First settled by Huguenots at the end of the 17th century, Oxford is a town of just over 13,000 on the French River.
Something unusual about Oxford’s landscape is that much of the town’s area belongs to the United States Army Corps of Engineers for flood control purposes.
You can visit two USACE properties in and near Oxford at Hodges Village Dam and Buffumville Lake, which has one of the best public disc golf courses in New England.
Oxford’s most famous daughter is the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton (1821-1912), whose enthralling and inspiring story is told at the house in which she was born and grew up.
1. Oxford Center
Where the busy roads, Main Street, Sutton Avenue and Charlton Street all meet, Oxford’s downtown area is protected as the Oxford Main Street Historic District.
There are some stately residences along Main Street, most dating from the first decades of the 19th century, and built in the Greek Revival style. Oxford’s Italianate Town Hall has an interesting story, having been built in 1872 to honor the town’s Civil War soldiers.
At 325 Main Street, it was built on a site of a house that had long been known for nuisance loud parties, so the town took the property by eminent domain.
There are a few locally owned businesses that deserve your attention in the center, and we’ll talk about a couple a little later.
2. Clara Barton Birthplace Museum
Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was born in North Oxford.
Remembered as a determined humanitarian at a time when women enjoyed few opportunities, Barton made an impact in the field of education, and later became one of the first women to receive a federal salary equal to a man when she worked at the U.S. Patent Office.
She found her calling during the Civil War, when she helped distribute medical supplies to the battlefields, and then reunited families after the war.
Her work at this time helped bring her to prominence, and in 1881 she established the American Association of the Red Cross, serving as the first president until 1904.
After touring Barton’s birthplace and childhood home, you’ll come away with a clearer picture of one of the 19th century’s most inspirational figures.
3. Buffumville Lake Park
Just a couple of minutes east of Oxford Center, this flood control project is one of two United States Army Corps of Engineers properties in easy reach.
Buffumville Lake Park is open to the public, and has a high reputation for its disc golf course, which we’ll talk about in more detail later.
If you’re here to stretch your legs, you can hike the blue-blazed Lake Shore Trail, encircling the entire lakeshore for 7.2 miles. Also check out the park’s ranger-led programs, including guided dam tours.
The corps maintains a beach area at the park, with 300 feet of sand, a volleyball court, horseshoe pit, and two picnic shelters.
4. Midstate Trail
In Oxford you can hike a section of a 92-mile trail running across Worcester County, from the line with New Hampshire to the Rhode Island border.
A bit like the Bay Circuit Trail in Greater Boston, the Midstate trail uses pre-existing public land and pathways, and crosses Oxford from west to east.
You’ll hike through publicly accessible properties like the Hodges Village Dam, and along quiet backcountry roads into pastoral farmland and past a series of ponds on the Oxford and Sutton boundary.
5. Carl’s Oxford Diner
This unpretentious breakfast spot in Oxford Center makes no apologies about its menu, and has even described itself as the “Birthplace of Cholesterol”. What brings the masses to Carl’s Oxford Diner is decadent comfort food in outsized portions.
This spot opened in 1990, but the core of the building is a prefab diner car with counter and stools, dating back to the WWII period.
You can expect mountainous stacks of buttermilk pancakes, fluffy Belgian waffles under a cloud of whipped cream, biscuits flooded with gravy, piles of crispy home fries, and family-sized omelets (the Kielbasa Western is a winner).
6. Hodges Village Dam
The United States Army Corps of Engineers built the Hodges Village Dam in the 1950s as a flood control project following devastation on the Thames River basin in Connecticut in 1936.
The project is on a sizable area along the French River, with ample hardwood forest and wetland habitats for visitors to discover, with opportunities for fishing and canoeing/kayaking on the water.
There are 22 miles of trails, although motorized vehicles are restricted to the orange blazed trails on the west side of the French River, while the blue blazed trails on the east side are strictly for non-motorized use. A big draw is a 13-hole disc golf course running along the dam.
7. Carbuncle Pond
Found next to Oxford Middle School, Carbuncle Pond is a medium-sized body of water, home to Oxford’s town beach in the summer.
This is on the northern shore, with a small but well-maintained patch of sand, bordered by a cute beach house, a grassy area and a stand of tall pine trees.
In recent years the town has installed a splash pad here, with an assortment of jets and sprinklers, and benches for parents.
