If You Lived In Oxford 100 Years Ago

Life was not simple in the “Good Old Days.”

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. 

Ed Rowland September 20, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Nice article Dotty.I really enjoy reading about Oxford's past.We have a rich and colorful past.I can only imagine what the history books will be saying 100 years from now.
xxxoxox September 20, 2011 at 12:27 PM
I agree with Ed. Nice article. Who knows if we will even have history books in 100 years? Hard to imagine but then where we are now is light years away from 1911. Thank God people (generally) don't change much and our basic natures ( for good and ill) remain. My father taught history for 40 years and really loved this stuff. This post and look at our past reminds me of him. Thanks Dorothy.
Mary Ann Kozey September 20, 2011 at 02:08 PM
We moved to Oxford in 1945 from East Hartford when my father was laid off from Hamilton Standard, a defense plant that was part of Pratt Whitney. After the war all defense contracts were canceled. My father was in search of a job, when he saw an ad for a water well driller for the S.B. Church Company. He was immediately hired, having previous experience as an oil and gas driller in New York and Pennsylvania. We moved into one of the many houses Mr. Church had for his employees. I went to Oxford Central School a two room school where the fire house now stands. It housed the 5th to the 8th grade. The American Legion at the bottom of Great Hill and RT 67 was also a two room school housing 1st to 4th grades. Our school did not have indoor plumbing, and every afternoon boys from the 8th grade would go to Charlie Kirk's Garage to fill a cistern with drinking water. We would then stand in line for our drink of water. In the middle of the rooms was a huge register that emitted heat from the downstairs furnace, which some of the older 8th grade boys took care of. The library was housed in what is not the Police Station, and once every couple of weeks we would go to the library. 1948 the Oxford Centralized School was built and we were the first classes to enjoy the new school, with it's luxerious lavatories and even a cafeteria. All the one and two room schools were now intergrated into the new school. My class was the second to graduate from the Oxford Centralized School.
Scott Walker September 20, 2011 at 02:11 PM
I also agree with Ed but I enjoy thinking in a more optimistic way,I would think that we will always have honest people writing facts about our history as it has been done for centuries. As Dorothy expressed in her article,what a vast difference there is in the way people LIVED in 1910 and present. People relied on thier own basic skills to live life(and a good life at that) and joined with thier nieghbors in more difficult times, and in people there was a pride of self reliance.So in fact, in our not so distant past, people were very much different and would not stand by waiting for goverment hand outs to survive.For people to starve or drown in thier own homes while waiting for govt. help is unacceptable! So to dispute the comment that people have not changed much (in there basic values) I believe is incorrect. In my opinion,Irene has taught us to a small degree that we all can make do and we should rely on ourselves for family and community.
Craig Zac September 20, 2011 at 02:16 PM
What? no one uses a chamber pot anymore?? Why wasnt I told of this? Youd think someone would have texted me or let me know via Facebook or Twitter. lol....
Ed Rowland September 20, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Scott, I agree that people were more self reliant years ago.And neighbors helped neighbors.It was common practice many years ago when there wer many small farms in town that you could always count on your neighbors for help chopping corn or putting hay in the barns.If your tractor broke down you could borrow one from a neighbor.And you are also right about that type of lifestyle being better.You worked hard and were more thankful for what you had.A roof over your head,food on the table,clothes on your back and shoes on your feet.Simple things were a great pleasure.Making homemade icecream,watching the stars at night,watching a lightning storm.I could go on.
Dorothy DeBisschop September 21, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Thanks for your interesting memories. I have a photo of a school bus driver and students in front of Oxford School. It is undated, but I suspect it was taken when Oxford Consolidated School (Now Center School) opened. I would love to have you look at the photo and see if you could identify any of the students, the driver, and possibly confirm that a small building partially shown on the left of the photo might have been an outhouse for the old Oxford Center school which was removed when the new school was opened. Please email me at dottie@oxford-historical-society.org, so we can arrange for you to see the photo. If you can identify some of the people, I would like to post it for all to see.
xxxoxox September 22, 2011 at 12:05 AM
My original post referred to "basic natures" as opposed to values. Respectfully I would add that there is not necessarily a monopoly on virtue in the past. Some good values have changed for the worse. Yet, it is equally true that we have shed some truly awful values that provide enough evidence for the equality of progress.


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