Founded in 1880 by the English author and social reformer, Thomas Hughes. Rugby was built as an experimental utopian colony, and although his experiment mostly failed, the community remained throughout the 20th century. In the 1960s, the residents of Rugby began restoring the original design and layout of the community and it’s buildings, preserving the surviving structures and rebuilding others. Because of it’s architecture, beautiful area and setting (nearby is the Big South Fork National Park), Rugby has become a very popular tourist attraction.
In 1972, Rugby was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.
Located on top of the Cumberland Plateau, Rugby is nearby to the Big South Fork National Park. The Clear Fork River passes just north of Rugby and then joins with the New River to form the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
Rugby has a wealth of history to explore, a guided tour of the buildings, and is nearby to not only the Big South Fork, but also the Obed Wild and Scenic River, Frozen Head State Park, and the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. Rugby has several accomodation options including two Bed and Breakfast, and the reconstructed Harrow Road Cafe for your dining enjoyment.
The History of Historic Rugby
Rugby began partly as a community for the younger sons of the English gentry, who, because of the accepted system of primogeniture, would inherit little or no property. The community was named for Rugby, Warwickshire, England where Hughes had attended Rugby School, the institution which furnishes the setting for his book, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The community initially thrived, and by 1884, there were in excess of 65 buildings and 400 residents. In 1885, an advertisement in a local newspaper said this:
“The town is beautifully laid out and picturesquely situated between the gorges of Clear Fork River and White Oak Creek. The streets are clean and dry, and invalids will find no difficulty in taking exercise even in the worst winter weather. They are bordered by, for the most part, good houses, standing in well-kept neatly-fenced gardens, and by several very attractive villa residences.”
About half the original buildings, many in Ruskinian Gothic revival style, survive with restorations or have been rebuilt.
In 1948, it was reported that Ernest V. Alexander, then aged 84, was the last living member of Rugby’s original colony.
The restoration of historic Rugby began in 1966. The roads were rebuilt to follow the exact plan of the town, as designed in 1879 by Rufus Cook, a civil engineer working for the Boston firm of Board to Aid of Land Ownership. New homes were allowed to be built as long as they were architecturally compatible with the historic buildings. Since 1995, however, construction has been limited to Beacon Hill.
Rugby presently thrives as a regional tourist attraction known as Historic Rugby. Several original buildings are open to public tours, including Kingstone Lisle (Hughes’ residence), Christ Church, and the Thomas Hughes Free Public Library, which holds over 7,000 books that all pre-date 1900. Other historic buildings include a visitor center and theater, the reconstructed Rugby Schoolhouse, the Rugby Printing Works, the Rugby Commissary (now a general store and gift shop), the Newbury House (now an overnight lodge), the reconstructed Harrow Road Cafe, and about a dozen houses.
In May, the Historic Rugby organization conducts the Annual Festival of British and Appalachian Culture. On alternate years, a “pilgrimage” is held that allows tours of many of the privately owned homes. Historic Rugby offers nearly 20 annual workshops that cover a range of topics such as Wildflower Walks, Honeysuckle Basketry, Quilting, and beginning lessons in learning to play a mountain dulcimer.