Skip Navigation

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • Virtual Nebraska Logo

Virtual Nebraska

Nebraska...Our Towns

Oxford, Nebraska, with the railroad's main line running through the middle of town.
The Oxford Public School, built in 1887. Entire student body pictured, with several daredevils perched in the bell tower.
All lined up for a Sunday tour to neighboring towns, circa 1920.
One of the six devastating business fires in Oxford. While many display cases and some merchandise was saved, the buildings were severely damaged.

OXFORD -- FURNAS/HARLAN COUNTY

The beginning of Oxford was on December 20, 1879, when William Gillan was given his "final receivers receipt" and handed abstract title No. 767 for certain lands at the eastern edge of Furnas County. Nine days later William and his wife Caroline deeded a portion of this land to Jacob Struve for $200. Through a legal pre-arrangement, Struve had granted the Republican Valley Railroad Company (later to become part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) a right of way over the land to construct their railroad.

Actually, railroad stakes had been driven on what was to become the town site in October 1879, before the title for the land had been cleared. The arrival of the first train as it crossed the Harlan County line into Oxford was greeted with a large crowd of onlookers, February 17, 1880. The main line still runs right through the middle of town, but the trains do not stop to leave-off mail or take on passengers.

It is believed that the first schoolhouse was a sod structure northwest of the present school yard. School was held in at least two other locations in Oxford before a brick building was completed at the present school site in 1887.

On June 10, 1880, the town site of Oxford was dedicated "for public use" by Jacob Struve, Clara Pease, and A.E. Tonzalin, trustees. There was, however, no great rush to build as two years later it was noted that there were only seven occupied dwellings in the town.

There are several versions of how Oxford got its name. Some claim it was a ford on the Republican River where oxen could cross and thus "Ox-ford." Others suggest it was probably named for Oxford University in England, while another version is that the railroad surveying crew named it for Oxford, Ohio.

In June 1884 a petition, signed by 23 citizens, was presented to the commissioners of Furnas County. With that action, the village of Oxford was formally incorporated. The first graduating class from Oxford High School walked across the stage in May 1894.

In 1906 the citizens of Oxford voted 92 to 32 in favor of establishing a water system. An electric system was installed in 1913 following a vote on the matter. A new larger schoolhouse was built in 1921, with a gymnasium and elementary school added later. The first paving, an oil mat on main street, was added in 1938.

Oxford has six active churches, some with organizations going back to the 1880s. Records indicate that even prior to that time, meetings and services were held in homes of early settlers. Our town also has many active organizations and clubs.

The town has two city parks, a good ball diamond, swimming pool, and a new library. The community also supports a nine-hole golf course, racquetball court, club house, and a theater.

Oxford's K-12 school is an accredited Class C district, with about 260 students. Our town has a modern 20-bed hospital with two doctors and a doctor's assistant. We also have a 59-bed nursing home.

Primarily a farming community, with a current population of over 1,200, Oxford has had many industries over the years. Recently the town lost two of them when the Oxford Cheese Factory was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1988, and the storm door and window plant closed. The Mid-Nebraska Retardation Center provides an educational facility and sheltered workshop north of town, as well as employment opportunities for people in the community.

The town of Oxford has weathered six business fires, plus grasshopper plagues, depressions, and dust storms. The community suffered the loss of many lives and material in the Flood of 1935, and had homes and businesses destroyed in a tornado in 1916. The community feels the effect of the recent farm economic problems. We are fortunate to have an active Chamber of Commerce and 52 business houses with a good line of merchandise.

The people of Oxford have a very positive attitude, and are looking forward to the future just as our forefathers did when they started our village over 100 years ago.

By Laura Cowan, Box 37, Oxford, NE 68967

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Four Score and Seven Years, Oxford, Nebraska, by the Centennial Committee, 1968.