Today stately homes, residential communities, and exclusive subdivisions are found in much of the traditional Rugby community that borders the city of Hendersonville. The northern section of the community, past West Henderson High School, is still primarily used for agriculture.
The community is located in the valley of the French Broad River that flows through the community, along with several tributaries of the river. This made the community prime agricultural land.
Rugby is bordered to the north by Naples, to the west and northwest by Mills River and to the west and southwest by Horse Shoe. Stoney Mountain separates Rugby from the communities of Mountain Home and Balfour on the east. To the south is the city of Hendersonville.
After the Civil War, there was a small one-room schoolhouse located in the community. The school went by the name “Round Top” and by the nickname “Loafer’s Glory,” according to Frank Fitzsimons in “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.” When the community got a post office the families in the area needed a name. Residents were impressed by a school in Fletcher that was named for a private school in England – Rugby Grange. They decided to name their school and post office Rugby.
Early land deeds
Early land deeds describe the land using the names of rivers, streams and sometimes mountains. The French Broad River flows from Transylvania County (at one time part of Henderson County) through the Etowah and Horse Shoe communities, into the Rugby community, and then to Mills River and Fletcher.
In the pre-Civil War history of the community it was most likely considered a part of Mills River and Horse Shoe, and in some sections the early Naples community (Mud Creek).
It is extremely difficult to determine in which of today’s communities a land deed was located. Some of the earliest land owners were land speculators. They owned thousands of acres of land and then sold the land to early pioneer settlers. One of these land speculators was Andrew Miller, also known as James Andrew Miller. Miller also settled in today’s Rugby community.
Samuel King and members of his family also lived in the community near the French Broad River.
Miller and King were both Patriots in the Revolutionary War.
On Aug. 10, 1783, James Miller enters land along the “western waters at the mouth of a branch on the east side of the French Broad River, below the Big Bend at a birch marked WR.” The “big bend” is in Horse Shoe, but this land may have continued on into today’s Rugby community as Miller owned many acres in the county.
On April 8, 1788, Samuel King enters land on the west side of the French Broad River on both sides of the creek that empties into the French Broad, borders Plumery’s line from Davidson’s.
Early settlers in Rugby were the families of Miller, King, Lane, McCarson, Bowen, Fowler, Bowman, Smith, Carver, Brown, Morgan, Leverett and others.
There was also a black community located in the area. From early court records and census reports it appears that many of these residents were free blacks prior to the Civil War. Little is known about these early residents, but their graves are located in the lower section of the Mill Pond Cemetery.
For more information on the black community and other families who lived in the community, visit the “Historic Cemeteries” section on this web site and the articles on the Mill Pond Cemetery.
The first church west of the Blue Ridge (Continental Divide) was established in the community about 1788. Today this church is called Old French Broad Baptist Church. It was located near the land of the King family, on a hill overlooking the French Broad River. Early members of the church were the Miller and King families.
Today all that remains of this historical and early church is the old cemetery.
Today’s French Broad Baptist Church, whose history traces back to one of the most historical churches in Western North Carolina, is located in the Rugby community. Historic markers are located at the church.
For more information on this historic church and the Miller and King families, visit the “Historic Cemeteries” section on this web site.
In 1859, a Presbyterian church was established and named Oakdale Presbyterian Church. The land for the church was donated by the Miller family. This church was located near the old Mill Pond Cemetery. The cemetery was then used by the church, as the Miller family donated the cemetery to the church. The church was of short duration, but the abandoned building remained for many years.
Transportation and early mill
Some time before 1810, Joseph King, son of Samuel King, and his wife, Laodicia Parks Morgan King, moved to the French Broad River valley. They are buried a short distance from the river in the Old French Broad Baptist Church cemetery.
King’s Bridge was built and operated by King. The bridge allowed travelers to cross the river on the main road, which passed the old church and cemetery in the early 1800s.
The King Bridge was the first bridge built across the French Broad River in today’s Henderson County.
The earliest grist mill in the community was operated by the Miller family and located near the Mill Pond Cemetery. The pond formed from the old grist mill was named Mill Pond.
Post Office and Schools
Prior to 1866 mail for persons in the community was delivered to Mills River.
It was not until 1886 that a post office was established in the community. A person would pick up the bag of mail for the community at the Hillgirt (Balfour-Mountain Home area) depot station and bring the mail to the new post office.
William D. Miller was the postmaster. The post office was located in a room of his home. The Miller home was located on a hill called “Miller Hill” on today’s Grand View Lane.
The Miller family, descendants of James Andrew Miller, owned much of the land in the community since prior to 1800.
The Rugby Post Office closed about 1902 when rural route delivery began from Hendersonville.
The one-room school house was located above the home of Tom Bowman. When the community named their post office Rugby, after the Rugby Grange in Fletcher, they also named the school Rugby.
During school consolidation in the 1920s the school closed. Students then attended Mills River Elementary School and the high school at Mills River.
In 1960 West Henderson High School opened in the Rugby community. The high schools at Mills River, Fletcher and Etowah closed and those students were merged into the new high school.
About 1971 Rugby Junior High School was built across the road from West Henderson High School. This is now known as Rugby Middle School. The school was named for the early school in the community.
The Historic Johnson Farm, given to the Henderson County Public Schools, is located next to West Henderson High School. Click on the link below for more information on the history of Johnson Farm.
“Poor House,” POW camp, prison
In the early 1800s “poor houses” were established throughout the nation. Most of the counties in North Carolina had a “poor house,” a county home established for “paupers” in the community, the homeless.
After the Civil War, in 1868, the state mandated these homes in each county with taxes levied to support the home and to pay a person to oversee the home.
The home in Henderson County was on the Rugby side of Stoney Mountain, where the Henderson County Landfill is located today.
Before the recent changes at the landfill and the building of the new animal shelter, the cemetery for persons who died while residing at the home were near the old animal shelter.
The “County Home,” as it was named by local residents, closed in 1948.
In 1964 the Henderson County Landfill and the Henderson County Animal Shelter were erected on the land that formerly housed the “County Home.”
During World War II there were two prisoner of war camps located in Henderson County. These camps housed German POWs who worked in the agricultural fields and apple orchards. One of these camps was located in today’s Rugby community. POWs in this prison camp worked for farmers in Mills River and other communities in this section of the county.
The prisoner of war camp was located on the old Bowen Farm near where the Creek Side residential community is located today. The Rev. Nelson Bowen and family owned the land, including a farm, since 1846. Bowen was the second pastor of Hendersonville First Baptist Church and helped to establish the old Judson College.
The N.C. Department of Corrections had a medium security facility in Henderson County, also located on the Rugby side of Stoney Mountain. The prison camp was constructed in 1932 to house highway prison labor. By 1974 there were dorm facilities for 100 men, a dining hall, commissary, laundry and administrative building. The facility was situated on 12 acres and surrounded by a chain link fence. The buildings were renovated in 1974. The prison closed about 2003, but the buildings remain on the site.
The Department of Transportation has a maintenance facility next to the site of the old prison.