A paved, red brick road slithers its way through the heart of a little Ohio town 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati, 35 miles southwest of Dayton and five miles east of Indiana. The town could have been ordinary-but a history rich in tradition, innovation and progress has elevated Oxford to its current status.
A five-block uptown district, the red bricks of Oxford emerge from surrounding cornfields like a beacon. Put on the map thanks to Miami University, The Cincinnati Enquirer once described the relationship of the sleepy town and bustling university as “Miami is Oxford and Oxford is Miami.”
Given the name Oxford as a nod to the cultural heritage of the English town bearing the name, land was chartered for a university in 1803. While Miami University was established in 1809, it wasn’t until 1810 that the first lots were sold and the Village of Oxford began to take form.
Like any other town, Oxford changed and adapted as the population grew and society progressed. Some may challenge whether much has changed since Herbert Bradley, who moved to Oxford in 1907, wrote in his testimonial, Changes In Oxford, “There wasn’t much to do but go to church or gamble or drink,” especially when it comes to the enormous popularity of uptown bars. Today with more than 18 bars in the uptown district, Oxford continues to hold true to the historically acknowledged fact that one bar exists for approximately every 1,000 students.
The residents of Oxford have likewise changed.
According to the book Fair Oxford published in 1947 by Ophia Smith, “Ladies walked down High Street with skirts sweeping up the filth of the sidewalks. On rainy days they modestly lifted their skirts clear of the mud-with only one hand, mind you, for no lady would lift a skirt with two hands.”
Quite a change from the freedom enjoyed by today’s women.
In the past, sleigh rides with plenty of blankets characterized Oxford winters. Now Ugg boots and North Face jackets protect against the bitter cold.
Even summers in town were different, as Oxford originally hoped to appear as a summer resort featuring watermelon feasts and other pleasantries. Today, Oxford loses over half its population during summer months.
Oxford City Councilor Richard Keebler, a lifelong resident, described the Oxford of his childhood as a traditional small town.
“The uptown district was a combination of retail clothing, grocery stores, several sawmills, more than one hardware store, restaurants, service stations and auto dealerships,” Keebler said. “Whatever you needed, it was available uptown. Businesses were also individually owned by local people and owners were actually in their stores.”
Today, Keebler considers Oxford to have changed greatly.
“Unfortunately, I think uptown is now primarily an eating and entertainment district,” Keebler said. “There really is not a lot of retail left.”
Despite the fact that much of Oxford has changed with the years, with the red brick of High Street replacing the dust and dirt of the past, the premise remains the same.
As a small Ohio town, 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati, 35 southwest of Dayton, and five east of Indiana, Oxford was never ordinary.
109 W. High St.
Built by 1870, this building housed bakeries for 40 years until immigrants from Sicily moved in and turned the front into a grocery while living above and behind the store. The site housed bakeries for most of the 20th century and is now the address that has hungry students lining up outside on the weekends to eat at Uptown Cafe.
33 W. High St.
Built from rusticated concrete blocks during the early 1900s, this building originally housed a restaurant. A series of barbershops occupied the site from the 1920s to the 1970s, several small specialty shops followed including its current occupant, Central Bead & Clothing.
38 W. High St.
Built by a horse trader and livery stable owner in 1900, the building was later purchased by the Oxford Hardware Company, which it operated as from 1909 to 1984. It now serves as Kofenya, frequented by students for coffee and espresso since two Miami University seniors purchased it in 2004.
31 W. High St.
Construction on this building began in 1885 and it housed several businesses including saloons, restaurants, poolrooms, a produce market and a combination clothing and dime store. Oxford’s African American Freemasons used its second floor as a lodge hall from the 1930s to 1940s. It operated as the Mother Earth restaurant before becoming the Kona Bistro and Coffee Bar that it is today in 1997.
11 W. High St.
The Chatten-Hayden Building was built by 1867 by saddle-maker John Chatten. Offices composed the second floor and the third was used as a meeting hall for fraternities and other groups. The business included Chatten’s own harness shop, a drugstore that was in operation for more than 50 years, Clyde Hayden’s Shoe Store and in the later 1900s a home accessories store and now a delicatessen, which stands today as La Bodega.
14 W. Park Place
Built by 1875, the two-story brick building held grocery stores and dry goods businesses on its first floor until its 1971 remodeling allowed for office space on the first and second floors. The first floor today serves as a convenient place for students to grab a late night meal, as Bruno’s Pizza.
