Rugby, Tennessee – Where My Preservation Career Began

Today’s PreservationNation blog has a story and video about Historic Rugby, a 2009 National Preservation Honor Award winner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The blog post brought back great memories.

Rugby was established in the 1880s by the successful Victorian-era author Thomas Hughes as a Utopian community for the second sons of English gentry.  Due to the system of primogeniture, these men would inherit little or no property and had very limited career opportunities.  Hughes established this colony in the beautiful but hard-scrabble Cumberland Plateau area of Tennessee.  After some initial success, the colony fell on hard times, ultimately failed and was largely forgotten.  In the mid-1960s, residents of the area began to restore the remaining historic buildings and over the course of five decades have saved this wonderful place and turned it into a thriving community and a favorite spot for tourists.

That’s the official story.  The reason it is important to me is because it is where I undertook my first hands-on preservation work, leading to a career that’s now in its fourth decade.

One of the visionary individuals who began the hard work of saving Rugby was named Brian Stagg.  His brother, Alan Stagg, was my Boy Scout leader.  Beginning in the late 1960s, our scout troop would travel to Rugby during the summer, camp out on the site of the old hospital for a week, and undertake clean-up/fix-up projects around the historic buildings in between hikes and swims in the beautiful Clear Fork River (in the old “men’s swimming hole”).  My very first preservation experience was cleaning out the brush that had surrounded the amazing Thomas Hughes Free Public Library (pictured in the background above), which contained over 7,000 volumes of pre-1900 books, many first editions donated to Hughes.  Even as a young teenager I was astounded that such an amazing collection of historic books were just sitting in a sweet little structure in the middle of nowhere.  (And Rugby, dear friends, is far from the beaten path.)

Brian Stagg tragically died much too young, but the family connection has remained, as his sister Barbara has been a leader and stalwart at Historic Rugby since the 1960s.

If you are traveling down the interstate highway from Knoxville to Nashville and see a sign for Historic Rugby and the Big South Fork Recreation area, do yourself a favor and take a couple of hours detour to see a unique place in American history and learn about what the vision of a handful of hard-working citizens – mixed in with the sweat of some Boy Scouts – can accomplish.

More to come…


Mr. Hatch, Old Dogs and The Beatles

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is a favorite Valentine’s Day book in our family.  To quote from the dust jacket,

In a little town on a wintery day, a postman delivers a mysterious package tied up with a big pink bow to a lonely man named Mr. Hatch.  “Somebody loves you” the note says.

“Somebody loves me,” Mr. Hatch whispers as he dusts his living room.  “Somebody loves me,” Mr. Hatch whistles as he does errands in town.  “Who,” Mr. Hatch wonders, “could somebody be?”

This is a wonderful children’s book that sees Mr. Hatch come alive after learning that someone loves  him, and then deflated when the postman returns weeks later to say he had delivered the package to the wrong address.  That’s not how the story ends, as you might expect.  The town discovers the reason Mr. Hatch has returned to his solitary ways and they let him know that plenty of people really do love Mr. Hatch.  We read the book aloud last evening during a family Valentine’s dinner and our kids became 4-years old again.

Today a friend gave us a gift that reminded us – in several ways – of the joys of giving love.  She had read my blog about saying goodbye to Lilly, our Sussex Spaniel who died last December, and bought the book Old Dogs are the Best Dogs for us as a way of remembering Lilly. I had quoted from the book’s opening essay in my post, so she guessed – correctly – that we’d love it.

On the way home today, Claire read aloud from the book and I was struck, once again, about the joys of giving love.  The section Claire read went like this:

Some years ago, a humor contest in The Washington Post invited readers to come up with Item One from an underachiever’s to-do list.  First prize went to:  1.  Win the respect and admiration of my dog.

It is no big deal to love a dog, they make it so easy for you.  They find you brilliant even if you are a witling.  You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife.  They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac:  Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

We all laughed, but it reminded me of all the love that’s come my way – deserved or not – through the years.  Valentine’s Day is a good day for those memories and also a good time to recall those words of the famous philosophers Lennon & McCartney:

And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Tell someone you love them.

More to come…


The America Bowl: Presidents vs. the Super Bowls

The America Bowl pulls together all of my favorite ways of wasting time.

So says Don Steinberg, creator of the online America Bowl showdown between the U.S. Presidents and the Super Bowls.   I read about Steinberg’s web site in a recent issue of The New Yorker and had to check it out.

This all began as Steinberg was thinking about Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th president, and he wondered about the connections with other famous 44s – like Hank Aaron who wore the number for the Atlanta Braves.

Steinberg soon realized there was a football echo, too – that the 2010 Super Bowl…would be the forty-fourth, or, rather, the XLIVth.  This alignment, like the Rapture, will happen only once.

So a web site – complete with logo featuring a pony-tailed George Washington going head-to-head with a football helmet – was born over Thanksgiving.  The idea is to pit each President against his corresponding Super Bowl.  Presidents are judged on their accomplishments; Super Bowls on their competitiveness.

If you remember anything about the founding fathers and the early Super Bowls, you just know that the Presidents took an early lead.  But you’ll no doubt remember that string of Presidents that led us up to the Civil War, so the games bounced back.

One thing you’ll notice, as you peruse the matchups, is that this country has had to endure a parade of unexceptional chief executives and championship football games.  The Super Bowl, few will disagree, is a bloated, overhyped spectacle, and, more often than not, an anti-climax; this may also be true of the Presidency.

Today, as we enter Super Bowl weekend, we’re at game 41:  George H.W. Bush vs. the Colts/Bears in 2007.  Steinberg makes some telling remarks about dynasties in both politics and football.  Prescott Bush made it to the Senate, but he had to wait for a son and grandson to became President.  Archie Manning was a great quarterback for the Saints, but it took Peyton and Eli to win championships.  Steinberg gives this battle to the Super Bowls, and they lead by a 21-20 margin with three to go.

There are little gems throughout.  Super Bowl 37 (when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for crying out loud, were champs) top Richard Nixon because they avoided scandal.  Super Bowl 3 vs. Thomas Jefferson was an epic, but Steinberg eventually awards it to TJ over Broadway Joe.  It isn’t until Super Bowl 4, when the Chiefs top the Vikings and go up against James Madison, that the Super Bowls finally get a win.  What, you may ask: How does the Father of the Constitution lose, even to Hank Stram and his boys “matriculating the ball down the field”?  Well, Steinberg limits accomplishments to the time these men were actually Presidents, and Madison had that unfortunate thing with the White House being burned by the British against his record.

So, if you want a laugh on Super Bowl weekend head over to The America Bowl and see how your history and sports knowledge hold up.

More to come…


Why I Feel Lucky…With a Snowstorm on the Way

As we await our second snowpocalypse in two months here in the Washington area, I was fortunate enough to read Dr. Tom Bibey’s Stories of the Bluegrass Music Road blog this morning.  It reminded me of how your outlook affects so much in life.

My favorite story from Dr. B’s blog this morning:

I began to write in 2000.  I’ve had the same game plan since 2002; write a bluegrass based book, have it out in 2010, then travel a little with my wife for a couple years before we get too old to go.  Our goal is to meet the best people, play a lot of music, learn a bunch of new songs, and sell enough books to make the trip break even.  A buddy of mine said he toured with a bluegrass band and made it to California and back.  He had a great time and met all kinda folks.  After it was over he had ten more dollars than he started with.  He is my hero.

So I’m approaching the snowpocalypse with the idea that I’ll be in a nice warm home this weekend with plenty of time to play music, be with the family, watch the Super Bowl, and connect (electronically) with friends all over the world.  What’s so bad about that?

More to come…