In the late 19th century, British social reformer Thomas Hughes envisioned a cultured utopia free from class distinctions found in England. Hughes found what he believed to be the perfect location for his ambitious experiment along the expansive gorges of the Cumberland Plateau in northeast Tennessee and opened the colony of Rugby in 1880. Initially, the colony attracted several families who erected Gothic Victorian homes. Hughes’ grand social experiment also garnered press attention from national publications like the New York Times and Harper’s Weekly, both of which followed Rugby’s progress.
By 1884, Rugby had a population of 400 colonists, sports and social clubs, and dozens of homes and buildings. But from the outset, the colony was plagued by financial and public health issues. Ongoing lawsuits over land titles and a typhoid outbreak contributed to the colony’s decline. Most of the original colonists had either died or moved away by late 1887. However, some hearty residents managed to hang on and the village continued to be inhabited throughout the 20th century.
Today, Historic Rugby is a beautifully-preserved testament to the utopian ideal and the brave colonists who dared to dream.