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…


7 Responses

  1. David –

    What a surprise tonight. I came in late from the office and Mike (son) called. He sent me the link to your blog and this post, which he had run across. You have brought back some very pleasant memories. I then noticed that King Jamison had replied, which prompts me to get in touch with him. I trust things are going well for you. I note the ties to bluegrass music — hooah! Will stay in contact with your blog.


  2. Alan: It was great to hear from you. Thanks for writing (and thanks to Mike for being so smart as to find More to Come… while searching the web).

    I often think of those great summers we had at Rugby – and it really was where I got the preservation bug, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Hope you are well and thanks for reading.


  3. This brought back memories to me to. That was a great time when you fellas were in the scout troop. Those were great days. Alan really loved the boys he guided and taught during those years-a truly great scout master

  4. […] Comments Nancy Resnick (PA) on VOA Highlights Preservation of Rosenwald SchoolsGene Cotey on Rugby, Tennessee – Where My Preservation Career BeganDJB on Rugby, Tennessee – Where My Preservation Career BeganAlan Stagg on Rugby, […]

  5. David, I remember going with the scouts before I was old enough to be one. Kenndell Jamison and I were the youngest ones there but you older guys did not seem to mind too much. I remember King and his labrador retreiver and all of us going down to swim. That was the greatest swiming hole! The funniest time for me was when Doug Boggs caught and brought a baby skunk into the middle if camp and boy did we scatter! He had to burn everything he wore. And on a personal note that was when Daddy pruchased his very own personal folding camp toliet which he would proudley take to the woods each morning. Rugby hold great memories. Joe

  6. […] is also a place that means a great deal to me, as it was where my preservation career began. Today I took the opportunity to introduce Claire, Andrew, and Candice to Rugby and to show them […]

  7. […] that seemed to spring up like wildfire across America.  Rugby, Tennessee, was a place that sparked the preservation interest which would lead to my career. The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, has been a community […]

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