48-50 E. Park Place
Two buildings were originally built on McCullough family property in the 1800s, although they now appear as a single unit. Blacksmiths occupied the north part of the building while a woodworking shop, an upholstery business and a bakery succeeded one another in the south part. A telegraph office, a bus station, and a taxi stand were located here, followed by a utility company, a barbershop and later an ice cream store, named Sweet Temptations, until it was replaced by the coffee and gelato store Iggy’s in November.
20-22-24 E. High St.
Oxford’s oldest commercial building was constructed around 1818 by the McCullough family. It has since been enhanced with a brick exterior and has housed a tavern, rooming house and a hotel. The Sigma Chi fraternity was founded in 1855 in a student’s room on the second floor. For more than 100 years drug stores occupied the buildings front while other businesses operated from the Park Place entrances. Bill’s Art Store has resided at 20 East High St. entrance for the past five years and Paust Printers sits at 24 E. High St.
19-21 E. High St.
This yellow brick building was built in 1910 and later named the Vlachos Building after its Greek immigrant owners in the 1930s. A barbershop occupied the west half of the building and a means clothing store occupied the east half, while apartments were located on the second floor. A beer and wine store occupied the site toward the end of the century and paint was applied to the exterior bricks, which Starbucks currently resides in.
32 E. High St.
With a constructed date estimated to be before the Civil War, this two-story building was altered in the 1970s and an addition was added in 1930s. Acquired by the Folker family, whose initials can still be seen in the entryway tile, it was occupied over the years by a grocery store, township clerk’s office, a printing business, a laundry and dry cleaning establishment, a jewelry business, a record store, shopping and the current establishment is the clothing store called Karisma.
36 E. High St.
Built in 1938 as the Miami-Western Theatre, it was named for the large number of moviegoers coming from the university’s women’s college. The Art Deco style building closed in 1998 and was remodeled and opened as a bar and restaurant in 1993 known as First Run, which changed its name to Brick Street in summer 2004.
121 E. High St.
Erected in 1925, the Miami Co-Op store operated for almost 50 years by owner John Frazier, who ran an insurance agency and rented apartments upstairs in addition to operating the text boo
k and school supply business. It was remolded remodeled by the end of the century and the bookstore switched locations to 110 E. High St. A Dairy Queen occupied the establishment until Skippers Pub took over in April 1982.
10 N. Beech St.
Built in 1911, this establishment was originally named the Oxford Theatre. It was called the Talawanda Theatre from the 1950s until the 1980s when it was substantially enlarged and called the Princess 4 Theatre, known to the students simply as The Princess.
112-114 W. High St.
During its construction in the early 1900s, it was called Beckett Lock and served as a livery and boarding stable. During the 1940s, it was a family plumbing business and for the latter half of the century a grocery store was located on the first floor. The first floor of 114 is currently Antiques on High.
118 W. High St.
Construction began in 1937 and was complete in 1938 when it served as the post office until 1988. The building was bought by the city of Oxford where it later became the Oxford Court House, which it still stands as today, holding Oxford City Council meetings.
131 W. High St.
A two-story vernacular frame building stood on this lot from 1827 to 1940 when it was razed to make room for the expansion of a gasoline station on the corner known as Temperance Tavern and later Dr. Scott’s Boarding House. While it is now the address of Barry’s BP Auto Service, in 1853 it was the wedding location of Caroline Scott and Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States.
119-121 W. High St.
Built as early as 1839, this two-story residence was converted for business use by the 1930s. People lived on the second floor while the first floor housed commercial enterprises including a furniture store, a gasoline station, a beauty parlor, a sewing machine business, a real estate office, a copy shop and an attorney’s office. More recently it has been a dog groomer and a studio for a rock band until the owner of Robnick’s Scuba moved in and took over in June 2003. The band continued practicing in the studio next door for the following year leading up to their graduation and Robnick certified the drummer in scuba.
111 W. High St.
Built around 1888, its first occupant was a tailor’s establishment, followed by a grocery store. It was known as the West End Meat Market in the early 1900s and was utilized after World War II as an architect’s office, a real estate agency, a pet store and currently the clothing store Fig Leaf.
32 W. High St.
Erected during the early 1890s, the two-story brick building started as a harness shop with a billiard room above. Later occupied by commercial enterprises including a restaurant, grocery stores, a barbershop and a poolroom. It was the location of the Oxford Press newspaper office from 1941-1968 and where the editor’s column “Beneath the Tower” received its name from the water tower that stood a block away. The Oxford Press has moved locations and the building now serves as Quizno’s Sub Sandwich Shop.
