When the Oxford Social Café opened in 2018 in the 102 S Morris Street building extension, it was an experiment. Their sister store, the Scottish Highland Creamery, was known as a gathering place during the warm weather month. Could the town benefit from a social meeting year-round location that would also serve coffee and baked goods?
Calling his experiment a “pop up,” owner Richard Leggett “popped” open the Social during the 2018-19 winter, reopening it again in the fall of 2019, only to close in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic. By then, Leggett was two and a half years into restoring the building to its original appearance. His plan was to have the Social find a permanent location in the main building and use the extension as a spacious production facility for the Scottish Highland Creamery. But even more than that, Leggett dreamed of restoring it as a hub for the Oxford community.
Renovating a historic building is no easy task, as Leggett would tell you. Much of the time is spent on getting special permit approvals. But in many ways, it will be well worth it. 102 S Morris Street has a rich and interesting story to tell about Oxford—a story that continues with the Social.
Originally built in the 1800s, when local businessmen sought to create a tourist destination to rival Ocean City, the building was part of a resort hotel known as Eastford Hall. In the mid-1880s, Oswald Tilghman leased the building as part of the short-lived and ill-fated Maryland Military and Naval Academy. Following the Academy’s closure in 1888, the building reverted to a hotel until a subsequent fire in 1894 demolished all but the structure we see today, closest to Morris Street. In addition to the shop, the building hosted three apartments, one over the shop and two waterfront units behind the shop.
John and Gertrude Thompson purchased the property in 1916 and operated businesses there for over three decades. The Thompson’s confectionery, soda fountain, and AMOCO gas station were popular destinations for locals and visitors. John Thompson also served for 13 years as Town Commissioner and for 27 years as postmaster (from 1940-1967).
The property was sold in the 1950s to James Kreeger and later sold to the Bringman family (who also owned the shop where the Oxford Museum is now located). Through those decades, the Thompson building, as it continued to be known, housed many businesses, including a barbershop, dental office, a hair salon, and, most recently, Tred Avon Yacht Sales.
Historic photos of the Thompson’s Confectionery show the front of the building was graced with large bay windows. One of Leggett’s goals was to restore the large oriel structures. As they’d been demolished long ago, this required extensive construction to reframe and pane the space, which adds light and cozy alcoves to the shop. The original front door remains the centerpiece.
Windows along the builds’ sides were restored, though that required reframing, as the wood had deteriorated over the years. Along with the bay windows in the front, these tall vistas overlooking the park offer a beautiful view of Oxford’s small-town charm. With the addition of a fireplace along the north wall, Leggett expects to offer comfortable fireside chats during the winter months.
Another added feature, though appropriate for the early 20th-century architecture, is wainscoting. The white walls are the perfect backdrop to showcase art, so it’s no surprise that the Social is the new hot spot for artists to display their work. With his bold colors and iconic images of Oxford boats and buildings, local celebrity painter Howard Lapp is currently on display.
You’ll find your favorite Rise Up coffee, Turnbridge Point baked goods, Blue Heron Catering frozen dinners to go, and of course, Scottish Highland Creamery ice cream by the scoop, pint, or quart. Leggett hopes to expand the menu in the future, adding sandwiches, etc. But the best news of all is that this former “pop up” is here to stay and will be open year-round.
Oxford Social Café is open Friday-Sunday, 8 am to 3 pm, and is located next to the Oxford Town Park, easily accessible (handicap access via the south entrance), with lovely Tred Avon River views. They will seat up to 20 people due to social distancing, although they can accommodate more in the future, as regulations relax. The Social is available to rent out for special events.
For more information, check their website https://oxfordsocialcafe.com/, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Oxford-Social-Cafe-577668676002859, or Instagram https://www.instagram.com/oxfordsocialcafe/, or by calling them at 410-924-6298.
Heather Hall is a Leadership Coach, Spiritual Director, and Storyteller through arts and crafts. Born and raised in Maryland, she spent 22 years in Alaska, working in environmental service. She recently returned to the Shore and resides in Oxford. Photos courtesy of Heather Hall.