The Traveling Rabbit: Oxford, Maryland
It is with great pleasure that we begin a new series, titled, “The Traveling Rabbit”. My stalwart companion, Buns, has been desirous to locate a long lost friend of his, Lucky, a chicken-duck (yes, you read that right) from his earliest days as a traveler. He and Lucky braved the rapids of the Rappahannock, the salt flats of Utah, the eagle of Blackwater (they may be stuffed, but they’re still considered prey), and other spectacular locations, side-by-side, always watching each other’s backs, never letting stuffing get in the way of another crazy adventure!
Somewhere along the way they got separated, and since then he’s pined for his lost pal. So, we begin the epic trek to reconnect Buns and Lucky where it all began, in the sleepy little town of Oxford, Md.
Is it possible to convey the ‘sense’ of a place without being cliché? Adjectives can (and do) augment the details of a place beyond mere fact or figure, but can words absent clichés truly convey the essence of a place sufficiently to elicit a visceral response in the reader?
Probably not, but that’s okay, clichés exist for a reason; they no doubt can, if nothing else, provide contextual enhancement for you, the reader, to visualize what we think rocks.
Oxford, Maryland is one such place where words cannot describe just how breathtakingly serene and picturesque a town can be.
So, I’ve included LOTS of images to back up my writing!
I pulled out my thesaurus to check for lesser-known words for bucolic and charming, but there just aren’t that many!
Oxford exudes Old World charm, from its Victorian architecture to its revolutionary roots, everything speaks to a different age, but one that still thrives in this modern world.
Oxford, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is nestled between the Tred Avon river and Trippe Creek. Home to 850 full-time residents, it has a rich history as one of the oldest towns in the New World. Oxford’s original charter in 1683 named it Williamstadt, after William of Orange, however the name shifted to Oxford sometime after, and in 1694 as a seaport and so named by the Maryland General Assembly, though its establishment as a settlement, goes back much earlier, by more than 20 years.
In 1694, Oxford and Anne Arundel (now Annapolis) were designated the only two seaports for the entire Maryland province.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, Oxford was a prominent international shipping center owing to the wealth of tobacco plantations in the surrounding lands. International commerce in Oxford all but ceased as a consequence of the colonies declaring their independence from British rule. The last British ships came and went in 1775, ending Oxford’s reign as a bustling seaport and commerce site.
Although the U.S. Naval Academy found its home in Annapolis in 1850, in 1847, the Maryland Military & Naval Academy was founded in Oxford on the shores of the Tred Avon river by Colonel Oswald Tilghman, the son of General Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary war. It was Tilghman’s hope that the establishment of the academy would revitalize the town.
At the time the academy was the only one of its kind in the U.S., offering both army and navy instruction. Unfortunately for Oxford, it lasted only three years, due in large part to the young cadets’ unwillingness to conform to military discipline and structure. When the academy brought in a regular army Major to instill regimentation, the entire corps of cadets quit.
Oxford has seen both boom and bust, first as a seaport and commerce center before the Revolutionary War, and again as a booming economic hot point after the Civil War when a railroad terminus reconnected Oxford to the larger world once again for shipbuilding and seafood production and packing. The final blow to commerce was the decline of the oyster beds, which suffered over-harvesting and were ultimately exhausted.
For those interested in more recent historical events, check out Paramount Pictures’ Failure To Launch. Several scenes were filmed right in Oxford, including the scene with Matthew McConaughey and Tyrel Jackson Williams chatting while sitting under boats, filmed at the Oxford Boatyard, and one of Oxford’s own, Steve the Rigger, was in the film!
Although the days of significant commerce are gone, what remains is, to coin the phrase, a bucolic town; picturesque, serene and inviting.
Oxford is a destination point for boaters, history buffs and travelers alike. Though the town can be walked in about an hour, it offers too much to be consumed in a day!
Oxford sports five restaurants, from the higher end capsize and Salter’s Tap Room and Tavern, to the more laid-back Doc’s Sunset Grille, Latitude 38 and Pope’s Tavern.
