Like everyone else in the world, Sweetums and I were wanting to get out of the house over the weekend. Even though we are both still working, remotely at the moment, we have missed our road trips to see quirky roadside attractions since last summer, when we started building a house and had to curtail activity.
We moved in the house over Christmas and we finally decided we had the time and money to take a day trip. Because we’ve seen so any attractions within a 3-hours drive from our home in North Alabama, we had to pick a place a little farther to find someplace unique. We also had to find a place that, during the COVID-19 social distancing, was A. open, B. isolated and C. virtually empty of other tourists. (NOTE: Neither Alabama nor Tennessee had issued shelter-in-place orders at the time. If your state has, we encourage you to follow the recommended guidelines.)
We chose the village of Rugby, Tenn., which has been on my list for quite a while. Rugby is a preserved Victorian village that was begun in 1880 as a sort of Utopian colony. Numerous historic homes and buildings remain and the site adjoins the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which offers plenty of hiking trails.
The village museums, welcome center, shops and restaurant, which had been closed for the winter, were set to open Saturday but did not because of coronavirus precautions. I sent a Facebook message before going to be sure we could walk around and take photos and was encouraged to come ahead. The public restroom was also open so we didn’t have to go into any businesses.
When we arrived in Rugby on Saturday afternoon, the we saw two couples taking advantage of the hiking trails. While we all said hello, no one approached. We later met Lavonne Gibbs, who lives in Rugby and helps care for the village. She was concerned about the impact of the closure on tourism and wanted me to let folks know some of the lodging in the village remains open because the homes can be rented by one family at a time and to encourage people to come to the town when it reopens. Sweetums and I plan to return to see the interior of the homes and buildings, which were beautiful.
In 1880, Thomas Hughes, an English author, was seeing a trend that bothered him: Because only the oldest sons could inherit estates under English law, second and third sons were left without property or work. He hoped that by coming to the U.S., he could build a place where the talents of these people could be put to use.
Hughes named the town for a city in England and planned for its residents to farm and support themselves. But problems such as outbreaks of disease, land disputes and people unaccustomed to hard manual labor caused most residents to leave the town.
Some people remained, however, and in the 1960s, those residents as well as descendants of the colonists began to restore the historic buildings and opened them to the public.
Those that are open during a typical season include: The Visitor Center, where guests can see a documentary of the village, the 1884 Kingstone Lisle house, the 1887 Christ Church Episcopal, the 1906 Rugby schoolhouse; the 1882 Thomas Hughes Library; the Rugby Community Building, the Beacon Hill Bandstand, 1881 Oak Lodge, Laurel Dale Cemetery, Rugby Commissary (a reconstruction of the 1880 original), the Board of Aid to Land Ownership Office (a reconstruction of the 1880 original), the ca.-1880 Rugby Printing Works, Harrow Road Café (housed in a building designed like the original 1880s house once on the site), the 1880 Newberry House Bed & Breakfast, Percy Cottage (reconstructed like the original in the 1970s now used as guest lodging). Guests can also drive by the numerous private residences, which are either original to the colony or reconstructions of originals.
The Rugby village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Today, it is maintained by Historic Rugby Inc., a nonprofit organization established in 1966.The village plans to reopen in April but call to check first. Office: 423-628-2441.