Visit the Tennessee River Valley, and you will be exploring America’s past, present, and future, from the early longhunters who began settling the area in the mid 1700’s to the space industry in Huntsville. A scenic two hour road trip from Knoxville, TN took me back 130 years to the historic town of Rugby. This small preserved town was built as a Utopian village by social reformer Thomas Hughes as an agricultural community free of the class distinction prominent in Britain. Hughes believed that America was an opportunity for younger sons of landed gentry to succeed in agricultural industries. These same sons would not inherit in their homelands, and often struggled to find socially acceptable occupations in the social hierarchy of Britain. Hughes selected location of the colony in part because of the opening of a major line of the Cincinnati- Southern Railroad and because the abundant land and water.
After spending a pleasant night at the Grey Gables Inn located just outside of Rugby, we enjoyed coffee with our host, inn owner Linda Brooks Jones, who has deep roots in the community. The Grey Gables was the perfect first stop to learn about the history of the region, and to enjoy a home cooked dinner and breakfast, which is included in the inn fare.
Our first stop in Rugby was the Welcome Center where we met Sue Bell, Volunteer Outreach Coordinator, and Ranger Christopher Derman, Chief of Interpretation, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Historic Rugby abuts the national park, so hikers have a wealth of trails in the immediate area to explore. The Welcome Center provides visitors a start pointing to explore the village, and to locate trail heads to some of the popular sites such as the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole.
Our last stop was the RM Brooks Store, a working museum that bridges the past and the present. During my interview with Tiffany, store proprietor, there was a constant stream of store customers seeking lunch or inquiring about the area. The large flat top grill sizzled as Tiffany wielded words and a spatula. The sense of place resonates in this building,
As I left Rugby, I marveled at the vision and resiliency of early pioneers who settled this region.