It is a village frozen in the amber of time.
Located on the border of Scott and Morgan counties, Rugby is easy to get to: take I-40 East to Highway 127 north, go through Clarkrange, and follow the map through a few miles of rolling, scenic countryside.
Suddenly you come around a bend and run smack into the 1800s.
Several of the Rugby Colony’s original buildings remain unchanged, including a library, schoolhouse and church. The library, which contains thousands of books from the era, is open to public visits, and the church remains active.
I suggest starting at the Visitor’s Center/Museum. A fascinating video is presented in the Center’s theater chronicling Rugby’s intriguing history.
The museum contains a collection of artifacts, photographs and documents. Some of the items belonged to Rugby founder Thomas Hughes, an Englishman who dreamed of forging an “an experimental utopian colony” in the Tennessee wilderness.
Approximately 400 well-to-do Englishmen and their families joined Hughes in building the settlement in 1800. They constructed ornate Victorian-style homes and public buildings, and enjoyed reading, playing tennis and swimming in the “Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole.”
However, their efforts to sustain a viable economy – including raising tomatoes – failed.
Some of the settlers died in a typhoid outbreak and are buried in a cemetery on the edge of the colony. Others gave up and moved to Boston. A few stayed on, gradually joined by other settlers who were venturing into the area.
One family of settlers was the Massengales, and the remains of their homestead can be found on a nearby hilltop. The stone spring house, in which butter and milk was stored for cooling, remains intact in a hollow below the cabin site.
Taking the one-mile hike to the Massengale cabin site is part of the lure for outdoors photographers, naturalists and wildlife-watchers. The hike is part of miles of trails that wind through and around the remote Rugby area, part of which lies within the Big South Fork park.
The trails take hikers along clusters of wildflowers, towering fir trees and thickets of mountain laurel in which black bears are sometimes sighted.
One of more interesting hikes begins at the old Rugby cemetery and leads down to the “Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole” on the Clear Fork River. Photographs in the Rugby Visitor’s Center show residents in the early 1880’s swimming and frolicking in the emerald-green pool at the foot of a falls – exactly as it remains today.
A word of caution: the swimming-hole trail is two-mile round-trip, part of which is over rugged terrain. There are other less-challenging hiking trails available.
Before visiting Rugby check to see what days the Visitors Center and tours are available – some operate only Thursday-Sunday, and the village’s lone restaurant keeps odd hours.
A Rugby website lists updated information and also special events such as a May Day arts and crafts festival and an Old English-themed Christmas. Both are fascinating.
Equally fascinating is the study of the day-to-day lives of Rugby’s hardy founders, and the unchanged enchantment of the area that drew them there.