Rugby, Tennessee, is a unique community on the Cumberland Plateau, with an incredible story of perseverance.
It 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 the places that inspired me.
Here’s the official story from my last post:
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.
Candice has heard me talk about Rugby, my introduction to this utopian community, and the work of the Stagg family for years. (Brian Stagg was the charismatic founding director of Historic Rugby. His sister Barbara took up the organization’s leadership after Brian’s untimely death and deserves a huge amount of credit for the current state of the village’s preservation. Brian’s brother Alan Stagg was the scoutmaster who took us to Rugby year-after-year in the 1960s.) I suggested a drive up to Rugby during a family vacation, and everyone readily agreed.
Despite an off-and-on rain, it was great to introduce this unique place to the family today. Everyone loved the intimate and beautiful Christ Church (Episcopal). We had a tasty lunch at the Harrow Road Cafe, reconstructed from the rather sparse building I remember from my youth. Claire was especially taken with the Thomas Hughes Public Lending Library – one of the most remarkable collections to survive under any circumstances. Because of the rain we weren’t able to hike down to the Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole, but we did tour all the public buildings, see the new homes on land that had been originally plotted for homes (but never built), and relive memories of great summers past.
Rugby is in a period of transition as Historic Rugby searches for a new director, but just as the next generation will see to the village’s preservation, I wanted the next generation in my family to know of my connection to this place of dreams.
More to come…