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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Paul Baker Touart, 01/2005
Oxford Historic District
Inventory No.: T-1158
Date Listed: 12/28/2005
Location: Oxford, Talbot County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1688-1950
Description: The town of Oxford occupies a peninsula bounded by the Tred Avon River and Town Creek. The streets of the town are laid out in a rough grid plan oriented to the principal north/south avenue, Morris Street, which dead ends at the Strand, an east/west road that borders the Tred Avon River. Along the Strand, at the north end of Morris Street, is the landing for the Oxford/Bellevue ferry, established in 1683, that connects Oxford with the small town of Bellevue on Ferry Neck. The district is primarily defined by streetscapes of frame dwellings erected between 1875 and 1910 with varying degrees of decorative detailing. There are no structures remaining in Oxford from the 17th or early 18th centuries. A few buildings dating from the mid to late 18th and early 19th centuries are located along North Morris Street near its intersection with the Strand. Most of these are or originally were 1 1/2 stories in height. Some of the few mid-19th century structures in town are Greek or Gothic-Revival in style. Following the arrival of the railroad in 1871, Oxford experienced a building boom that lasted through the turn of the 20th century. Over 90% of the buildings that define the historic district date from the period from 1870 through 1910. Most of these incorporate Victorian details, although some have Second-Empire features. The early 20th century brought a few Colonial Revival and American Foursquare dwellings, as well as modifications to existing Victorian houses, such as the addition of Tuscan columns to older porches. Little construction occurred during the Great Depression, apart from the replacement of the town office in 1932 following a fire which destroyed a row of frame commercial buildings on North Morris Street. Following this period, resident citizens or visitors maintained the housing stock built during the boom years, or in other cases, rented them to the remaining work force employed in the shipyards and dwindling number of seafood and/or fruit packers. Ever since the 19th century, and especially during the second quarter of the 20th century, Oxford has been seen as a pleasant place to buy a summer house or retire in a quieter, less harried village atmosphere. Significance: The Oxford Historic District is historically significant for its association with the development of the Eastern Shore region of Maryland. Oxford is one of Maryland's earliest towns, with a fledgling village established on the edge of the Tred Avon River by the mid to late 1660s. During its first hundred years, Oxford developed into a principal port for the region, second only to Annapolis prior to the rise of Baltimore and Chestertown during the mid 18th century. While there are no surviving resources representative of the town's first century, the Tred Avon ferry has been in operation with various vessels since it was established by the Talbot County court in 1683. The district derives additional significance for its architecture, as an exceptionally cohesive and well-preserved collection of domestic, commercial, and ecclesiastical properties primarily dating from the town's principal period of growth, i. e., the last quarter of the 19th century through the World War I era. Integral to the district are a number of significant properties that predate that period, representing its late-18th and early-to-mid-19th century history. The town's early-18th century grid plan, documented by a survey completed in 1707, remains essentially intact. The period of significance, c. 1668-1950, encompasses the period between the founding of the town and the mid 20th century, by which time the district had substantially achieved its present form and appearance. Although Oxford's position as a viable port and location for trade declined steadily after the Revolutionary war, the town resurfaced as an important site for shipbuilding and oyster and fruit processing during the mid to late 19th century, particularly with steamboat transportation and a railroad line across Oxford Neck by 1871. With newfound wealth derived from the water and the land, Oxford experienced economic prosperity and growth that were evident tangibly in a rebuilding of its housing stock and expansion of its town limits. Oxford developed into one of the three most populous and commercially active towns in Talbot County by the last decades of the 19th century. Unusual to the town as well is its historical association with the Maryland Military and Naval Academy, a preparatory school for young men, during the mid to late 19th century, which is represented by the architecturally prominent Academy House. Oxford' s housing stock is representative of the priorities and livelihoods of town residents for the past 230 years. The town's oldest structures, the Barnaby house and a portion of the Robert Morris Inn, reflect third quarter of the 18th century frame building traditions and finishes. While only a handful of structures date to the early to mid 19th century, the town's collection of late-19th century frame dwellings is especially extensive and reflects largely middle class aspirations in building facades characterized by modest levels of architectural elaboration. Also significant architecturally are the town's three historic churches.
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