Rugby is a unique destination for families looking for a quaint mix of history and outdoor fun. (Photo: Brian Stansberry)The historic village of Rugby in Northeast Tennessee was established in 1880 as a social experiment by British author and social reformer Thomas Hughes, who hoped to provide a better life in America for the younger sons of wealthy English families.
Today, Rugby is a unique destination for families looking for a quaint mix of history and outdoor fun, providing easy access to the woods and waters of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Located about 1.5 hours northwest of Knoxville, Tenn., Rugby’s historic architecture and serene setting lure visitors from all over the country.
Hughes envisioned a cultured and cooperative agricultural community within the wilderness of the Cumberland Plateau. During its heyday in the 1880s, Rugby had more than 300 residents, 65 Victorian buildings, a large inn, a weekly newspaper and tennis courts, according to Historic Rugby, the nonprofit group dedicated to restoring and maintaining the village.
Many of Rugby’s original settlers were unaccustomed to hard manual labor and found it difficult to grow food in the poor soil of the Cumberland Plateau. Then in 1881, a typhoid epidemic killed several residents, forcing many residents to leave for other parts of the United States. A small population remained into the 20th century.
In 1966, a group of preservationists formed Historic Rugby. The village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Visitors to Rugby can enjoy tours of the town’s historical structures and a museum that details the history of the village. Surviving structures include Christ Church Episcopal, the Thomas Hughes Library, the Rugby School, Kingstone Lisle, Uffington House and Newbury House. Several reconstructed buildings based on their original designs also dot the landscape, including the Board of Aid office, the Rugby Commissary and Sir Henry Kimber’s Percy Cottage.
With easy access to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the 667-acre Rugby State Natural Area, Rugby is a hiker’s dream. The Big South Fork Rugby Ranger Station, located in the middle of the village, is open each weekend from Memorial Day through Labor Day, offering guided hikes and visitor information.
From town, visitors can walk to the well-known Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole and the Meeting of the Waters, the confluence of Clear Fork Creek and White Oak Creek. Another hiking option is the Massengale Homeplace and Trail, a 1.2-mile round-trip trail to a 1860s homestead that features scenic views of the Cumberland Mountains.
Overnight options in Rugby include the Historic Newbury House, a large Victorian house built in 1880; Percy Cottage, a quaint house built in 1977; and Pioneer Cottage, the first lodging facility built in Rugby. Harrow Road Café, named for a restaurant that existed in the 1880s, features a full menu of British and American favorites.
For more information, visit www.HistoricRugby.org or call 423-628-2441.