hat’s old is new again. According to The National Tour Association, this popular notion is contributing to a dramatic increase in experiential travel, a tourism trend defined by rapidly retiring baby boomers and families who prefer an active role in their vacation experience.
Vacation destinations in East Tennessee illustrate the popularity of experiential travel that involves “reliving” three centuries in three days. In Rugby, Norris and Oak Ridge, all within a day’s drive of the entire Eastern United States, visitors experience first-hand the region’s rich cultural heritage.
Historic Rugby (picture top left), atop the Cumberland Plateau, was founded in the 1800s by famed British writer Thomas Hughes, who envisioned a class-free community where British and American residents could work together for the common good. While Hughes’s experiment largely failed, a small community lingered at Rugby throughout the 20th century. In 1966, preservationists formed Historic Rugby, a non-profit group dedicated to restoring and maintaining the community’s surviving historic structures, which include the Christ Church Episcopal, the Thomas Hughes Library, the Rugby School, Kingstone Lisle, Uffington House, and Newbury House. The group has also reconstructed several buildings based on their original designs, including the Board of Aid office, the Rugby Commissary, and Sir Henry Kimber’s Percy Cottage. The Harrow Road Cafe, a restaurant built in the 1980s, was named for a restaurant that existed at Rugby in the 1880s, although its original design is unknown. The Rugby Printing Works, which originally stood at nearby Deer Lodge, was moved to Rugby in the 1970s. In recent years, Historic Rugby has opened up the community’s Beacon Hill area (originally planned to include residences and a park) to new home construction, with the condition that all new homes must be designed in accordance with the community’s Victorian aesthetic.
Rugby’s Victorian architecture and picturesque setting have since made it a popular tourist attraction. In 1972, Rugby’s historic area was listed under the name Rugby Colony on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.
The small town has thusly withstood the test of time, providing guests with a glimpse into 1800s life. In addition to exploring the town’s 13 original buildings, visitors can learn to play the mountain dulcimer and witness traditional trades such as pottery, woodcarving, quilting, and weaving. Visit http://www.historicrugby.org/
A short drive away on the outskirts of Norris, The Museum of Appalachia details mountain life in Southern Appalachia more than 100 years ago. Guests will experience pioneer-type craftspeople engaged in frontier, mountain and rural activities.
In addition, dozens of original and authentic cabins, such as Mark Twain’s family home, help visitors learn about the everyday articles that Appalachian mountain folk created, used and cherished in order to survive in their primitive surroundings. Visit http://www.museumofappalachia.com/
The town of Norris itself is worth a visit. Today it serves primarily as a bedroom community to Knoxville, but Norris was originally built as a model planned community by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 to house workers building Norris Dam. It is named in honor of Nebraska Senator George W. Norris, a long-term supporter of TVA.
TVA chairman Arthur Morgan envisioned Norris as a model of cooperative, egalitarian living. The city design was developed by TVA staff, who loosely based their design on the English garden city movement of the 1890s. Winding roads followed the contour of the terrain. Houses did not always face the street. A central common green and a belt of rural land around the town were reserved for use by residents. The houses, which were some of the first all-electric homes, were built using local wood and stone, according to twelve basic house designs that each included a porch and fireplace. Different exterior materials were used for visual variety.
Norris represents the first use of greenbelt design principles in a self-contained town in the United States. The town was the first in Tennessee to have a complete system of dial telephones. Norris Creamery was the first milk-producing plant in the world to be powered solely by electricity.
The town, including 340 buildings and an area of about 4,000 acres (16 km2), was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as an historic district, designated the Norris District.
And then there’s Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge was built under a cloak of great secrecy during World War II. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the city of Oak Ridge did not even exist. Instead, century-old family farms and small Appalachian communities occupied the area. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was forced to enter the war.
In an effort to bring an end to the war, three cities were chosen to be part of the top-secret “Manhattan Project” which would produce the world’s first atomic weapons. Those cities were Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which was built specifically for the war effort.
Called the most significant story of the 20th Century, there are many WWII Manhattan Project sites in and around Oak Ridge on the national register of historic places as well as on the Tennessee State Heritage Trail. The self-guided auto tour map of World War II’s Secret City gives you the opportunity to experience the rich history of the area at your own pace.
Also in Oak Ridge, East Tennessee visitors can explore the excitement of 20th and 21st century progress at the American Museum of Science and Energy. Here you can discover how 75,000 people kept a secret in Oak Ridge during WWII. Learn about Oak Ridge’s leading-edge technology that continues to earn the U.S. the title “Super Power.” Since 1949, “hair raising” experiences, live demonstrations, audiovisuals, machines, and devices have kept visitors entertained and educated. The original museum opened in an old wartime cafeteria and was originally named the American Museum of Atomic Energy.
For more information about these and other experiential tourism destinations in Oak Ridge and surrounding communities, call the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau (865) 482-7821 or visit www.oakridgevisitor.com.
IF YOU GO: These three communities are within easy reach of several timeshare resorts in the area, including those around Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville, which are about 65 miles (or less) away. This provides a fun and different day-drive opportunity, should you choose to explore venues in addition to Dollywood and the more traditional pursuits within the Gatlinburg area.
"On the Road" is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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