Oxford was one of the country’s earliest colonial ports, along with Annapolis. But while Annapolis became the state capitol, Oxford focused on commercial trade – shipping tobacco, produce and seafood. Those businesses died out in the early 20th century. Now, Oxford is a major port for Chesapeake Bay yachting, as in sail boats and power boats.
Oxford is on the end of a peninsula where the Tred Avon River and Town Creek enter the Chesapeake Bay, with the river on the west side and Town Creek on the east side. The creek is actually more like a river at that point and home to a number of marinas.
Oxford is great for a peaceful day-trip, walk-about, or weekend getaway. For more active types, there’s no shopping or nightlife to speak of but there’s plenty of outdoors sports such as cycling, kayaking, hunting and fishing.
A warning from locals, follow the speed limit if you’re driving; 25 mph means 25, no leeway given.
The main road, Morris Street, is lined with small, former watermen houses with white picket fences. It’s incredibly scenic.
There is a small downtown section on Morris Street with a large city park facing west across a wide part of the river, great for sunsets. It has a very small sandy area on the water, but it’s not really a spread-your-towel beach. It’s more for dipping toes in the water or dropping a kayak in.
It’s tree-covered nearly to the water and has play sets for kids and benches facing the water for adults. Picnic tables offer a nice spot for lunch or early dinner, and if you didn’t bring anything, there’s a market across the street with a deli and fresh-baked breads, as well as wine and cheese.
Across the street from the park is the Oxford Museum (100 S. Morris Street) a small building stocked with donated family treasures, including a French-made lighthouse lantern and an Oyster Clock made with shells the size no longer found in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s open weekends, and some weekdays, from April through November.
Morris Street (Route 333) ends at the water crossing Strand. A right turn takes you to Strand Beach, a nearly four-block long grassy, public beach overlooking the Tred Avon River. That’s where you spread your towel.
Go to the left on Strand and you’ll find the one-room Oxford Custom House. It’s actually a replica of the first customs house in the U.S. A sign on the building says it’s open daily, but don’t count on that.
The end of Morris Street is also where the historic ferry crosses the Tred Avon River to Bellevue. The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry is believed to be the oldest privately-owned ferry in the U.S., making continuous river crossings since 1836.
While it’s been operating that long, the current ferry is modern and carries up to nine cars, in addition to walkers, cyclists and motorcycles on the ten minute crossing. The ferry has created a hugely popular cycling and Sunday-drive route along the Bay’s waterfront and through farmland. Be aware that it closes for the season from December through March.
Near the ferry, at the intersection of Morris and Strand streets, is the Robert Morris Inn (314 N Morris Street), built in the early 1700s by ships’ carpenters with wooden pegged paneling, ships nails and hand hewn beams.
Robert Morris was a English trading company representative in Oxford and the company bought the house for him. His son, Robert Morris, Jr., was known as “The Financier of the American Revolution.” Robert was one of two Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution.
Because of Robert’s close connection with George Washington and other founders, the Inn maintained its historic structure and decor over the years. The parlors contain 18th Century ‘raised-panel’, pine-paneling and woodwork.
Hanging in the dining room are 140-year old murals copied from hand-painted wallpaper made in the 1830s. Jackie Kennedy found the original wallpaper murals in another Maryland house and installed them in the White House.
The Inn’s tavern was built in the in the 1870s when the inn was the Robins’ Hotel. It is a replica of wood-paneled, low-ceiling colonial pubs that cater to hunters and fishermen. The hours vary depending on the season. Check the website if you want refreshments, but the inn welcomes visitors who want to look about.
The Inn is now run by British Master Chef Mark Salter. During the slower winter season he holds cooking demonstrations. The restaurant is closed between meals, but afternoon tea is served 3pm-5pm. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance so they know how much to bake.
Off the Beaten Path
One block away is Tilghman Street, which leads to one of the many marinas on that side of town, and more importantly, leads to the popular Scottish Highland Creamery (314 Tilghman Street). It’s in a former crab and oyster business on the water’s edge next to a boat landing.
Because it’s an historic building, the only sign allowed on the building is left over from the former business, Schooner’s. The Highland Creamery sign is on the small ice cream cart.
The creamery is owned by a Scotsman and his American-born wife, author Susan Marmo. Victor Barlow learned ice cream making at age 15 in Scotland and brought his skills to Oxford. He’s up to about 700 flavors. Once a flavor is sold out, it’s replaced by a totally different flavor. Victor once tried a cigar flavor. It sold out. The creamery is closed during the winter, November through March.
Oxford is also the home of several custom boat makers. Cutts and Case Shipyard (306 Tilghman Street) specializes on wooden boat designs and has boats on display inside the large picture windows. Cambell’s Custom Yachts is a relative newcomer, starting in 1993. They have three marinas where you can also rent bicycles.
Just Outside Town
On outskirts of town is the Oxford Cemetery with a beautiful water view. It’s at the end of Oxford Cemetery Road (off Oxford Road/Route 333) on a peninsula in Town Creek. The older section is on the more protected marshy side.
Colonel Tench Tilghman is buried there. He was an aide-de-camp to George Washington and carried General Cornwallis’s surrender to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Colonel Tilghman died in 1786 at the age of 42. You’ll find the graveside by the 10-foot tall stone marker. It’s the tallest monument in the cemetery and points out that he refused to receive pay while serving in the “Main Army.”
While much of Oxford is an easy walk for boaters docked at marinas, transportation is needed to get to the cemetery.