Morgan County

Morgan County was originally created in 1817.

Historical Narrative

At Elgin, Tennessee, the Scenic Byway bears westward onto SR 52 before crossing into the northeast corner of Morgan County. Created from portions of Anderson and Roane Counties in 1817, Morgan County was named in honor of Daniel Morgan, a Revolutionary War veteran who led his troops to victory against the British at Cowpens and later served as a U.S. Representative from Virginia. Geographically, the county runs in a diagonal direction across the Cumberland Plateau from the eastern escarpment in Roane County northwestward to Fentress County. Morgan County’s incomparable natural beauty is reflected in its bevy of scenic resources, including Frozen Head State Park, the Obed Wild and Scenic River, Lone Mountain State Forest, Cumberland Trail State Park, and the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area.

Many of the county’s early settlers were veterans of the Revolutionary War who had been given land grants for their military service. Making their homes in the mountain valleys where the soil was richer and game more abundant than in the uplands, these settlers largely practiced subsistence farming. While coal mining began to emerge as an important economic force before the Civil War, the county has remained predominantly rural and sparsely settled since its inception. This rural character attracted the attention of George F. Gerding of New York and Theodore de Cock of Antwerp, Belgium, who, in 1844, organized a colonization effort designed to attract German and Swiss settlers to the area. The first contingent of 50 arrived from Mainz, Germany, in 1845, followed by two other groups the following year. Many settled in Wartburg, Tennessee, including winemakers, musical instrument craftsmen, physicians, artists, and a German nobleman, yet by 1870 only 57 German and 41 Swiss remained in the county.

Four architectural resources located within the one-mile buffer of the Morgan County portion of the Scenic Byway were originally surveyed by the University of Tennessee in 1980. One of the most significant historic resources in the State is the Rugby Colony, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 for its association with English author and social reformer Thomas Hughes and his attempt to establish a settlement for young men of the British aristocracy. Hughes was widely known throughout the United States as the author of the popular 1857 novel Tom Brown’s School Days, which was set in an English school for boys known as Rugby. In an era when the English gentry viewed only three acceptable professions: doctor, lawyer, or priest, for their sons. Hughes’s experimental settlement, established in 1880 in northern Morgan County, offered a place for these men to learn a manual trade free from the upper class stigma against manual labor.

By the early 1880s, Rugby was home to approximately 450 young men and women. So celebrated was the colony that, according to the National Register nomination, a young Theodore Roosevelt offered accommodations in his home in New York to any colonists on their way to Rugby, while Charles Dana, editor of the New York Sun, sent his widowed daughter and his grandchildren there. In addition to the colonists’ homes, Rugby included a number of buildings constructed in the Folk Victorian style architecture, including a library, school, church, and a hotel for guests called the Tabard Inn. Yet only a decade after its founding, Rugby was in decline. Farm income was weaker than anticipated, and poor planning and unprofitable real estate dealings strained business relationships between the colony’s British and American investors. By the turn of the 20th century the experiment was over. Of the original 65 buildings constructed, 17 are extant today. Rugby has became an important tourist attraction in recent years. Thomas Hughes’s utopian dream can still be glimpsed in the preserved Victorian architecture of this bucolic community.