Thursday, July 01, 2010

Utopia near Knoxville

When I was younger, most of our family vacations took place in and near the Smoky Mountains. I am drawn to that area to this day because of the ties I have to it from my childhood, but lately, I've been wanting to branch out and explore (personally) uncharted territories.

One place I've really been wanting to visit is the Big South Fork area. I still haven't officially been, but last week I was close. I went to Historic Rugby (a town en route to BSF) for a work field trip. If you've never heard of it or never been, it's remarkable. I never knew anything like it existed in Tennessee.

Rugby was founded by Thomas Hughes in 1880 to be a class-free, agricultural community for men in England who wanted to start a new life in America. Some call it a Utopian community, and now I know why. The land and buildings are beautiful and seemingly untouched. Today there are regulations that require people to only build where original homes once stood, and they are strongly encouraged to use designs similar to the Victorian architecture of the historic buildings.

There is one cafe in town, and we ate lunch there. The cuisine is English, things like fish and chips and Shepherd's Pie. I ordered the Welsh Rarebit, two English muffins topped with grilled tomatoes, onions, bacon, dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and a cheese sauce. It was delicious, but instead of going on a long walk after eating something like this, I split a piece of home-made peanut butter pie with my co-worker instead.

Rugby really is an incredible place. If you should ever decide to stay there, they have cottages in which you can sleep with hammocks on the front porch. You can go for a swim in the Gentleman's Swimming Hole, formerly for men but now also for gentle-women (progressive). They have a couple of quaint shops featuring local artisans' work and even a print shop with printing press, but they can't afford to pay anyone to set up there. I wonder if Yee-Haw could ever do anything there...

Rugby also has the nation's oldest preserved library, in the sense that it is exactly the way it was when it started. Pretty sweet if you ask me.

Even if it was work that brought me there, I am grateful to have finally spent some time in that area. In early October, I'm going back for the annual East Tennessee Preservation Alliance Conference. It's supposed to be incredible then; the leaves will be at their peak. The theme of the conference, in essence, is how to preserve land and historic buildings in a way that makes them destinations, something people in Rugby seem to know a thing or two about. If you are interested in attending the conference, contact Ethiel at

It took about an hour and a half to reach Rugby from Knoxville. Here are directions. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It's worth seeing and learning about for yourself.


Mickey said...

Very cool. BSF was high on my list of places to visit while living in Tennessee, but I never made it out there. Shame.

That lunch looks amazing, too.

Unknown said...

Be sure to check out the trails and visitor center! It's super cool, 3D glasses and interactive websites. It's no wonder Senator Howard Baker loves the area and funnels love and money into it.

benjamin said...

i want to go!

micah daniel said...

looks incredible!

Anonymous said...

My sister honeymooned in Rugby in October, 1987, yet somehow I've never made it there myself. And I call myself a history buff. I should be horsewhipped.

Thank you for the kick in the pants!

ck said...

Man, that rarebit is good! Mrs. CK and I stayed in the Pioneer Cottage for a night a few years ago- it was very pleasant and homey. Something about that village is very comforting.

The Modern Gal said...

I've been itching to go to Rugby. Maybe I can make it before the summer is over.