Hopefully by now, Oxford residents have resolved any problems from Hurricane Irene. While we were without electricity or land line phone four days, I realized how much life has changed in the past century. This spring I had presented a talk to the second grades at Quaker Farms School: "If You Lived in Oxford 100 Years Ago." When I gave the talk, the students were amazed at the differences in daily life. It was not until Hurricane Irene that I realized the changes in Oxford - not just intellectually but emotionally.
What Life was like in Oxford a Century Ago
Schools in Oxford were one and two room neighborhood affairs. In September, 1911, Oxford opened its newest school, Quaker Farms School, now the Hawkins Fire House. Charlotte Dahinden was teacher at Christian Street School. Oxford, like many communities, used the popular McGuffey Reader for a textbook. A photo of Oxford teachers taken in 1910 shows the ladies in front of the school, with an unidentified gentleman, possibly the state supervisor.
What we now call the Riverside area of Oxford was generally called Stevenson or Zoar. A vibrant Methodist church once stood at what is now the bottom of Lake Zoar. Nearby, the old Zoar Bridge crossed the Housatonic River. A general store stood next to the bridge, and the trains made daily stops to the Stevenson station, serving folks from both Oxford and Monroe.
In the center of Town, the Oxford Hotel was a popular inn, which rented upstairs room for town meetings and for a variety of community social events.
Nearby, on what is now Dutton Road, stood the Dr. Lounsbury house. Here, Dr. John Lounsbury served as the town's doctor. The doctor visited the homes of the sick, delivered babies and filed annual reports on the health of the community.
Daily life in Oxford households was conducted with manual labor. Women used washboards and tubs to wash clothing, after heating the water on wood or coal stoves.
There was no indoor plumbing; outhouses were necessary. Chamber pots were kept under the bed to avoid having to walk outdoors in the middle of the night. (And we thought it a nuisance to have to get water to flush our toilets during Hurricane Irene.)
In the winter, homes were heated with wood or coal. Many local farmers still used oxen to bring in wood through the snow.
The need to preserve food was met by the use of ice boxes. While ice was delivered regularly in cities of that day, Oxford folks harvested their ice in January or February and stored it for the coming summer months. Howard Belinsky still has an ice house on his farm. His father harvested ice on at the pond belonging to S. B. Church at Oxfordshire. They stored the ice blocks in the icehouse that had a double outside wall. The space between the walls was packed with sawdust from the Mill on Park Road to serve as insulation.
I reminded myself of these old-fashioned ways while trying to keep our refrigerated and frozen food through the electricity outage from Hurricane Irene. After four days, I concluded that living in the "good old days" was not so simple and a lot of work.