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Prior to the 1820s, what is now Oxford Township was known to be a hunting ground of the Nepessing Tribe of the Chippewa Indians, who inhabited large areas of what became Oakland, Lapeer and St. Clair counties. Between 1810 and the early 1820s, numerous settlers visited the Oxford area, primarily to hunt and trap. The first documented sale of public land in this area was recorded in 1823 to Elbridge Deming, who later built a log cabin on land in section 9 (in the area of M-24 and Metamora Road) of the township, around the spring of 1832.
Oxford Township was not officially created until after Michigan became a state in 1837. It was originally part of Oakland Township, as were Addison Township and Orion Township; Oxford Township was split away and separately organized in 1837. The 1830s saw an influx of settlers to the area, originally known as Demingsburgh, Demings Corners, and Oxford Corners, before becoming known as Oxford in 1836. The family names of many early settlers to the area are evident today in names of streets and buildings, such as Powell, Hovey, Burdick, and Axford.
New residents continued the trek to Oxford Township, many settling in sections 22 and 27 of what was to become the village of Oxford in 1876. Along with residents came commerce and industry. A downtown area was built in the village, but much of the area south of Burdick Street and west of Washington Street burned to the ground in 1878. When rebuilt, most of the buildings were of brick and masonry construction and are still in use today. The 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s found Oxford a prospering commercial center, with such businesses as Oxford Carriage Factory, Oxford Machine Works, Oxford Valley Mills, Oxford Brewery and several furniture and cabinetry shops.
In addition to the village of Oxford, two other smaller communities developed in other areas of the township. The first developed near Baldwin and Oakwood roads, on the boundary with Brandon Township; the community of Oakwood reached a population of nearly 200 people by 1876 with a foundry and "the usual shops and stores".
A railroad station and facilities were necessary near the northern edge of the township, and so the second community, Thomas, was developed. The place was platted by John Thomas in 1871. Thomas had a store, hotel, grain elevator and gristmill by the late 1870s.
Thomas and Oakwood continued to prosper until May 1896, when they were largely devastated by a monster tornado which traveled across the entire north end of Oakland County. The tornado killed 41 people and injured 46 others in northern Oakland and southern Lapeer counties. Seventeen of the fatalities were in the northern portion of Oxford Township, from the Oakwood village area to Thomas. While many of the homes in Oakwood and Thomas were rebuilt, the two communities were never again centers of commerce. Railroads were largely responsible for change and continued growth in the Oxford area. No longer isolated from Detroit, and now joined with communities to the north, Oxford's commerce thrived. In addition to its businesses and factories, agriculture was a mainstay for the community. At one time in the 1880s, Oxford earned the nickname, Bagatown, from the large number of rutabagas shipped out by train.
The early 1880s saw a second railroad constructed from the Pontiac area, through Oxford to Port Austin. Known as the Pontiac, Oxford, and Port Austin Railroad, or P.O. and P.A., it later became the Pontiac, Oxford, and Northern (P.O. and N.), and finally the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. With the expansion of the second rail line through town, it now became possible to travel to the tip of Michigan's thumb in one day. By 1900, a third, all electric powered passenger rail line known as the Detroit United Railway (D.U.R.) was extended through Oxford from Detroit to Flint and was noted for maintaining limited cars daily, both north and southbound. Over the years, the D.U.R. was involved in many collisions with automobiles, often resulting in death or injury to those whose automobiles tangled with the interurban cars at grade crossings. As automobile transportation became more reliable and roads improved, a growing percentage of the populace chose to travel by these means, forcing the demise of the D.U.R. in 1931.