With its lengthy history, Oxford has seen its fair share of reincarnations over the centuries. From its charter in 1683 when it was known as Williamstadt, Oxford is the Eastern Shore’s oldest town. It was a bustling port town during Revolutionary times as an international shipping center but went into a long slumber until after the Civil War. Oxford then became an epicenter for the seafood industry. By the early 20th century, however, Oxford became a sleepy town inhabited mostly by watermen. Today, Oxford retains a quaint, sophisticated atmosphere buoyed by leisure activities, tourism, and healthy living.
Buildings have undergone transformations as well within the village. One prime example is the historic Odd Fellows Hall on Tilghman and Stewart streets. The 131-year-old building, seen today with its colorful pressed metal exterior and cupola, was the meeting place for dances, movies, and gatherings for African Americans during segregation. Today, nestled on the first floor, is Oxford Vintage & Trade, owned by Barbara Ranson. It is, in fact, the third woman-owned shop in town. In addition to restaurants, thriving boat yards, marinas, two museums, and a brisk ferry service, these shops offer unique prizes ripe for the picking. The repurposed items in Barbara’s shop have a history, just as the town and building does, too.
Growing up attending auctions and flea markets with her grandparents, Barbara has always loved vintage items and has a sense of what works. While not everything in the shop is an antique, it is of quality that people on the Eastern Shore can appreciate. Anything that has an Oxford connection is something that Barbara can’t refuse. A retired teacher, Barbara’s main goal is to keep quality curated items out of the landfill and find new life for aging relics.
Another connection Barbara is making is being met with the help of the Water’s Edge Museum, which is located around the corner from her shop. Working with representatives of the Water’s Edge Museum, Barbara Paca, Brenda Moaney-Henry, and the museum’s newly appointed director, Candace Henry, the shop will be the exclusive location to buy lithographs and serigraphs of Ruth Starr Rose. Begun in the 1930s, Ruth’s lifelong pursuit was to document and celebrate the lives of her African American friends and neighbors in the historically black towns of Copperville and Unionville in Talbot County.
Also, in collaboration with The Water’s Edge Museum, Barbara will sell traditional Antiguan, handmade wild tamarind jewelry and decorative household goods, from the Obeah tradition. To make the connection back to Oxford – the port was a stop in the Middle and Intra American Passage routes, bringing slaves to the country. At least two ships arrived in Oxford from Antigua. In the Obeah tradition, which was practiced by enslaved West Africans in the West Indies, the beadwork was used, in part, to keep evil spirits out.
Recently, we’ve been hearing more about intangible cultural heritage, which includes traditions inherited from ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, practices and skills. So, to not lose the Antiguan practice of handmade tamarind jewelry, these women in Oxford have decided to work together to ensure that it continues. Barbara, as well as the folks at The Water’s Edge Museum, all want to help keep the deep-rooted tradition alive by purchasing the goods directly from Antigua. There may only be five women on the small Caribbean island that are considered master seed workers.
A proponent of women entrepreneurs is Maryland State Senator Addie Eckardt, who enjoyed a recent tour of Oxford Vintage & Trade. Many of the Mid Shore’s small shop owners are woman owned. Addie explained, “Women know what they need in the mix when putting a project together. They are making an investment in the community and family. As bigger picture people, women use their best intuition and knowledge together and take that leap of faith.”
Being an entrepreneur is a lot about making connections. Barbara’s shop has proven that it’s a little shop with big arms reaching out to hug the present and embrace the past.
Oxford Vintage & Trade is located at 201 Tilghman Street. It is open Wednesday by appointment and Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. To reach Barbara, call 610-952-7849, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Facebook.