Morgan County contains the former site of the Brushy Mountain prison, which was operated from 1896 until 2009.
During its time as a state prison, many prisoners tried to escape from Brushy Mountain. The most famous incident was in June 1977, when James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of Martin Luther King Jr., scaled the wall at Brushy Mountain along with six of his fellow inmates (using a ladder they made with broken pieces of pipe).
The manhunt that followed involved hundreds of officials and bloodhounds and quite a few helicopters. It took 55 hours to capture Ray, exhausted and hiding under a pile of leaves; during that time the search for him and his fellow inmates in the “snake infested woods above the prison” — as reporters called it — became a national story.
Also in Morgan County you will find an unusual village called Rugby. It was started in 1880 by British author and social reformer Thomas Hughes, who intended for it to be a home for the younger sons of rich people (in those days, the older sons inherited everything and younger sons often had difficulty finding a life of their own).
The Rugby colony didn’t turn out the way that Hughes intended, but many of the structures that were built way back then are still there. Today, Rugby in some ways feels more like England than it does Tennessee.
The original county seat of Morgan County was Montgomery, as you can see on this 1825 map. After Fentress County was created out of parts of Morgan County, Montgomery was no longer centrally located, and the county seat was moved to Wartburg.
Here’s the Morgan County Courthouse.