Salter’s Tap Room and Tavern can be found inside the Robert Morris Inn, helmed by famed chef Mark Salter, formerly the Executive Chef at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels.
Chef Mark does his own thing, a wizard, creating unique and flavorful culinary creations that delight the palate and please the eye.
One of Oxford’s main attractions is the Robert Morris Inn, a charming Olde World hotel on the corner of S. Morris Street and Strand Drive, across from the Oxford- Bellevue Ferry and views of the Tred Avon river. Built in 1710 as a River View House by Robert Morris (hence the name), it is the oldest full-service inn in the nation.
The inn has seen its share of celebrities, from Robert Morris to George Washington, and many other dignities of note.
Other accommodations include the Sandaway Hotel, another stately and charming inn overlooking the Tred Avon river, with sloping, well-manicured lawns and scenic views of the river and the distant Chesapeake Bay, built between 1873-1876 Colonel Samuel Wetherill Sr. Let’s not overlook the Oxford Inn, dating back to 1690, serving initially as a grocery with additions over time of a gas station and butcher shop, eventually settling in 1976 into a cozy, delightful inn and pub near Trippe Creek.
If you’re looking to sit on the water and sip margaritas, choose from either Doc’s Sunset Grille or capsize. Both feature outdoor bars right on (and in) the water or relax in their air-conditioned dining rooms with similar spectacular water views. On weekends you’ll find live music on the dock at Doc’s, local bands that will rock your world while you enjoy the backdrop of the Tred Avon and your beverage of choice.
If you’ve forgotten wine, fresh fruit or fresh baked goods for your visit, stop into the Oxford Market to pick up those last-minute items (I forgot batteries) to fill those gaps in your travel inventory. Oxford Social will get your java motor running in the morning with locally sourced coffee while you tear into a pastry in their cozy café just across from the Oxford Mews, the soon-to-be-completed LEEDs Certified mixed-use space, business and residential.
A ride on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry across the Tred Avon will take you to Bellevue and points beyond, most notably St. Michaels. The ferry carries up to 11 vehicles or you can roll up on your bike or walk onboard.
With multiple parks and beaches for swimmers, joggers, bikers and kayakers, Oxford is an activities paradise. Each year the Tred Avon Yacht Club hosts several sailing events, including the Oxford Regatta, the William H Meyers Heritage Regatta, and many others.
Check out Cutts & Case Shipyard to see magnificently crafted wood boat projects, including the FOTO, a wooden vessel formerly owned by Robert Rosenfeld, one of the world’s premier yacht photographers in the world, which was used as a chase boat during his shoots.
If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to get to the Scottish Highland Creamery, attached to capsize, for their specialty handcrafted ice creams, voted the “Best Ice Cream on the Eastern Shore” by locals! I can attest, if you’re looking for the best Cheesecake ice cream in the Mid-Atlantic, theirs can’t be beat, it’s decadent and inspiring.
There’s so much more to see and do; rent a bike, kayak or boat, check out the town museum, stroll through Oxford Park, swim at Strand Beach, the list goes on and on.
If you’re an avid birder (as I am), make sure to add to your itinerary a trip to Blackwater Wildlife Refuge on the outskirts of Cambridge, 40 minutes away. The two-mile driving trail provides spectacular views of the Blackwater River on the south side of the drive and canals on the north, hosting a variety of waterfowl and birds of prey year-round, from pelican to eagle, snow geese to red-headed woodpecker, depending on the time of year. Snapping turtle abound, though they don’t generally fly in, they’re locals.
Just to the North of Blackwater’s drive-thru trail you’ll discover the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park, celebrating the marvel of the resistance movement and secret network that helped enslaved people emancipate themselves to lives of freedom.
When evening settles in, walk the quiet streets of the town, listen to the sounds of birdsong, people talking and laughing on their porches, the tapping of mast lines as the wind, restless to get from here to there, snaps them in its wake, both restive and calming, much like the lapping of the river’s waves against the shore, a slowed tempo for an active, sleepy town.
It’s a stroll back to the future.
If you want to travel close to home this year, check out Oxford. It’s a win-win on any day.