Tucked away at the confluence of the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers in Talbot County, the historic hamlet of Oxford, Maryland has long attracted visitors hoping to take a step back to simpler times by strolling the waterways or grabbing a bite along Morris Street. Long known as a haven for Washington, DC transplants and retirees, the rejuvenation of the town’s dining scene has brought families and young couples to Oxford, whether they are sampling the new flavors at Scottish-Highland Creamery, listening to music at one of the waterfront eateries, or enjoying a romantic weekend at the Robert Morris Inn, the oldest inn in America.
Officially founded in 1683, Oxford is one of the oldest towns in Maryland and served as the only port of entry to the Eastern Shore. This designation led to steady growth and prosperity through the American Revolution, enjoying early prominence as a shipping center surrounded by tobacco plantations. While the tobacco industry waned, other trades filled in the gaps in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the oyster market, fisheries, and the connected canneries. Still a water-driven town, Oxford is enjoying a steady resurgence in the 21st century based on tourism and leisure activities, while the town itself is anchored by the forethought and investment provided centuries before, none more important than that made by Robert Morris.
The Robert Morris Inn, sitting at the corner of Morris Street and Strand and adjacent to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, is an example of the history captured in Oxford’s downtown facades—and a prospective model for the evolution of the town in the near term. Built circa 1710, the oldest portion of the Robert Morris Inn served as the residence of Robert Morris, father to Robert Morris, Jr., known as the financier of the American Revolution, and a prominent merchant himself. The property has retained much of its original character, while the expansions over the years are indicative of the time periods in which they were added. An Elizabethan staircase leads to the guest rooms; handmade nails and 14-inch beams hold up white oak flooring upstairs, while patrons walk on Vermont slate in the Inn’s dining room.
The historic attributes of the Robert Morris Inn have served the proprietors well over the years, as the property nears two centuries of overnight accommodations. Year-over-year, the Inn has seen new and returning visitors endear themselves to the property and the historic, quaint nature of the town. The hospitality offerings and interest only grew when current owners Ian Fleming and Mark Salter took over 11 years ago, bringing fine dining and inventive cuisine to Morris Street and expanding the Inn’s offerings. Billed as the oldest inn in America, the notable property has recently been placed on the market for sale, a once-in-a-generation opportunity in a market driven by natural beauty and character.
“My passion is converting boutique, genteel inns and hotels into thriving active and exciting businesses,” Fleming said. “Over the past eleven years we have achieved this. The hospitality business is so tactile—I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with our team and customers every day.”
Both Mark and Ian were introduced to the charm and unique lifestyle of the Eastern Shore through their respective years managing and developing their now famous neighbor, The Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels. After 17 years guiding the food and beverage team of The Inn at Perry Cabin, Mark desired an opportunity to work for himself. Concurrently, Ian had built up his own company of hospitality businesses and was eager to return to the Eastern Shore. In May of 2010 Mark and Ian came together and took over the closed Robert Morris Inn, immediately focused on cementing its reputation as the most unique restaurant with rooms on the Eastern Shore.
Over the past decade, the improvements to the Inn have been both structural and experiential. Focused on delivering an exceptional experience to all diners and overnight guests, Mark and Ian have revitalized the indoor and outdoor spaces, developing one of the premier locations on the Eastern Shore. The addition of wine dinners, cooking demonstrations, and a robust calendar of events has only grown the Inn’s darling dining reputation.
“I have loved every moment of the past eleven years, driving to the Inn each day through stunning Talbot County countryside,” Salter said. “Working daily with my team for our loyal customers has been a great joy, as has the relationships I have built with many local watermen and farmers.”
However, after 11 years both Mark and Ian feel it is the right time to pass the Inn on to someone that can expand its assets while protecting the property’s charm and history. As the Town of Oxford continues its own business and tourism revitalization, the time is ripe for redevelopment of the Robert Morris property. The right visionary is well-situated to take advantage of growing interest in Talbot County and the opportunities that the currently underutilized water views offer. Thus, an historically sensitive reimagining of the Morris and Strand corner, with possibilities including residential, short-term accommodations, dining, or a hybrid model, make this one of the most unique hospitality offerings in the country, let alone in the Mid-Atlantic.
“The Robert Morris Inn is an iconic fixture in Oxford,” Ross Benincasa of SVN | Miller said. “The property has been influential to our community for generations, and we are excited to match the Inn with the right visionary to continue its relevance for generations to come.”
While the property is marketed for sale, Mark and Ian will continue to operate the full-service inn, restaurant and tap house, and look forward to welcoming returning and first-time visitors to their slice of paradise in Oxford.