Oxford purchased the clock in 1979 and it was originally located on the south side of High Street during the 1880s. It moved to its present location in the 1930s and its numbers were changed from Roman to Arabic in the late 1950s
On Saturdays in the late 1800s, Park Place bustled with farmers as they brought their horses and livestock to town to buy or sell. Today, West Park is a manicured park with benches for lazy days or picnics. Statues of farm animals exist to remind residents of the park’s past.
The water tower stood in the East Park from 1922 to 1988. It received the name Oxford Memorial Park in 1992. A Civil War cannon was also placed here until the park’s major redevelopment in 2000 when in moved to Uptown Park.
Information obtained from:
• Walking Tour of the Uptown Oxford Historic District brochure produced by the staff and volunteers of the Smith Library of Regional History and the Oxford Visitors and Convention Bureau.
• Various managers of uptown establishments and the Butler County auditor.
The photos date from as early as the 1870s and are a part of the Smith Library collection. They are taken by Nora E. Bowers, John F. Brouhard, J.E. Elliot, George R. Hoxie, Ralph J. McGinnes, Miami University Recensio staff, Hazelett A. Moore, Frank R Snyder and others names who are not known.
The real Lottie Moon… and no, she wasn’t a bartender
By Erin BowenSenior Staff Writer
The renown of Charlotte “Lottie” Moon lingers in Oxford under the pretense of Lottie Moon’s, a neighborhood bar and grill, at 12 S. Beech St. The real Lottie Moon, however, was much more than dollar draft nights and chicken fingers.
The Moon family moved from Memphis, Tenn., to 220 E. High St. in Oxford in 1834. Lottie, two brothers and a younger sister, Ginnie, grew up across the street from Miami University’s campus. In her book Oxford Spy, Wed at Pistol Point, author Ophia D. Smith described Lottie as “not beautiful, but she was rosy-cheeked and petite, with exquisite hands and forearms, and dainty little feet and neatly turned ankles. Vivacity, originality, wit and a scintillating mind compensated for an lack of facial beauty.” Smith continued to assign Lottie the labels of a prankster, flirt, talented horsewoman and a fine shot.
Lottie Moon was rumored to have several beaus before catching the eye of Ambrose E. Burnside, then a young lieutenant in the Union army. Burnside convinced Lottie to marry him, and a wedding date was set.
On the day of the wedding, just after Burnside completed his vows, Lottie fled the room, jilting Burnside.
Smith revealed Lottie yelling, “No siree, Bob, I won’t,” as she ran from the altar.
Later, Lottie would marry a different suitor, James Clark, a Confederate, in 1849.
On the day of the wedding, Clark was recorded as producing a pistol and insisting to his once jilting bride, “There will be a wedding here tonight or a funeral tomorrow.”
After the start of the Civil War, the Clarks, supporters of the South, began participating in anti-Union efforts. Clark, who was elected a circuit judge, was an active member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an underground Confederate union.
When a spy was needed to deliver dispatches concerning the advancement of soldiers in Kentucky, Lottie Clark volunteered.
Successful in her first mission, Lottie continued to travel across the Confederacy. Her younger sister, Ginnie, was also involved in espionage against the Union.
After several years of outwitting entrapment with the help of clever disguises and invisible ink, Lottie Moon was caught, arrested, and exposed by General Burnside-the very man she had abandoned at the altar.
Lottie’s charges of treason and the threat of the death penalty were eventually dropped by Burnside, who instead insisted on supervised house arrest in Cincinnati.
Once her days as a Confederate spy were over, Lottie worked as a newspaper writer and poet, traveling to Paris and London.
Lottie Moon Clark died Nov. 20, 1895 in Philadelphia, but the legend behind the name-the woman remains.
Information gathered from Oxford Spy, Wed at Pistol Point by Ophia D. Smith in 1962.
• Before it was paved in 1916, High Street was five to six inches thick with mud and dirt.
• At the turn of the century, Oxford’s main physician lived where the former Fiji house now stands.
• Bicycles first came to Miami University and Oxford in 1882.
• Italian restaurant DiPaolo’s has been in Oxford for 30 years.
The water tower
Once hailed as the first icon Oxford visitors spotted as they drove into town, the old water tower, which historically served as the town reservoir, was removed from Park Place Plaza in 1997. The tower previously was emptied in 1993 due to poor condition. The water tower often fueled pranks and acts of rebellion by college students who wished to climb to the tower’s top. Put on the 1997 ba
llot to be removed, the tower was replaced by the newly renovated Oxford Memorial Park.