This article was written by Dorothy DeBisschop and Faith Williams:
The Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, with a strong base in the northern states. Yet it took over 15 years until Oxford was ready to vote a Republican into office.
Robert Limburner was the first Republican to win an Oxford election. He was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1872. Limburner had been an early member of the Republican Party, and a supporter of Lincoln; but he was a resident of Washington, Conn., at the time.
Oxford never supported the election of Abraham Lincoln. Although Connecticut gave him 58 percent of the popular vote in his first campaign for president in 1860, the people of Oxford cast only 41 percent of their votes for Lincoln, clinging to their steady Democratic voting habits. Of a total of 219 votes, there were 124 for John Breckinridge, a Democrat, and only 95 for Lincoln, a Republican. No votes were cast for the Southern Democrats.
The vote was nothing personal against Lincoln; Oxford was strongly Democratic in sentiment. In April of 1964, Oxford voted for state officials, including governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, treasurer and comptroller. In that election, there were more votes cast than in the previous presidential election: a total of 258 votes were cast. Of these, 152 went to Origen S. Seymour, a Democrat, and only 106 went to William A. Buckingham, the Republican from Norwich who was re-elected. Although the absolute number of Republican votes increased, the percentage of Republican votes remained at 41 percent.
On Nov. 8, 1864, Oxford voters cast their ballots for president again. This time, just over 40 percent were for Lincoln. It remained for Limburner to change Oxford voters' minds about the GOP.
Born in Oxford in 1821, Limburner lived here until age 16. His parents had died when he was 9 years old, and he lived with an older sister who was married to John Wooster. He attended the Oxford district schools. Then he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Washington, Conn. He served four years there and then worked the next three years as a blacksmith on his own. He was interested in building and repairing things mechanical, so he went to work as a machinist for seven years in Washington. For a while he operated a foundry and machine shop. Later he used his ability to make equipment to start other business ventures. First he operated a successful woodturning company in Washington.
Then he decided to bring his business closer to Oxford. He moved to Southford in 1863. He built his factory on Eight Mile Brook and began manufacturing heavy paper made out of straw. The site is today Southford Falls State Park. Some folks complained that the process polluted the brook, but that was the only papermaking technology of the day.
The local farmers were hurting financially. Many jumped at the chance to earn extra money at the mill. The local farmers got a reliable source of cash income. Limburner made a lot of money as well. He sold the mill in 1870 and retired from business entirely. (The mill later became the property of the Diamond Match Company.)
He moved to the Red City area of Oxford in 1870. He was soon recognized for his energy, his patriotism and his integrity. Within two years he was elected by the townspeople, who finally sent a Republican to represent them in Hartford.
He became active in town and church affairs. At the Congregational Church, he served as Deacon and Sunday school superintendent. Because of his business success, he also made a substantial financial contribution to the church. There were years when the money donated by Limburner was the church's main income.
Limburner had joined the Republican Party soon after it was formed. He was elected selectman twelve times. In addition to serving Oxford as representative to the state legislature, he had earlier been to Hartford in 1860 for the town of Washington, Conn.
He remained in Oxford center, active in town and church affairs until his death in 1905. He is buried in the Oxford Congregational Church Cemetery on Governor's Hill Road, with his wife and parents.
Correction: The authors are Dorothy DeBisschop and Faith Williams. The last name of Miss Williams was inaccurate in a previous version.