OAHA showcases music in Oxford's past
● By Steven Hoffman
The entrance sign to Sunset Park, a 1937 Gibson guitar, a picture of Hank and Audrey Williams and numerous other treasures from the past are among the items that the Oxford Area Historical Association (OAHA) will be showcasing for the public this Friday and Saturday as part of the “Music In Oxford's Past” display. Sunset Park's glorious history, as well as the accomplishments of acclaimed local musicians like Ola Belle Campbell Reed and the Oxford Rhythm Boys will be highlighted.
The display will be on exhibit at the OAHA Archives Building from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3 as part of Oxford's First Friday event, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4 to coincide with the Connective Festival. The display will be set up outside the OAHA building as long as weather permits.
According to Gail Roberts, the OAHA vice president, the Connective Festival offered a good opportunity for the historical association to put together a display dedicated to music in the Oxford area.
“We're focusing on country music for this display,” Roberts explained. “It was interesting to me to learn about all the big-name country stars who came here.”
For decades, Sunset Park in Penn Township attracted some of the top country and bluegrass acts in the U.S. to southern Chester County. Everyone from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to George Strait and Randy Travis performed at Sunset Park through the years.
Roberts explained that a number of different people in the community have been willing to share local music memorabilia, including Phil Edwards, a local resident and farmer who has an extensive collection of interesting items from Sunset Park. Cecil Miller, Jr. shared items from his father, Cecil Miller, who was a founding member of the Oxford Rhythm Boys.
OAHA members expect there to be a considerable amount of interest in the “Music In Oxford's Past” exhibit because so many people who live in the area have a strong connection and fond memories of Sunset Park or the music of the Oxford Rythym Boys or Ola Belle Cambell Reed.
Ken Woodward, the president of OAHA, said that more than 200 people turned out for one of the historical association's presentations about Sunset Park, which was perhaps the largest turnout ever for one of their events. Another presentation that featured David Reed talking about his mother, Ola Belle Campbell Reed, also attracted an extremely large crowd.
The display will allow visitors to learn about the history of music in the area. OAHA members will have story boards set up as part of the display to highlight the impressive history of Sunset Park. Sunset Park was built in 1939 by G. Roy Waltman. It opened the following year, and for decades some of the biggest names in country and bluegrass music performed for Chester County residents, becoming one of the premier venues for those styles of music. Joining a long list of country music icons who appeared at Sunset Park were bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Bill Clifton. By the time it closed in the 1990s, the historical significance of Sunset Park had long been established. It has been approved for the placement of a marker by the Pennsylania Historical & Museum Commission.
Ola Belle Campbell Reed played at Sunset Park numerous times through the years, often with the Sunset Park house band, the North Carolina Ridge Runners.
“A lot of us have gained an appreciation for her music,” Woodward said of the performer. “She's a great musician and writer. She's almost like a poet with her songwriting.”
Roberts said that there will be refreshments and a raffle of OAHA publications as part of this week's events. Visitors will also be able to see some of the regular OAHA offerings, such as a photo display of Oxford buildings past and present, as well an exhibit on the history of the Oxford Hall building. This exhibit will be on display for serveral more months.
The OAHA has an extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the Oxford area, including everything from a large desk from a Peoples Bank of Oxford conference room to a cash register from the Simon's store to several ledgers from local businesses. There are DVDs of past OAHA presentations and recordings of oral histories available for people to watch in the Archives Building. OAHA members are in the process of cataloguing literally thousands of items that document the history of the Oxford area. It has only been in the last two years that OAHA has had a place to keep and display items in its collection, and the Archives Building has helped make people more aware of the historical association's collection.
“Since we've been open here, we've had a steady stream of people stopping in,” Roberts said, adding that special displays like the one about music also helps to increase awareness about the historical association's activities.
The OAHA Archives Building is open to the public each Monday from 9 a.m. to noon, and on the First Tuesday of the month from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. OAHA also regularly takes part in the First Friday events, too, opening its doors during the evening event. They usually plan at least two special exhibits each year.
The OAHA Archives Building is located at 140-142 Locust Street in Oxford. For more information about the organization, its collection, and upcoming events, visit the OAHA website or Facebook page.