Oxford had been a distant and rural part of Derby since Derby’s incorporation in 1775. Two things happened in 1795 that changed the course of history for Oxford Parish: the start of the Oxford Turnpike and the building of the Oxford Hotel.
The Oxford Turnpike was only the second state-chartered turnpike in Connecticut. Turnpikes were an innovation that resolved the natural conflict between local property owners who did not want to pay higher local taxes for road construction and maintenance, and area businessmen who needed better roads in order to move their goods to markets. With a state charter for a turnpike, groups of private investors would build a road and charge tolls to those who used the roads.
Two of the Candee brothers, Daniel and Job, built the Oxford Hotel near the town green. Brother Timothy Candee built the Hudson House at 426 Oxford Road, and the matching house at 430 Oxford Road. Later he built the present building for the Oxford Congregational Church. Together, the Candee brothers construction, located near the town green, created what is now considered the Historic Oxford Center. With the new hotel and the new turnpike, Oxford center was on a new path to economic success.
The turnpike became a favorite route for bringing cattle to the slaughterhouses in New Haven. Drovers would drive cattle from the Litchfield hills through Oxford Center on their way to the market. The Oxford Hotel became a convenient stopping place for herdsmen, leaving their livestock in pens, to rest for the night. Daniel Candee operated the building as innkeeper until 1811. His brother, David, was named Postmaster in 1810 and the Oxford Hotel served as the local post office, at a time when there was no rural mail delivery. Residents had to go to the Oxford Hotel to pick up their mail, making the Hotel a frequent stop for Oxford people. After Daniel's death, his son David took over operation of the hotel as well as the post office.
When David died in 1851, his son Frederick Candee inherited the inn. During this period, Frederick expanded the business, serving as a general store in addition to the hotel and post office business. A daguerreotype was taken of the building during this period. The original daguerreotype is now located in the Chrysler Museum, and the Oxford Historical Society was able to obtain a photographic print of the building. Daguerreotypes were printed directly from the camera onto the glass sheets, without the use of a negative. So, daguerreotypes appear in reverse. With this article is a picture where the image is reversed so that the text on the signs can be easily read. The sign on the front of the building says, "F.A. CANDEE, Dry Goods & Groceries." There is also a sing hanging perpendicular to the house front, to be more visible from the road which reads:
The image shows how close the Hotel was to the unpaved roadway. he many men in the photo are an indication that the Oxford Hotel was a gathering spot for locals, as well as show the interest in daguerreotype imaging, the early precursor of modern photography. The signs help to date the image to sometime between 1851 and 1865, when the Hotel was sold to the Lums.
David R. Lum acquired the hotel, which he operated until his death in 1868. His wife, Mary B. Hudson Lum continued to operate the Hotel after his death. Eventually their son, Franklin Lum, took over the Hotel business in 1873.
The Oxford Historical Society's Twitchell-Rowland Homestead Museum features portraits of David and Mary Lum. (See photos).
The hotel passed rapidly through a number of owners including Harriet Warner and Charles Walcott, then George Oatman in 1885, Willa Gertrude Riley in 1899. William and Fannie Gabler operated the Hotel from 1910 to 1939, when popular dances were held upstairs. The Historical Society has a photo of a masquerade at Gabler's Inn. (See photo)
During that time, road improvements came to Oxford. In 1936, Oxford Road was paved and widened as part of a WPA project. The Oxford Hotel had to be moved back from the road. Old-timers tell of watching the building being placed on logs and drawn back from the road by teams of oxen.
In 1941, Eldridge Seeley remodeled the building for his residence. The porches were removed and additional dormers and the two-story colonnade were added.
In 1950, the building was purchased by James and Dominica DeMaio, who reopened it to the public as a country restaurant called Oxford House. During that time, the restaurant served as a gathering place for a variety of dinners by local organizations. (See photo of Oxford Ambulance Association banquet which shows some of the interior of the restaurant.)
The DeMaios volunteered to serve as 24/7 dispatch for the Oxford Ambulance Association. They started their duties when it began in 1954, and May served for 21 years until she retired in 1975. Her dedication to the town made her a legend in her time.
William and Tracy McGill purchased the restaurant 2010 and continued to operate it as a restaurant until its closing in 2011. Naugatuck Valley Savings & Loan held title until its sale to new owners, Oxford House LLC.
Oxford resident and builder, Jay Borkowski, and Arnold Karp of New Canaan, now own the property and plan to reopen the building. Whatever choices the new owners make, they are dedicated to preserving its historic beauty and integrity.
Editor's Note: Dorothy DeBisshop submitted this article last week. I meant to publish it then, but it slipped my mind. I apologize to Dorothy and to our readers for the delay. - Paul Singley