By Heather Mullinix
A drive through the Cumberland Plateau on Hwy. 52, east of Allardt, will have some scratching their heads, thinking they somehow traveled back in time. The 1880s Victorian village still features original buildings from its founding and preserves the history of those early colonists coming from England and other parts of the United States seeking a better life. Those stories are presented by Historic Rugby, in Morgan and Scott counties, for all to enjoy.
"There's always something to do," said Michael Harris, interim executive director for the village, which was listed on the National Register of HIstoric Places in 1972. "There are always new stories. That's what interesting — the people and their stories — and that's what makes a visit to Rugby so special."
Rugby was founded in 1880 by Thomas Hughes, British author and social activist. A recession during the 1870s in England left many "second sons" unable to find work in the fields of law, medicine and the clergy. Hughes felt they should take up agricultural pursuits in the American frontier and envisioned a cooperative, class-free utopian community that embraced the best America offered and retained English culture and customs. He partnered with the Boston-based Board of Aid to Land Ownership, which specialized in helping unemployed craftsmen relocate to rural areas.
Colonists built tennis and croquet courts and completed homes and the three-story Tabard Inn, which burned down in 1884. They constructed the Rugby School, Thomas Hughes Library, Printing Works, Kinstone Lisle, Newbury House and Christ Church Episcopal, among others. At its height, the town boasted more than 300 colonists.
The colony suffered a few setbacks, including lawsuits over land titles, financial troubles and harsh winters, and the deaths of notable colonists led to the departure of many original settlers. The colony was never deserted, however, and those who stayed behind struggled to preserve the colony's heritage. In 1966, Historic Rugby, a nonprofit organization, was formed to restore, preserve and protect the village. The National Trust for Historic Preservation calls Rugby one of the most authentically preserved historic villages in America.
The guided walking tours include the Hughes Free Public Library, virtually unchanged since it opened in 1882; Kingtone Lisle, founder Hughes' home; Christ Church Episcopal, which was chartered under the Episcopalian church, but available to all denominations; and the 1907 Rugby Schoolhouse, with a pictorial exhibit of the town's history. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1906 and rebuilt to serve the dozens of children attending school in Rugby. It also includes Uffington House, currently under restoration, where Thomas Hughes' mother, Margaret, lived with her granddaughter.
"They took two houses and stuck them together with another to give her a house similar to what she was accustomed to," Harris explained. The property includes the original barns and was lived in until the 1990s.
Historic Rugby can also help groups plan a special adventure.
"We love to have groups," Harris said, adding the group can personalize its tour and enjoy a buffet lunch at the Harrow Road Cafe, which offers specialties from the British Isles and down home country cooking, such as Shepherd's Pie, Bangers and Mash or meatloaf and fried catfish, along with lighter lunch fare. Full breakfasts are offered daily and dinner by lamplight is served Friday and Saturday evenings.
There are also many special events planned throughout the year, including this weekend's Laurel Dale Cemetery Lantern Tour, which begins at 4 p.m. Saturday.
In April, the first Rugby Quilts Come Full Circle will be held April 12 and 13, with hundreds of quilt exhibits, vendors and appraisals. There will also be an old-fashioned bed turning and the community will premiere the play "Full Circle," written by residents of the village.
"We got together and each person wrote each scene," Harris explained. Each scene had to have a quilt. Scenes include a story about the death of an infant and wrapping the child in a quilt, the marriage twins, using quilts to put out a fire at the Tabbard Inn, through the community's history to today's active quilt guild.
Another upcoming event is the 39th annual Rugby Village Festival, set for May 17 and 18, with storytelling, historic tours, delicious food and crafters demonstrating their traditional arts and crafts.
Harris said, "There's something going on every month, and even if there isn't an event, there's always something to see."
He recommends visiting www.historicrugby.org to learn more about upcoming special events, guest lecturers, workshops and more.
After exploring the village, visitors can also take advantage of the hiking trails in the Rugby State Natural Area, including a short hike to the Gentleman's Swimming Hole or the Massengale Homeplace Loop trail. Rugby is at the edge of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and offers access to numerous outdoors activities.
A number of 21st century colonists have also called the area home. Historic Rugby has two developments where modern construction must adhere to the historic nature of the community. Many owners choose to name their homes in the Victorian English style. The Beacon Hill and Boyle Woods developments offer an opportunity to own a piece of Rugby.
The Rugby Commissary is a not only a chance to do a little shopping, but to discover some of the world-class talent available in the heart of Appalachia, with juried crafts and artwork from local and regional artists available.
After a day of sightseeing, touring and hiking, and a filling dinner at the Harrow Road Cafe, some guests may want to extend their stay overnight. Historic Rugby offers several lodging options, including Newbury House Bed and Breakfast, Pioneer Cottage and Percy Cottage, all within a two-block area of the National Register Historic District. After a restful night, guests can enjoy a walk to breakfast or the commissary.
Just outside the Rugby Historic District is Grey Gables Bed and Breakfast Inn, which offers lodging, evening meal and country breakfast. Decorated in country and Victorian antiques and family heirlooms, many guests comment on the feeling of hospitality, serenity and security they feel. The inn has hosted many guests through the years, but notably played host to President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter. The inn offers 10 bedrooms and eight bathrooms, including handicap-accessible lodging, as well as numerous dining area options.
Linda Brooks Jones, who owns the inn with her husband, Bill, is known for her Plateau gourmet cooking and is the author of two popular cookbooks.
The bed and breakfast is also available for private brunches, lunches, dinners, retreats, receptions, conferences and reunions. Group specials are available for the Red Hat Society, murder mystery weekends and riders.
Reservations are required for all lodging at Historic Rugby.