Thomas Hughes Public Library
One of the first institutions established in Rugby was the Thomas Hughes Free Public Library. The library today is the most historically authentic in the entire Rugby Colony National Register Historic District. It presents literally the same appearance, inside and out, as the day the doors first opened on October 5, 1882. After passing through a small vestibule the visitor enters the main part of the library through a pair of swinging, green baize-covered doors. The interior reveals a decorative sophistication unexpected in the Appalachian mountains, with an ornate plaster ceiling and handsomely designed bookcases and other furniture. The original ladder, with its 1881 patent date stenciled on the bottom of the top rung, is still used; visitors may sit in the original cane-seated chairs; the 1882 shipping labels are still fastened to the bottoms of many of the captain's chairs at the massive walnut library tables.
The library contains more than 7,000 volumes--one of the best representative collections of Victorian-era literature in public view in America. The floor to ceiling shelves contain no books published later than 1898, with most published from the 1860s through the 1880s. Virtually every subject area is represented, including fiction, biography, science, history, etiquette, housekeeping, religion, poetry and drama, sociology, travel, farming and gardening. Works of well known authors such as John Greenleaf Whittier, William Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, Robert Burns, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oliver Wendall Holmes and James Fennimore Cooper share the shelves with hundreds of children's books, including some illustrated by Charles Kingsley and Kate Greenaway.
The library also contains a fine collection of Victorian periodicals: Illustrated London News, Harper's Monthly, the London Punch, The Spectator, North American Review, Scientific American, Ladies Home Journal and many others. Some of the books are by relatives of Rugby coloists, such as The Literary Reader and Man In The Image of God, both by the Rev. Canon Hugh G. Robinson, who was chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire at Bolton Abbey, and sent several children to Rugby as colonists. A complete set of the federally-published War of the Rebellion records fills two rows of shelves.
Thirty-eight of America's best known 1880s publishers gave the bulk of the book collection to the colony as a tribute to Hughes, whose 1857 book Tom Brown's Schooldays, was a best seller from the 1850s to 1900 and beyond. In addition, several hundred volumes were given to the library by individual colonists from their private collections. Thomas Hughes' 84-year-old mother presided at the laying of the cornerstone of the library and presented a portrait of the author to the library that is still in place today. Also hanging in the library today is a picture of C.H. Wilson, who held a master's degree from Cambridge, was resident geologist for the Board of Aid, and was the first treasurer of the Hughes Library Board. Wilson was engaged to Thomas Hughes' niece, Emily who lived in Rugby, but died of yellow fever while on a geological expedition to Belize, British Honduras in 1887.
Hundreds of colonists and visitors used the Thomas Hughes Library from 1882 well into this century. All original records are intact, including the guest register, library check out cards and even the records of fines due or paid for overdue books!
No where in Historic Rugby will you find a stronger connection to Rugby's 1880s life.