The Rugby Colony was founded by English author and social reformer Thomas Hughes in the eastern Tennessee mountains, and was officially christened on October 5, 1880.
Hughes published the President’s Address he’d given at the opening of the town site in a pamphlet circulated in London, Boston and New York with the intent to attract additional lot purchasers:
“The prospectuses and pamphlets of the numerous corporations and individuals who are just now engaged in this work of settling and developing the unoccupied lands on this glorious continent, are full of figures and statements showing the rapidity with which enormous gain will be made in the several regions to which they desire to attract settlers. This being so, you may fairly ask, what have I, standing here at the representative of the founders of this settlement, to say upon the subject?
“I answer them broadly and frankly; we have nothing to say. We believe that our lands have been well bought, and that those who settle here and buy from us will get good value for their money, and will find it as easy as it is at all well that it should be to make a living here.
“Beyond this we are not careful to travel. Whether the lands will double or quadruple in value before you have fairly learned to live on them; whether you will make five or twenty or one hundred per cent on your investments, we offer no opinions. You can judge for yourselves of the chances, if these are your main aims.
“Speaking for myself, however, I must say that I look with distrust rather than with hope to very rapid pecuniary returns. I am old fashioned enough to prefer slow and steady growth. I like to give the cream plenty of time to rise before you skim it.
The wise men wait; it is the foolish haste,
And, ere the scenes are in the slides would play,
And, while the instruments are tuning, dance.
“So far as I have been able to judge, these new settlements are being, as a rule, dwarfed and demoralized by hurrying forward in the pursuit of gain, allowing this to become the absorbing propensity of each infant community.
“Then follows, as surely as night follows day, that feverish activity of mercantile speculation, which is the great danger, and to my mind, the great disgrace of our time.
“If it must come it must, but, so far as we are concerned, it shall get no help or furtherance here.
“On the other hand, all that helps to make healthy, brave, modest, and true men and women will get from us all the cordial sympathy and help we are able to give.
“In one word, our aim and hope are to plant on these highlands a community of gentlemen and ladies; not that artificial class which goes by those grand names, both in Europe and here, the joint product of feudalism and wealth, but a society in which the humblest members, who live (as we hope most if not all of them will, to some extent) by the labour of their own hands, will be of such strain and culture that they will be able to meet princes in the gate without embarrassment and without self-assertion, should any such strange persons ever present themselves before the gate tower of Rugby in the New World.”
The utopia Hughes envisioned didn’t last long. In 1881 a typhoid epidemic took the lives of seven Rugbians. By 1884 the 400 or so colonists had managed to establish a canning company, a sawmill, a commissary, a printing office, and The Tabard Inn, a boarding house which drew in summer holiday traffic. But by 1887 a decline in commodity prices, falling land prices, and a long drought marked the beginning of the end for the settlement.
On top of these woes, the Cincinnati-Southern Railroad failed to build a spur line through Rugby, as they originally had promised. And so, less than two decades into Hughes’ grand experiment, many of the original colonists by the 1890s had left for other parts of America, unable to prosper in Rugby.