Maine, Oxford County



A Brief History

Oxford County lies within the ancient limits of Maine's original county, York. Maine as then bounded lay between the Piscataqua River in the west and the Kennebec in the east, and stretched sixty miles inland.

When Cumberland County was set off from York in 1760, the boundary between the two was to run from the northwest corner of Standish on the Saco River "north two degrees west on a true course, as far as the utmost limits of the Province." This line ran directly through the future county of Oxford. It will be seen by reference to a current map that several towns were subsequently laid out without regard to this county line, and once straddled the boundary between the two old counties. Indeed, the early residents of these towns—which included Bethel and Waterford—were hard-pressed to know at which county seat their deeds should be recorded.

The first lands granted and settled in what would become Oxford County lay near the two large rivers running through the county: Fryeburg, Brownfield, Hiram and Lovell along the Saco River; Turner, Livermore, Jay (which then included Canton), Rumford, Bethel and Gilead along the Androscoggin. Later townships were usually laid out to adjoin those previous settled. Waterford and Porter adjoined the Saco River settlements. Norway, Paris, Hebron, Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Andover and Newry all were settled prior to 1790, all within the Androscoggin River Basin.

Several of these early-settled townships were granted to the veterans of expeditions against Canada or to their heirs, and thus were called "Canada townships." These were Bethel (once Sudbury Canada), Jay and Canton (Phipps Canada), Turner (Sylvester Canada), as well as Livermore and Waterford. (Many of the Canada Townships were bestowed in lieu of previous grants found to lie in New Hampshire when the boundaries of that province were established in 1740.) Fryeburg was granted to Captain Joseph Frye for past military service, and the township of New Suncook (later Lovell and Sweden) was granted to members of Captain Lovewell's company, who had fought the Pequawket tribe nearby in 1725. Later, lands were more often conveyed to individuals or groups of proprietors with some financial stake, or granted to educational institutions as endowments.

Those few who settled in the northern reaches of York and Cumberland Counties during the Revolution were joined soon afterward by an influx of new immigrants, many of them veterans with young families induced to settle by offers of cheap land. Before 1784, the Commonwealth promised one hundred free acres to any who would clear sixteen acres within four years; and the price of real estate was rarely an obstacle even after this provision was repealed. Settlers came from Massachusetts (of which Maine was still a part) and New Hampshire, and from the coastal region of Maine, sometimes individually but often as part of a migratory wave. Hartford and Sumner were populated by dozens of families from Plymouth County, Massachusetts, while Rumford was colonized by residents of Concord, New Hampshire. The makeup of the populace of a township was often determined by the place of residence of the proprietary: most of the landowners of Andover and Albany were citizens of Andover, Massachusetts, and it was from that town their earliest settlers hailed. Other, later towns with more diverse proprietaries—e.g. Greenwood and Woodstock— were settled more haphazardly.

An effort was launched in 1796 to form a new county from the northern parts of York and Cumberland Counties, to be named Waterford, with the county seat located in the plantation of the same name.  The effort failed. Oxford County was incorporated March 4, 1805, and was said to have been named by General David Learned of Livermore, our first sheriff, after his native town in Massachusetts.

There was some debate whether the proposed county should have two "half shire-towns," either in Fryeburg and Paris, or in Bethel and Paris. It was ultimately decided that Paris be the county seat, and that the county offices be located on Paris Hill. There they remained until 1895, when the present courthouse was built in South Paris. A compromise was reached with regard to the registration of deeds: the Western District Registry of Deeds was located in Fryeburg at an early date. Deeds from the towns of Stoneham, Stow, Lovell, Fryeburg, Brownfield, Denmark, Porter and Hiram are recorded there, those from the remainder of the county in Paris.

Oxford County has diminished in size since its early years. Uninhabited townships were set off to Somerset County in 1819 and 1823. With the incorporation of Franklin County, May 9, 1838, Oxford County lost several towns and unincorporated townships. The towns of Berlin (later annexed to Phillips), Carthage, Jay, Madrid and Weld were set off, as were the townships later incorporated as Rangeley and Eustis. Two more towns—Livermore and Turner—were set off to form Androscoggin County, Mar. 18, 1854. Oxford County gained a town, July 4, 1978, when Otisfield seceded from Cumberland County.



