Oxford (p. v.) is situated on the Chenango River, in the north part of the town. The river and the canal pass through the central part of the village and are crossed by substantial bridges. There are three public squares in the village, called respectively, LaFayette, Fort Hill and Washington, the first is upon the west side of the river and the others upon the east. There are many beautiful residences and other attractive features of the village, which contains six churches, viz., Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Universalist and Roman Catholic, two hotels, an academy and several manufactories.
The Oxford Hoe and Edge Tool Co. was established in 1853. The works are situated in the lower part of the village, on the canal. The present proprietors, Martin & Co., have a capital of $30,000 invested, employ about thirty men and manufacture about $40,000 worth of hoes, forks and knives annually.
The Oxford Woolen Factory is located in the central part of the village and manufactures cassimeres and flannels.
A mill for grinding plaster and feed is located upon the east side of the river, and a foundry for casting various kinds of common articles is in operation.
The Oxford Academy is a substantial wood structure, and occupies an honorable position among the literary institutions of the State. The system of instruction adopted in the Academy is designed to afford a thorough preparation for the ordinary duties of life and for the higher commercial and professional pursuits. David G. Barber is the present Principal.
South Oxford (p. o.) is in the south-west part of the town. A manufactory of hoes, forks and edge tools is located there.
The first settlement of this town was made in 1790, by Benjamin Hovey, from Oxford, Mass. The town forms a part of the original township of Fayette, which was purchased of the Oneida and Tuscarora Indians, by the State, in 1785. Gen. Hovey was engaged in opening a road from the Unadilla River to Cayuga Lake, near Ithaca, and erected a log house on lot 92, to which he removed his family in 1791. Elijah Blackman and James Phelps also settled within the present limits of the village the same year. Gen. Hovey purchased a tract of land one mile square, lying on both sides of the river and embracing the village of Oxford. About this time we find the names of Eben Enos, John Bartle and six sons, Peter Burgot, John Church, Theodore Burr, Benjamin Loomis, Samuel Farnham, Francis Balcom, Charles Hurst and others, recorded among the early settlers. Francis Balcom, the father of Henry Balcom, now residing in Oxford, and Thomas and James McAlpine, cut the road through from Fort Hill to the Unadilla. The following extract of a letter to a friend, by Samuel Miles Hopkins, is taken from an Historical Address in the "Oxford Jubilee." He says: "One hundred and ten miles west from Catskill, through a country almost entirely new, brought me to the village of Oxford and to the house of Benjamin Hovey, the founder of it, and who eighteen months before had cut the first tree to clear the ground where the village stood. Here too I found Uri Tracy (of a class in college two years older than myself), and whom after forty years, I still count among the most valuable of my friends. Here I took my residence. Hovey was a man of very strong natural sense and vigor of action, but of very little education. He had been unfortunate in Massachusetts. His family had preserved life in the wilderness for some days by eating the grain from the ear in an unripe state. Suddenly he started for New York, laid open plans for the settlement of lands to the proprietors, whom he found, built Oxford on his own lands and became the leading man of a very growing country. I settled at Oxford as a lawyer. My first law draft I made by writing on the head of a barrel, under a roof made of poles only, and in the rain, which I partially kept from spattering my paper, by a broad-brimmed hat. In such a village as this, the first framed building was an academy, of two stories high, and Mr. Tracy was the teacher. No Yankees without the means of education."
In the summer of 1792 mills were erected on Mill Creek, about a mile and a half west of the village, by Peter Burgot. Previous to the erection of this mill the inhabitants were compelled to go to Messereau's, on the Unadilla, that being the nearest mill. Provisions for carrying on the surveys and constructing the State Road were brought up the river in canoes from Tioga Point, a distance of eighty miles.
The first child born in the town was Ellis Loomis, in May 1792; the first marriage was that of Peter Bartle and Tabitha Loomis, in May, 1795. The first death was that of a child of Peter Burgot, and the first death of an adult was that of Andrew Loomis, in 1793. Philip Bartle built the first school house, on "Painter Hill," and his wife taught the first school; so says the State Gazetteer, but it appears from the best evidence that the academy was the first school house and Uri Tracy the first teacher. The first inn was built near the mouth of Bowman's Creek, by John Bartle, and the first store was kept by Samuel Farnham.
