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…