DICKSON, Tenn. (WKRN) — Ruskin Cave claims fame as one of Tennessee’s most beautiful natural wonders. The Dickson County destination is also a popular spot for couple’s tying the knot.

While the cave and surrounding property has a rich history that goes as far back as 8,000 BC, there’s a blip of time when the area was home to an Utopian colony.

According to the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), the Ruskin Cooperative Association (RCA) planted roots there in 1894. Its members were known as Ruskinites.

The colony was named after John Ruskin, a famous English social critic. However, the founder, Julius Wayland, left after only one year, and its roots started to wither.

At the peak of its success in 1897, TSLA said there were 250 residents from 32 states and several different countries. They operated a print shop, bakery, farm, grist mill, machine shop, cannery and more.

“The Ruskinites built a cannery right up the mouth of the cave. And if you go on the internet, you will see pictures of their cannery and the Ruskinites working. So, they would bring their produce, and they would can their produce, and store it inside the cave,” said Former State Senator Doug Jackson and the founder of the Jackson Foundation – own and operator of the cave.

A creek runs through the cave and it has a natural spring. Jackson said there’s evidence of a railway system the Ruskinites used to transport their produce and store it in the cave.

  • Ruskin Cave Cannery
  • Ruskin Cave Grist Mill
  • Ruskin Association Strawberry Pickers
  • Ruskin Printing Press
  • John Ruskin

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Five years after the start of the colony it was bankrupt and there was controversy over women’s rights, said the TSLA. Remaining members moved out of the state.

You can learn more about RCA and see more photos and documents at this link.

The property has undergone quite a few changes over the years. The history of its ownership is chronicled on the Ruskin Cave’s website.

Other notable Utopian colonies in Tennessee include Nashoba, Rugby, and The Farm.

The cave is on the list of National Historic Places.


News 2 invites you to explore more areas of Hidden Tennessee in an hour-long special with Alex Denis. Watch it on News 2 July 4th at 8pm. Then stay tuned for the Music City Let Freedom Sing! fireworks special at 9pm.