It has already been stated that the town was formed Jan. 19, 1793, but for want of seasonable information the citizens failed to hold a town meeting in April, consequently three Justices of the Peace, viz., William Guthrey, Hezekiah Stowell and Joab Enos, did, on the 17th day of June, 1793, at the house of Benjamin Hovey, appoint Elihu Murray, Town Clerk; James Phelps, Ebenezer Enos and John Fitch, Assessors; Zachariah Loomis, Collector, and Peter Burgot and Joshua Messereau, poor masters; James Phelps, Asa Holmes, Nathaniel Locke, Commissioners of Highways; and Abel Gibson and James Mitchell, Constables. It will be recollected that the town at this time was in the County of Tioga. At this meeting the roads were divided into nine districts, and path-masters appointed. The first town meeting was held on the first Tuesday in April, 1794, at which E. Murray was elected Town Clerk, and Ephraim Fitch, Supervisor. At this meeting there was some legislation, of which the following is a specimen, copied from the original records with the original punctuation, &c.:
"Voted in Said Town Meeting to give three Pounds Bounty on Each wolf kitcht and kild in this Town in addition to what Bounty the County Gives."
In 1795, "Voted that the Town Chuse their Supervisor & Town clerk by the Clarks taking Each Man's Name & who he votes for in writing."
"Voted that Benj. Hovey and James Phelps be Pound Masters and that their barnyards be the pounds for the ensuing year."
"Voted to give three pounds per pate for wolves this year."
"Voted that hogs be free commoners yoked and rung."
The census of the town, taken October, 1795, reports 150 heads of families, 112 votes for Governor and 142 for Representative. In the same connection we find the following record:
"Sophia Tracy, daughter of James and Ruth Tracy, born April 5, 1795."
In 1796 we find the record of marks for cattle:
"Green Halls Mark for Cattle is the End of the Rite Ear Cut of Squair applyed for this 7th, June 1796.
"Isaac Snell's mark is crop of the rite ear squar & slit on the end of same."
David Shapley's mark is a "Happenny under side of the Rite ear."
The same year the town voted to give five pounds for each "Painter kild."
The following shows that the subject of education was not wholly neglected:
"To the commissioners to superintend the schools in the town of Oxford, County of Tioga. This certifies that in the division of the monies appropriated for the support of schools to the several towns in the County, there is payable to your order as followeth viz., the sum of thirty-five pounds one shilling and six pence as soon as the same may be received from the Treasurer of the State, and the further sum of twenty-five pounds, eight shillings and one penny by the first day of April next. Done at Union the 14th day of June 1796. Reuben Kirby, John Welch, Ephraim Fitch, Elijah Buck, Lodowick Light, Supervisors of the County of Tioga."
The School Commissioners in 1797 were Charles Anderson, Uri Tracy, David Bennett, Jr., Joshua Messereau and Elihu Murray. The same year the town meeting passed a vote directing the Supervisor to report at the next annual meeting the amount of the expenses of the town for the year.
"Voted that Charles Anderson, Benjamin Hovey and Uri Tracy be a committee to receive subscriptions for making improvements on the public lot in Oxford, called the school lot, provided the amount of one hundred dollars should be subscribed, and not otherwise."
In 1798, Peter B. Garnsey was chosen Town Clerk, and in 1799, David Bennett was elected to the same office. The records inform us that Isaac Boyer and Betsey Barker were married Feb. 4, 1795, and that Cynthia Boyer, their daughter, was born September 10, 1795. Samuel Farnham was elected Town Clerk in 1800. The following explains itself:
"We Ephraim Fitch, James Phelps and Anson Carey, commissioners of Excise for the town of Oxford in the county of Chenango do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that we will not on any account or pretense whatever grant any license to any person within the said town of Oxford for the purpose of keeping an inn or tavern, but only in such case as appears to us absolutely necessary for the benefit of travelers, and that we will in all things while acting as commissioners of Excise do our duty to the best of our good judgment and abilities without fear, favor or partiality, agreeably to law." This oath was taken May 6, 1800.
The expenses of the town for the year 1799, were for
Defraying County charges, . . . . . .. . $193.81 For wolves, . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....30.00 Collector's & Treasurer's fees, . . . . . .18.00 Schooling, . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....89.43 -------- Total, . . ........ . . $331.24
In 1801, "Voted that hogs do not run at large."
"Voted that the Supervisor be authorized to procure suitable and decent books for keeping the records of the town and for the overseers of the poor and to employ a clerk to transfer the old records into the new book."
