Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rugby, TN

I spent my teenaged and young adult years in New York State, so I'm familiar with failed utopian communities. I've been to the Oneida Community and Shaker villages and places like that, but I had no idea that we had one in Tennessee until I read an article a few weeks ago about the town of Rugby.

It seems that way back in the 1880's, there was a problem in England. All the noble families had their firstborn heir, and then they had the spare, in case the first one died. The problem was that not enough heirs were dying, so there were all these extra young men sitting around being idle with their wealthy allowances but no lands to inherit and nothing to do. Thomas Hughes, a famous English author, decided that he should create a colony for them, and for some reason picked the mountains of Tennessee.

I imagine that the conversation went something like this:

"Crikey! We've got a spot of bother!"

"What seems to be the trouble, my good man?"

"We've got all these idle layabouts, and nothing to do with them."

"What a sticky wicket! By Jove, I've got it! Let's send them to Tennessee!"


"Yes! They can build a colony, and they'll only be a few hours from Dollywood!"

"I beg your pardon, good sir, but there's no such place as Dollywood."

"Oh, there will be. There will be."

It probably took them many weeks to arrive from England, but it only took me an hour and a half to arrive from Knoxville. Kristin was supposed to go with me, but she bailed, so I went alone. This ended up working out well, though, because they do tours every hour and I was the only one who showed up at my hour, which meant I got a personal tour with my own tourguide.

There's not a lot to see. This mural of the colony as it looked in 1880 is still pretty accurate:

Rugby, TN in 1880

Like much of East Tennessee, it ended up looking a lot like Northern New York, but it was a nice sunny day in the mid-50's, so my guide and I had a nice walk and I got some nice, clear pictures.

We started at Kingstone Lisle, the house that Thomas Hughes had built for when he moved to the colony:

Kingstone Lisle

He never actually did move, but his elderly mother did, and lived in the house until she died:

hughes tombstone

It was hard to take any good photos in the house because there's no flash photography and heavy drapes, but I tried:

toward the kitchen

I had better luck outside:

rocking chairs

Percy Cottage

and at the church:

Christ Church Episcopal (1)

christ church episcopal (2)

which was lovely inside, if a little small:

church altar

altar window

The one-room library was also nice:

inside the library (1)

The shelves are actually made of the packing crates that the books were shipped in, stained and given a faux bois finish to mimic wood grain. The windows in the doors:

inside the library (2)

painted window

still have the original paint from the day the library opened.

Overall, the Historic Rugby trust has done a really good job of maintaining what's left of the colony, and even has a small museum in the schoolhouse:

rugby schoolhouse

complete with a creepy mannequin that looks oddly like Counselor Troi:


from "Time's Arrow".

On the advice of my tour guide I also visited the Laurel Dale Cemetary:


and then took a half-mile hike from the cemetary down to the Gentleman's Swimming Hole:

trail to swimming hole (2)

The trail was pretty:

trail to swimming hole (3)

and the swimming hole was nice, with a little sandy beach:

the gentlemen's swimming hole

freshwater clam

but I didn't realize how steep it was until I had to walk back up it:

trail to swimming hole (5)

and discovered that the arrow on the parking lot sign was literal:

trail to swimming hole (4)

The parking lot was pretty much directly above me at that point, but there was still a lot of hiking left before I got there. Maybe the tour guide recommended I go on the hike so that I'd have more of the authentic colonial experience, slogging up a hill in the woods instead of strolling idly down a nice, flat sidewalk.

At least she didn't also give me typhoid, like the colonists caught.


Liz said...

Tennessee is a vast outdoor theme park!

Elizabeth said...

I've never been to historic Rugby but your blog makes me want to go! You would also enjoy the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN (about the same distance). I have only been once when I was in middle school and I thought I'd hate it but it was really neat. It must have gotten pretty big because now it's "National" and has some connection with the Smithsonian. Either way here's the web link:

Lauren said...

I have been there-and also went on the hike. I loved the library!

Jeannie said...

Brian and I have been talking about going there for ages. I am glad you had fun!

amy said...

At the cottage we stayed in-my sister's cell phone stopped working and her watch. My nephew, who was between 2/3 years old at the time, looked at the top of the stairs and started screaming and crying for no reason. After that trip -I don't see him very often, but he would talk about that 'scary man'...creepy place.

JMBower said...

wow..the houses really do look like upstate NY. Same gabled roofs and structure. A little board-and-batten siding and a coat of white paint, and one of those could have been my old house.

Great shots, especially the hallway shot inside the house., The lack of interior light completely makes the shot.