An 1880s-style Christmas dinner in a Victorian village — that’s about as close to a genuine English Christmas as you’re going to get!
Earlier this month, the tiny village of Rugby (near Jamestown) hosted their traditional old-fashioned Christmas dinner.
“Christmas at Rugby has gone on at least 40 years,” says JoNell “Jody” Hester, Historic Rugby Board Member, who works with a team of volunteers on the Christmas at Rugby festivities. “The whole village is involved, usually about 50. Each year is a little different, but there are always readings, carolers, and a tree lighting in the gazebo. The historic buildings are open for tours and the tour guides will be dressed in period costumes and share stories specific to a Victorian Christmas in the mountains.”
The immigrants who built Rugby knew what they wanted: a perfect little Victorian town in where everyone was equal. They settled on the Cumberland Plateau near Jamestown. “These English people, with a few Irish and Welsh sprinkled in, wanted to build a utopia. They had a blacksmith, a doctor, a tomato canning factory and a hotel. They played lawn tennis, had a drama club and a cornet band. They had a little town. In its heyday there were 300 people living there,” Hester says.
“Back then, the second sons didn’t inherit very much, but were still expected to live the lifestyle their families did. In the late 1800’s they didn’t have to stay in Europe and become doctors or lawyers. In Rugby they could be farmers or whatever they wanted to be and everybody was supposed to be equal.
“Rugby had problems, though,” she says. “They couldn’t buy property right away because some of the deeds weren’t clear. There was an epidemic of typhoid. And the winters were hard. There was supposed to be a railroad spur coming here that never happened. You can imagine getting supplies on a horse and wagon on a dirt road. The unclear deeds and poor soil quality for farming were the downfall of Rugby.”
Despite the many challenges, Rugby has survived. The church has been used continually since about 1881. The original school burned and was rebuilt. The library has been there since the beginning. There are also original homes including Rosalyn, and Adena Cottage, the Lindens, the Wren’s Nest, Ruralia, Twin Oaks, Oak Lodge.
Now Rugby is celebrating 143 years as a community, with 18 historical buildings on site.