The Oxford Academy is worthy of more than a passing notice as it was one of the first established west of the Hudson River. It has already been stated that the first framed building in the village of Oxford was erected in 1791 or the early part of 1792, and used for a school. The Trustees named in the charter were Benjamin Hovey, John Patterson, Uri Tracy, David Bates, Nathaniel Wattles, Witter Johnson, Charles Anderson, Jonathan Fitch, John McWhorter, Sleuman Wattles, Joab Enos, Benjamin Ray, Samuel Coe, Solomon Martin, Avery Power, James Phelps, Gershom Hyde and Peter Burgot. The first meeting of the Trustees was held the second Tuesday in April, 1794, during which and the succeeding meetings arrangements were made and the Academy started upon its new existence. A new building for the Academy was completed in 1799, and in October of the same year the Circuit Court was held in it. The new building was soon after destroyed by fire. The Legislature of the State however granted aid to the Trustees and soon a third building was completed. From various causes interest in the school declined, and for several years no records of any meeting of the Trustees appear. In the beginning of the year 1821 the Board of Trustees was reorganized, the building repaired and a school commenced. Funds to a considerable amount were collected and the Academy was once more in a flourishing condition, and from that time its progress has been onward. In 1854 the completion of a new edifice, and the arrival of the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the Institution was regarded an appropriate time for a reunion of former teachers and students who had become widely scattered and were occupying prominent places in Church and State. A circular was issued inviting the former teachers and students to meet at Oxford on the 1st and 2d of August, 1854, and a programme of exercises announced, consisting of a sermon, an oration, a poem and other appropriate exercises. This invitation met with a general response, and on Tuesday evening, August 1st, a large number assembled in front of the new Academy to listen to the opening exercises of the Oxford Jubilee. Henry R. Mygatt, Esq., President of the Board of Trustees, made the welcoming address, a part of which we give:
"The merry peals of the church bells, and the sound of music have gathered us here after a sultry day refreshed in the mellow and beautiful light of sunset. It is the eve of a jubilee. Sixty years ago this town was incorporated by the Legislature of the State; and at an early day, in 1794, this Academy was chartered by the Regents of the University. Thirty years thereafter it was my good fortune to be a student here, and after the hand of Time has moved forward thirty years more, as the representative of the Board of Trustees, and of the Home Committee of former students, as well as on behalf of all my fellow citizens, I cordially welcome you, teachers, students and friends, to the dedication of a new edifice for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men. Although the fifth academic building is to be dedicated here, that those who search after knowledge and truth may be satisfied, it is the first time that the dispersed of all climates, ages, professions and pursuits, have returned to the place where in their youth they had imbibed instruction and contracted friendships as lasting as life. Sixty years ago, the strife of the Revolution had but just ceased, and religious and civil freedom had in this hemisphere established a home for the exile and the oppressed. The genius of man had been unchained. But little more than sixty years ago, the Oneida canton of the Iroquois Nation roamed over the dense and unbroken forests along the banks of that beautiful Chenango, fearless, unmolested and free. The educated and practical man, the Puritan from New England, came and hastily built his log house; and with a wisdom unparalleled in the annals of time, the first framed building that he erected here was an Academy. Education spread its mantle of light over the land; and art, science and literature began to bud in token of that day when they should bloom and blossom to full fruition. Uri Tracy, a graduate of Yale College, a minister of the Gospel, was the first principal of the Academy. To the savage the school had sprung up like enchantment; but to the contemplative mind of the dependent settler it revealed the smile of a kind Providence, who was illuminating the moral darkness of the valley by the introduction of religion and learning."
The exercises throughout were of the most interesting character. From the published account of the Jubilee we glean most of the historical incidents contained in this article.
The first church (Cong.) was organized in 1799, by Rev. John Camp. Rev. Eli Hyde was installed pastor of the Church, June 23, 1808, and continued in that relation until September, 1812. The first public religious services were held in the Academy and the first preacher was the Rev. Uri Tracy. During Mr. Hyde's ministry public worship was held in the old Academy, and up to the time of his dismission the whole community were united in the support of one religious society. For several years succeeding this event the society were without stated preaching, and other denominations sprang up and new churches were organized. A writer, quoted by Rev. Mr. Hotchkin, says, in speaking of the Congregational Church: "We find her now worshipping in the old Academy, and now in a private dwelling; at one time assembling with members of other denominations for prayer in a tavern, and then for a considerable period meeting with one accord in the upper chamber of a cabinet shop, where for a season she found rest and enjoyed a refreshing from the presence of the Lord." In 1823 the society erected their house of worship.
The population of Oxford in 1865 was 2,996, and its area 36,034 acres.
It contains nineteen school districts and a school population of 959, 653 of whom attended school. The average attendance was 308, and the amount expended for school purposes was $4,034.12.