At the start of the season in mid-July there’s normally an open day at the beach, with all kinds of free activities for kids.
8. N & J Donuts
In the shadow of Oxford Town Hall, this coffee shop has a loyal following in the Worcester area, and has appeared in a variety of media, including the Phantom Gourmet.
N & J Donuts is a throwback in the best possible way, making indulgent donuts, bagels, and a raft of other baked goods, all fresh each day.
For first-timers the standout menu items are the classic extra-large chocolate frosted donuts, as well as the marble crullers, shiny with glaze.
Also special are the pizza bagels, and you can order bacon, ham or sausage as additional toppings.
9. Buffumville Disc Golf Course
Established in 2010, the disc golf course at Buffumville Lake is rated as one of the best free courses in the region.
Starting out right on the dam, many of the holes feature water hazards, including Buffum Pond to the east. You’ll also have to play through some tight woodland, with changes in elevation to take into account.
All of the holes are labeled, and there’s a useful map of the landscape and the distance to the basket at the tee. As well as the championship 18 holes, there’s a smaller set of nine holes, ideal for beginners and casual players.
10. Huguenot Fort
The first Europeans to settle in what is now Oxford were Huguenots, who had recently arrived in America following the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685), ending legal recognition of Protestantism in France.
They arrived in the area in two waves from 1686, establishing an earthwork fort but also sustaining attacks from local Native Americans.
Close to Huguenot Road you can visit the remnants of the fort, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
There’s an information board here, with a contemporary plan of the settlement, a biography of the colony’s founder, Gabriel Bernon, and a list of the families that briefly made their home here.
11. Bartlett’s Bridge
Carrying Clara Barton Road across the French River in North Oxford is a rare surviving example of a 19th-century stone-built bridge in Massachusetts.
Replacing an older wooden bridge, Bartlett’s Bridge was constructed in 1889 to ease transport to the textile mill complex a short way to the east.
The bridge is named for the proprietor of the mill, Edwin Bartlett. The structure has a single elliptical arch rising 13 feet over the river. The bridge’s facing is from rough-hewn granite, while the arch itself is composed of more precisely worked stone.
12. Webster Memorial Beach
One of the best public freshwater beaches in Massachusetts is a stone’s throw from Oxford, in Webster.
This is on the west shore of Webster Lake, which was given the novelty name, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in the 1920s.
For non-residents, the best time to come is on a weekday, when the parking fee is $10, as opposed to $30 on weekends.
Awaiting you is a large sweep of sand, gorgeous views of the lakeshore, an excellent playground for kids, a basketball court, and a spacious grassy area with picnic tables and tall trees for shade.
13. Samuel Slater Experience
In Webster you could also take the chance to dip into the town’s compelling past. The town was founded in 1832 by the industrialist Samuel Slater (1768-1835).
He is remembered as the Father of the American Industrial Revolution, bringing British textile manufacturing technology and building the first textile mills in the United States. Webster has recently opened an interactive museum telling Slater and Webster’s story.
You’ll find out what made this area so desirable for textile manufacturing, discover the machinery that powered the Industrial Revolution, visit Slater’s recreated office, learn about the life of a millworker, and see how Webster has changed since the 1830s.
14. Indian Ranch
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg has been a summer destination since the late 19th century. An entertainment mainstay here for more than 75 years is Indian Ranch.
Set on the east shore, this amphitheater seats more than 3,000 people, and has emerged as one of the top summer music venues in the region.
A handful of recent performers includes Ziggy Marley, The Outlaws, The Mavericks, Three Dog Night and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Along with a campground and restaurant, Indian Ranch operates Indian Princess, a faithful replica of a 19th-century paddlewheel offering public and private cruises on the lake.
15. Blackstone National Golf Club
There’s a highly regarded 18-hole championship course, a short way east of Oxford in Sutton. The course at Blackstone National Golf Club was designed by Rees Jones, adjusting to the landscape’s natural topography and placing an emphasis on the visual impact of each hole from the tee.
A recurring theme from the 5th hole onwards is risk/reward—you may be tempted to aim for green over networks of bunkers, cut across a wooded dogleg or flirt with with the pond that comes into play on hole # 11.
Facilities at the club include the National Grill, a well-equipped pro shop, and the Golf Academy with a team of pros offering lessons and clinics.