Frantically searching for yet one more mild-weathered day for cycling-as I typically do this time of year- only two days were left as possible options. Of course when left with just two days to cycle before winter shuts it all down, you make sure you find just the right place to finish out the season…and hopefully the right person to join you as well!
I was fortunate that one of my dearest friends, a newly-retired teacher of 32 years, was more than eager to go! After narrowing down the options of places, the clear winner was historic Oxford….Oxford Maryland that is. Now, historic to we Americans is laughable I know compared to Oxfords I can think of elsewhere, but 1683, the date of our Oxford’s official founding, is pretty impressive to us yanks.
The first place my friend and I stopped was the Robert Morris Inn.
Originally built as a shipping house in 1710, it began operations in 1800 as a full-time inn…the oldest full-service inn in America. Robert Morris, Sr., was an agent for a Liverpool shipping firm and greatly influenced the town’s growth. His son, Robert Morris, Jr., was known as “the financier of the Revolution.”
Walking on the historic, wide-planked floors, and gazing at the oversized wooden mantels over the well-worn brick fireplaces, we fell into a reverent awe as we imagined the conversations held in these very rooms. According to the brochure of the Inn…
Four of our 310 year old rooms were indeed slept in by Founding Father Robert Morris, George Washington and many other dignitaries of the day and since. Red brick fireplaces around which heated discussion on the arguments for independence from Britain took place and negotiations for sugar cane, tobacco and French wine worked out. Wood paneling, red brick fireplaces and oak timbers are all as they were 310 years ago, hand built by ships carpenters from locally acquired materials and the red bricks from England, used as ships ballast. One cannot get any more historic than this.
Other notable persons of the history of Oxford include: Jeremiah Banning, sea captain, war hero, and statesman; The Reverend Thomas Bacon, Anglican clergyman who wrote the first compilation of the laws of Maryland; Matthew Tilghman, known as the “patriarch of Maryland” and “father of statehood” and Colonel Tench Tilghman, assistant to George Washington and the man who carried the message of Cornwallis’ surrender to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Until the American Revolution, Oxford enjoyed prominence as an international shipping center. With the loss of British ships and their variety of imported goods and tobacco replaced by wheat as a cash crop, businesses went bankrupt, and the population of a once thriving Oxford dwindled. It would be 100 years till the sleepy town awakened to prosperity again, this time due to the completion of the railroad in 1871 and improved methods of canning and packing, which made marketing the oysters from the bountiful Chesapeake Bay near tiny Oxford possible.
Yet again, business was booming and houses were going up everywhere until the early part of the 20th century when the oyster beds were depleted, and the packing houses shut down. Businesses went bankrupt, and the railway and steamships eventually disappeared. Oxford became a sleepy little town once again, inhabited mainly by watermen who still worked the waters of the Tred Avon.
Oxford remains a waterman’s town today, but is enjoying a new resurgence based on tourism and leisure and as a well-know cycling destination of the mid-atlantic. The suggested cycling route usually includes a trip across the Tred Avon River aboard the Oxford Bellevue Ferry, believed to be the nation’s oldest privately-operated ferry service.
Knowing this was a popular cycling destination, I assumed there must be trails going around the town. It was with great pleasure that my friend and I discovered the town itself was the cycling trail. As we cycled through this quaint little town surrounded by historic, flag-bearing houses…upon narrow, cobble-stone streets…lined by trees ablaze with autumn leaves…on the banks of a river…
there was no doubt we had picked the the perfect grand finale of our cycling season!
Until next time,