Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thomas Hughes Public Library

Thomas Hughes's vision for his utopian settlement on the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau was for a class-free society that combined hard work with cultural pursuits. One manifestation of that vision was the Hughes Library.

It opened on October 5, 1882, two years to the day after Hughes dedicated the Rugby settlement. Being a prominent figure, as well as a best-selling author, publishers quickly filled the building with more than 7,000 volumes of the latest Victorian works.

It operated as a circulating library for more than 60 years. It contains more than 7,000 volumes, and none that was printed after 1899! One can only imagine the world view gotten by the students from the next-door Rugby school by reading only 50-plus-year-old books, especially since electricity, and thus television, didn't come to this part of the Plateau until the early 1950s.

The biggest change one notices today from the 1940s photo above is what's hanging on the ends of the bookcases. Thanks to detailed records, even the books on the shelves are in the same location they would have been in during the 1880s. However, the volumes no longer circulate and, although available to scholars, must be handled with cotton-gloved hands.

We've been told by visitors that the building itself is the best example of English-Victorian architecture to be found in Rugby. I can't vouch for that, but it is picturesque.