This small village on the Chesapeake is one of Maryland's oldest and most charming towns.


Carolyn Helmly stands by the swing sets in the town park in tiny Oxford, Maryland, giving an easy push each time Michael, her youngest, draws near. "My husband always wanted to live in a town with no stoplight," the internal medicine specialist confesses with a smile. "We knew we were home when we found Oxford."

Truly, there's little need for a stoplight. This sleepy hamlet sits on an L-shaped peninsula just an hour and a half from D.C., where the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers meet and flow together into the Chesapeake.

Though small, the town exudes personality. There's a post office, a bank, and an old-fashioned library. The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, founded in 1683, shuttles people and cars across the Tred Avon. On summer evenings, the town park is the perfect place to linger and watch sailboat regattas.

There are a handful of shops, most clustered along Morris Street. Here you'll find Americana Antiques, a handsome store that specializes in 18th- and early-19th-century American paintings, furniture, period accessories, folk art, and carousel art. At the Oxford Market & Deli, you can pick up the fixings for a picnic or indulge with a hand-dipped ice-cream cone.

The town boasts several nice bed-and-breakfasts. The Robert Morris Inn is perhaps the best known. Locals report that James Michener wrote part of his book Chesapeake here. Combsberry, just 2 miles outside of town, is ideal for those seeking a more secluded stay.

Still, visitors shouldn't be fooled by the lazy pace. The town is full of progressive thinkers. Take John Lewis, for instance, who's heading up a project which will push the town toward the future. "We're saving the entire town history digitally," the president of the Oxford Museum explains.

Thanks to the town's rich past, there's plenty for John to do. Oxford was the first port on the Eastern Shore. The growth some port cities experienced never made it to Oxford, and the town settled into the peaceful existence it enjoys today.

"I first came to this town in 1960, and it has not changed one bit," John says. "When you come here, it's like going back to an easier time, and the residents are doing their best to make sure that's preserved."

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