Friday, April 13, 2012

Uncovering a hidden history

By now regular readers know that Rugby, Tennessee, was founded in 1880 by British author and former member of Parliament Thomas Hughes. It was another 19th century Utopian experiment, this time to create a class-free society where the younger sons of the British landed gentry could escape the constraints imposed by class and primogeniture. And as with most other such experiments, it was short lived. In the more than 130 years since its founding, more than half of the early structures have been lost to fire or decay. Some have been reconstructed, following drawings or photographs of the original structures. Other important structures await the arrival of someone with the interest and money to reconstruct them. Now, thanks to a grant, we can see a few of the more important buildings while they await revival.

Historic Rugby, Inc., has placed display signs at the former sites of several buildings. Probably the most important of these buildings was the Tabard Inn. Named for an inn in the Canterbury Tales, there were two Tabard Inns in Rugby, both of which burned. When the second burned in 1899, the Rugby community was already in decline and the owner/operator, Abner Ross, left Rugby to start a new community he named Deer Lodge. Reconstruction of the Tabard Inn was once a goal of the National Park Service, in conjunction with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Unfortunately, the necessary funding was never found.

Roadside Cottage or Grey Gables sat on the corner opposite Thomas Hughes's Kingstone Lisle. The property is currently owned by Linda Brooks Jones who operates the Grey Gables B&B at the other end of the village.

The former site of the Perrigo/Alexander Boarding House has been bought by the operators of Rugby's Spirit of Red Hill Art and Odiments Shop, who plan to start reconstruction later this year. When complete, it will house their business plus lodging for overnight guests. The Spirit of Red Hill currently occupies the first floor of the Board of Aid to Land Ownership building, which means there will be room for one additional business in the village when they move out.

The Thomas Fardon Drug Supply and home was located at the northwestern end of the village business district, next to what is now Martin's Roost, a vacation home in what was once a blacksmith shop. I think Fardon's was one of the most interesting examples of mixed use architecture I've seen. His house and shop were under the same roof, both with entrances on the main street. I'd love to see someone rebuild it.

We look forward to when these, and other historic buildings, will be reconstructed, adding to the visitor experience and recreating the Rugby of the 1880s.


  1. Great post Jim! This was quite interesting.

  2. Fascinating stuff. I've just been reading the signs in the photos, which show up well when enlarged. Lets hope that more of these interesting structures get rebuilt.

  3. Thank you, Christine. And than you, John. I was hoping the texts could be read, but one never knows for sure until it posts and you get to see it as readers do.

    1. Make that "Thank you," John. My fingers move faster than I can type (or something like that).

  4. What an interesting post. It must have been heart-breaking for the original founders to see their dream come to nothing. Jane x