Oxford is the only city of its kind.
The book, “Deep Running Roots, Far Reaching Branches: The Story of The City of Oxford,” is evidence of the city’s charming, yet checkered and complicated history. Founded in the spirit of the Methodist Church, Oxford found itself caught between the turmoil over slavery and the idyllic view the founders of the city envisioned for the home of Emory College and Oxford.
It’s the only town in the U.S. to be designated a “Shrine of the United Methodist Church,” in 1972. Although the term “shrine,” is outdated, the city of Oxford, Ga., is a Heritage Landmark to the United Methodist Church, making the city unique among small Georgia towns.
And it’s origin lies with the creation of Emory College, now known as the Oxford College of Emory University.
“In 1836, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church incorporated a college to be named Emory College after Methodist Bishop John Emory,” according to the introduction of the book. “In conjunction with the college, a village was to be built that would be called Oxford after the University attended by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.”
So it began, the founding of a college, and a city to match. In 1837, the town of Oxford was surveyed and plotted, and in 1839, the Georgia State Legislature granted a charter for Oxford to be incorporated.
The introduction goes on to expand on the town planners’ vision of what Oxford should be. By today’s standards, Oxford was downright puritanical, as “Alcohol, gambling and dancing were not allowed within the town limits,” according to the book. And the city was “to be not only free of sin, but full of love for God, mankind, nature, and learning.”
The town founders had high hopes for Oxford’s future, especially in regards to education, attempting to create their own version of paradise on earth. Throughout the book, the city’s history is entwined with Emory college, and the various notable students that studied in those classrooms who later became prominent Methodist religious officials, as well as writers, politicians, entrepreneurs and philosophers.
At Oxford’s 175th Anniversary convocation in December, where the book was first released, Lisa Dorward, the tome’s editor, said, “You don’t need to read it cover to cover” to appreciate the rich history it documents.
The book was divided into chapters for easy perusal. For example, in addition to retelling the history of the town’s establishment and providing a list of local historical sites, the book does not shy away from the darker periods of the town’s history. There is a section on slavery with extensive details of slave-owners and slave descendants, and another on oral histories and other stories of Oxford’s past.
Whether reading about Minister Alexander Means’ home, “Orna Villa,” and it’s haunted ghost stories, or the Mount Zion Baptist Church, which was the first non-methodist church to be erected within the Oxford city limits, there are an abundance of interesting stories within these pages.
And once you find a page or section of Oxford history you find intriguing, it may be hard to stop flipping through the town’s rich, historic past.