Towns

A list of past and present Oxford County towns, ordered by date of incorporation:

  • Fryeburg (Jan. 11, 1777)
  • Turner (July 7, 1786)
  • Hebron (Mar. 6, 1792)
  • Buckfield (Mar. 16, 1793)
  • Paris (June 20, 1793)
  • Jay (Feb. 26, 1795)
  • Livermore (Feb. 28, 1795)
  • Bethel (June 10, 1796)
  • Waterford (Mar. 2, 1797)
  • Norway (Mar. 9, 1797)
  • Otisfield (Feb. 19, 1798)
  • Hartford (June 13, 1798)
  • Sumner (June 13, 1798)
  • Rumford (Feb. 21, 1800)
  • Lovell (Nov. 15, 1800)
  • Brownfield (Feb. 20, 1802)
  • Albany (June 20, 1803)
  • Dixfield (June 21, 1803)
  • Andover (June 23, 1804)
  • Gilead (June 23, 1804)
  • Newry (June 15, 1805)
  • Denmark (Feb. 20, 1807)
  • Porter (Feb. 20, 1807)
  • Sweden (Feb. 26, 1813)
  • Hiram (June 14, 1814)
  • Woodstock (Feb. 7, 1815)
  • Greenwood (Feb. 2, 1816)
  • Weld (Feb. 8, 1816)
  • Mexico (Feb. 13, 1818)
  • Canton (Feb. 5, 1821)
  • Peru (Feb. 5, 1821)
  • Berlin (Jan. 31, 1824)
  • Carthage (Feb. 20, 1826)
  • Oxford (Feb. 27, 1829)
  • Byron (Jan. 24, 1833)
  • Stow (Jan. 28, 1833)
  • Stoneham (Jan. 31, 1834)
  • Roxbury (Mar. 17, 1835)
  • Madrid (Jan. 29, 1836)
  • Mason (Feb. 3, 1843)
  • Hanover (Feb. 14, 1843)
  • Grafton (Mar. 19, 1852)
  • Upton (Feb. 9, 1860)
  • West Paris (Sept., 1957)


Town Offices

An up-to-date listing of all Maine Municipal Clerks, complete with names and contact info, can be viewed at Department of the Secretary of State: Municipal Clerks.



County Offices

Most of the county offices for Oxford County are located in the courthouse on Western Avenue in South Paris. The Registries of Deeds (Eastern District) and Probate are on the first floor at the front of the building. Both offices welcome researchers.

Vital records in Maine are not kept by the county, but by the town and state.

Probate Court

Probate records for Oxford County exist from the county's formation in 1805. Records prior to 1805 will be found in York County (most Cumberland County records were destroyed by fire in the nineteenth century). These records have been collected in two volumes: John Eldridge Frost, Maine Probate Abstracts. (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1991); and Joseph C. Anderson, II, York County, Maine Will Abstracts 1801-1858. (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, c1997).


Registries of Deeds

Oxford County's two registries of deeds hold records of "Deeds, mortgages, discharges, liens, abstracts of divorce, abstracts of probate, land installment contracts, powers of attorney, court papers, and anything affecting the ownership of land including subdivision plans and standard boundary surveys." The South Paris office also holds copies of the records of the County Commissioners, useful to those researching the construction of county roads, and copies of early Cumberland and York County deeds pertaining to future Oxford County towns.

The Western District registry holds records for the towns of Stoneham, Stow, Lovell, Fryeburg, Brownfield, Denmark, Porter and Hiram.


Criminal and Civil Courts

The Supreme Judicial Court, Court of Common Pleas, District and Superior Courts, have all held terms in Oxford County. Historical records will be found at the Maine State Archives.

Divorces were granted prior to 1929 by the Supreme Judicial Court, afterwards by the Superior Court, and since 1961 by the District Courts. Returns of divorce records have been filed with the state since 1892, and may be viewed at the State Archives.



Vital Records

Prior to 1892, birth, marriage, and deaths in Maine were recorded only at the town level (exceptions are noted below). The quality and quantity of vital records varies from town to town—Sumner, for example, has incredibly complete records for nearly every family resident in the town prior to 1900, while Norway lost its earliest town books to fire in the winter of 1843, and could only partially reconstruct the missing records. Most extant records have been microfilmed, and are available either through the Family History Library catalog, or at the Maine State Archives [check Maine Archives Interactive for availability of microfilmed town records]. Of course, they are also generally available at the town offices of the respective towns.

For a time in the nineteenth century, towns were required to return marriage records to the county clerk. Returns for this county have been transcribed and published as Marriage Returns of Oxford County, Maine Prior to 1892 (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, c1993). In 1927, the state asked towns to return copies of their pre-1892 vital records. The towns of Albany, Gilead, Hanover, Hebron, Mexico, Rumford, Sweden, Waterford and Otisfield (since annexed to Oxford County) complied. These records are available on microfilm at the Maine State Archives, and at other places in the state [view list of repositories]. They may also be ordered through the Family History Library catalog, and viewed at your local Family History Center.

Since 1892, towns have been required to file returns of births, marriages, and deaths with the state. Records through 1955 have been microfilmed, and are available at the Maine State Archives, and at several libraries and historical societies throughout the state [view list of repositories]. They are also available, in part, through the Family History Library catalog, and may viewed at your local Family History Center.


Online Resources