the Rugby colony, not far from the banks of the Clear Fork River on the Cumberland Plateau. The goal was simple: In Britain, the oldest son usually inherited everything, while younger sons were destined to less desirable jobs and a less desirable way of life. In America, Hughes saw a place where those younger sons could be free to become whatever they wished to be.

Within just a few years of Rugby’s establishment, there were more than 65 Victorian buildings in the village, and more than 300 people called it home. There were literary societies, drama clubs, rugby football and tennis, croquet and swimming in the rivers. There was the Tabard Inn, named for the hotel in Canterbury Tales. There was a public library, and Rugby had its own newspaper. There were general stores, stables, a drug store, a dairy, a butcher shop. All seemed to be going as Hughes had envisioned.

But there were a series of setbacks: a typhoid epidemic in 1881, a series of unusually cold and snowy winters, financial troubles, and the burning of the Tabard Inn in 1884. 

Hughes, who died in 1896, never lived in Rugby, and seldom visited. But he never gave up hope for what he hoped Rugby could become. 

By 1900, most of Rugby’s original colonists had left. The dream was over. 

But those who stayed on fought to keep Rugby alive. And they succeeded. Decades later, a not-for-profit foundation, Historic Rugby, was established to help preserve the surviving buildings and the stories that made Rugby what it was. 

Come to visit, come to stay

Rugby is a real, living village. But it’s also a fun place to visit. Tours are available every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tours are also available on Sunday at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students. 

Of course, Rugby is open for self-tours, as well. There’s an award-winning documentary, The Power of a Dream, that awaits viewing. There are trails that await hiking. And there’s a rich culture that awaits discovery.

Ben Garrett
Ben Garretthttp://gocumberlands.com
Ben Garrett is publisher of Go Cumberlands. He lives in Oneida, Tennessee with his wife, three kids and dog, Boone.

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