Historic Origins of Oxford NY

"Rich history is a source of local pride"

Oxford is one of the townships of the "Chenango Twenty Towns" ceded to NY State by the Oneida Indians in a treaty made by Governor George Clinton at Fort Schuyler, (Utica), September 22, 1788. On January 19th, 1793, the township of Fayette and an area then known as Gore, were incorporated into the town of Oxford, also formed from Union, Broome county, and Jericho (now Bainbridge). At this time Oxford was in Tioga County. The first town meeting was held at the Oxford house of Benjamin Hovey, Town Supervisor, on June 17th, 1793.

History of Transportation-Rail Road and the Chenango Canal

Because of its position at the intersection of the east-west Catskill-Ithaca turnpike and the north-south Utica to Binghamton route, Oxford became a trading center early on, by stage coach.

Chenango Canal-
The Chenango Canal, built in 1837, went from Binghamton to Utica, NY including lock sites. It ran through the center of the village of Oxford and made it was one of the most important ports along the waterway. Oxford had one of two canal collectors between the terminals at Binghamton and Utica. (Hamilton had the other collector). Here Ethan Clarke and his sons maintained a warehouse and a forwarding business where goods brought by the canal boats were sorted until owners came from as far as forty miles away to claim their merchandise. Sherburne, North Norwich, Oxford and Greene, a 97-mile route with 116 locks was, until 1878, used to transport goods until it was unable to compete with the railroads.
The railroads, named the O. & W. short for the Ontario & Western (commonly known as the "Old & Weary"), and the D. L. & W.- the Delaware, Lackawana, & Western (nicknamed "Delay, Linger & Wait"), arrived in 1870.


In the 1800's the bluestone quarries of Oxford were booming. Oxford was fortunate enough to have many quarries, owned by different companies. But two of them were the most productive quarries in the United States, and they were owned by the F. G. Clarke Blue Stone Company. The "bluestone belt", which ran along the west bank of the Hudson around Coxsackie, NY, southwest just past PA, seemed to have inexhaustible deposits in Oxford, adding to the prosperity of the village. The success of the mines was partly due to the fact that it was close to transportation.
Transportation had to be able to accommodate such tremendous weights of the stones (approximately 9-14 tons each), over long distances, which horse-drawn carts and riverboats could not. Oxford had the Chenango Canal (which ran where Rte. 12 is now), which could handle any payload. It carried the bluestone by canal boats, down east to be cut. The stones still had to be transported from the quarries to the canal by horse teams and a heavy "truckwagon". When the train was used, the horses had to haul as much as 15 tons of stone down the street, past LaFayette Park, across the bridge, and up on Fort Hill which might have taken as much as two days to accomplish. Sometimes up to a dozen horses had to be used, which became a way of measuring the stone by "horse power", not by the ton. One large stone (in 1886), for instance, was called a "7 horse power block".

Railroads expanded in the 1870's, and the O. & W. and the D. L. & W. railroads came in and replaced the need for the canal. The trains had some problems with the huge pieces of bluestone that the Clarke Company needed shipped. This was soon remedied with a creation by J. J. Treanor of Hurst and Treanor of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. He designed a special railroad car that held stones, ordinarily too wide, up on its edge from the side of the railroad car. It was an ingenious invention that perfected the stone shipping business. In 1888, the F. G. Clarke Co. began expanding their business by purchasing lots of modern stone cutting equipment. It replaced the need to send stone pieces east for cutting, reducing their expenses. As expected, business grew and grew. They had around 300 employees, many were immigrants from Ireland and Germany, but chiefly from Lipari, Italy.
The stone, popular at that time --for use in sidewalks, curbs, & architectural elements-- was in huge, heavy blocks or slabs, known as "platform stone" -sometimes 12" thick by 16 ft. square! In 1888, about a dozen of these were transported by train to the Vanderbilts in NYC for their sidewalk! (They had an estimated value of $10,000.00--then!) These large stones came from the F. G. Clarke Blue Stone Company, a specialty of theirs. They also took contracts for cut stone for buildings "dressed" (which means cut and polished) ready for setting in place.

Carved stone face
photo taken by: Joseph Marso

One fine example of bluestone work still stands in Oxford. It was the First National Bank of Oxford, built in 1894, which is now the Town & Village Hall, and the Law offices of Roger Monaco. It was a Richardson Romanesque design. The architect was Isaac G. Perry, and the contractor & builder was James M. Wright, both of Binghamton. The three story building was constructed of brick with Oxford bluestone on the front, furnished by the F. G. Clarke Blue Stone Co.. Not only are the stones shaped on the facade, but it is accented with two elaborate stone carvings just below the balcony. The carvings are of two faces, surrounded by oak leaves, that appear to be English "Green Men", the nature spirits of the forest. They were popular designs of the period. One face, complete with a wart was carved by Theodore D. Wands and the other face (shown at left) is by a Mr. Conroy.
Oxford bluestone was shipped throughout the northeast providing curbing and sidewalks for the cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Thirty railroad cars of stone were required for the steps of the Capitol building in Albany, which came from Oxford quarries, and Oxford bluestone was used for the construction of Grant's tomb. Times Square and Rockefeller Square in New York City are also graced with Oxford bluestone.
The bluestone business slacked off with the invention of Portland cement, and then the stock market crash destroyed any plans for new construction. By the 1930's, it was the end of an era. One of the quarries opened in the mid-1980's, providing bluestone for patios, fireplaces, and garden walkways, but business would never be the same as the century before.
Today, the beauty of bluestone 'sits quietly' as a legacy, especially evident, in the town that made it great.

More history can be found on the following pages:

Fort Hill
Notable Residents from Oxford History
Walking Tour of Historic Homes: East side | West side