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Utopias and Planned Communities in Tennessee (Special Collections): Utopian Communities

This research guide will direct you to materials in Special Collections related to the history of utopian and planned communities in Tennessee.


faded sepia photograph of a Group of people posing in front of Tabard Inn in Rugby. one man even gives a thumbs up, and only one of the eleven is a woman.
Group of people in front of Tabard Inn in Rugby, Tenn., circa 1880s Image via Volunteer Voices

Manuscript Resources

Rugby Colony Photographs, circa 1880-1887 (MS.3487)
These photographs depict residents of and visitors to Tennessee's Rugby Colony between 1880 and 1887.  The majority of these images show either members of the Gilliat family or guests at the Tabard Inn.  Also included are notecards identifying some of the people and locations featured in the photographs.

Rugby (Tenn.) Colony Photograph, circa 1880s (MS.2721)
This collection consists of one 8x10 black-and-white photograph of members of the Rugby (Tennessee) Colony participating in a summer outing.

Robert Walton Letter, 1886 May 13 (MS.3262)
Robert Walton of the Board of Aid to Land Ownership (the governing body for Rugby land acquisition and sale) wrote this letter to Rugby's town Judge, D. K. Young, on May 13, 1886. The letter is written on official Board of Aid stationery and reads in part, "I desire to express to my thanks for your kindness in having me appointed to join the Knoxville delegation to go to Cincinnati in the interest of the proposed R. R."

"Rugby, Tennessee and the Hughes Public Library", circa 1941 (MS.0145)
Otho N. Walraven begins this account of Rugby, Tennessee and the Hughes Public Library with a brief description and history of the town. He goes on to describe the library's founding in 1885 and closes with a mention of Rugby's little English Church. This typescript was produced as part of the Federal Writers' Project.

Rare Books

The English Settlement at Rugby, Tennessee. 1941 (F444.R9 M5)


Rugby, A Great Man's Dream. 1963 (F444.R9 W5)


The Distant Eden: Tennessee's Rugby Colony; A History of the English Colony at Rugby, Tennessee, with a Guide to the Remaining Original Buildings. 1973 (F444.R9 S72)


Rugby: A Brave Failure, A Brave Success. 1975 (F444. R9L38 1975)


Rugby: Tennessee's Victorian Village. 1987 (F444 .R9B73 1987)


Rugby, Tennessee: Some Account of the Settlement Founded on the Cumberland Plateau. 2008 (F444 .R9 H8 2008)


The Rugbeian. 1967-2012. (F444.R9 R92) 

Ruskin Colony

black and white photograph that overlooks the ruskin colony in 1898. Lots of houses appear around a larger central building.
View of Ruskin Colony, 1898.

Manuscript Resources

Jan Bakker and Francelia Butler Papers on Ruskin, Tennessee, 1776-2003 [bulk 1997-2001] (MS.2842)
This collection of papers focuses on Bakker and Butler's road to publishing At Ruskin, Tennessee: An Introduction to Another Socialist Commune in America with the Edwin Mellen Press. It includes correspondence, editors remarks, notes, and manuscripts.

Francelia Butler Collection on the Ruskin Co-operative Association, 1893-1980 (MS.1014)
This collection documents the Ruskin Co-operative Association, which was active from 1893 to 1899 in Ruskin, Tennessee and from 1899 to 1901 in Ruskin, Georgia. Among these materials are published records, documents, photographs, newspapers (which discuss the economic depression of the 1890s that induced people to join the Commune), and published articles.

Ruskin Cooperative Association Collection, 1894-1915, 1933-1958 (MS.0023)
This collection houses membership lists, mementos, photographs, correspondence, legal papers, scrapbooks, minute books, notes, manuscripts, articles, clippings, and other materials documenting the Ruskin Cooperative Association. Many of these documents were created or collected by Grace (Stone) Buehler during the course of her research into the organization.

Jan Bakker/Ruskin Commune Papers, 1992-1993 (MS.2360)
This collection, the Jan Bakker/Ruskin Commune Papers, 1992-1993, contains the 1992 copy of the manuscript Marxism, Feminism, and Free Love, The Story of the Ruskin Commune by Jan Bakker and Francelia Butler, along with correspondence from Jan Bakker, Professor of English at Utah State University, and W. Todd Groce of the East Tennessee Historical Society.

Rare Books

The Last Days of the Ruskin Co-operative Association. 1902 (HX656.R9 B8)
The Ruskin Colony, 1894-1901: Experimental Model for the Socialist Commonwealth. 1973 (Thesis 73 .G425)
The Ruskin Colony: a Paradox in the Communitarian Movement. 1994 (HX656 .R9J63 1994)
A Socialist Utopia in the New South: the Ruskin Colonies in Tennessee and Georgia, 1894-1901. 1996 (HX665 .S68 B78 1996)
A Study of the Socialist Commune at Ruskin, Tennessee. 2002 (HX656 .R9 B35 2002)

Special Collections Contact Information

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Special Collections
1015 Volunteer Boulevard
Knoxville, TN 37996
(865) 974-4480

We are open Monday-Friday: 9AM-5PM. Go to Visiting Special Collections for more information on how to request materials.