the beauty of historic preservation: back to odessa, delaware.

As I said in the post prior to this, Odessa, Delaware is one of my favorite places. It is literally a jewel of a historic town, almost frozen in time.

I have written about Odessa, Delaware before. I really hadn’t been down there much since Covid, and I realized today how much I missed visiting this gem of a small town.

Located in New Castle County, Delaware, Odessa was founded in the 18th century as Cantwell’s Bridge, her name was changed in the 19th century after the Ukrainian port city of the same name.

Odessa is a National Registry District, home to a National Historic Landmark as well as two National Parks Service Network to Freedom sites.

Odessa like Lewes was settled initially by the Dutch in the 1600s. (Lewes is another favorite place of mine, and it’s a bit larger and busier than Odessa.)

When Odessa was a first settled by the Dutch in the 1660’s (to be more precise), they adopted the Indian name for the area, “Apequinemy”. The Dutch settled here in Odessa because it’s proximity to the Appoquinimink River which flows to Delaware Bay, making it ideal to them for trading. I have been told this was once the shortest route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Chesapeake Bay before the construction of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

This was an area inhabited by Lenni Lenape Native Americans before European settlement. The Dutch weren’t actually in this area for very long before the English assumed control of the area. Then land was granted to a Captain Edmund Cantwell, the first Sheriff of New Castle County, under the government of a person we are familiar with, William Penn. By the 1730s there was a town and Edmund’s son, Sir Richard Cantwell, built a toll bridge and toll house and the town of “Cantwell’s Bridge” was born.

For the next century plus, this was a thriving little port town shipping grain and other things (like peaches.) It was a bustling small town…until 1855 and the arrival of the railroad around Middletown, and bypassed Odessa. Like many other towns that thrived on rivers and canals (think Frick’s Lock in East Coventry Township, Chester County), the railroad did a number on the economy of “Cantwell’s Bridge.”

Cantwell’s Bridge was name changed to Odessa around 1855. It had something to do with hoping that the name change would remind people of the flourishing port of Odessa in the Ukraine and the same thing would happen in Odessa, Delaware.

Now the Odessa area was also known historically for the nearby peach orchards. Odessa remained historically a very active port until the late 19th century when a peach blight ruined crops, one of their larger exports. My research indicates that between the peach virus blight and the railroads Odessa almost died as a town.

However, where a lot of similar little towns have died, Odessa has lived on. It is a great collection of houses and architecture spending 200 years, truthfully. Colonial, mid-Georgian, Federal and Victorian architecture. Another fun fact about Odessa, is there used to be a steamboat that operated out of it from the latter part of the 19th century, up until the early parts of the 20th century, ending I think somewhere around World War I.

A lot of people wouldn’t like Odessa because it’s literally a sleepy historic town. That’s why I personally think it’s so wonderful.

There are different things that go on in Odessa throughout the year. A historic Odessa Brewfest in September (this year September 10th) , lovely Christmas holiday events, tours for all seasons. July 15 – 17th features an event I am interested in called Christmas in July. It’s a special holiday sale in the Christmas Resale Shop in the Collins-Sharp House.

We belong to the Historic Odessa Foundation , and anyone can belong. It’s a remarkable little town and makes a fun little day trip. There are also little bed-and-breakfasts in the area so it also makes a nice we can get away. But if you’re looking for lots of bells and whistles, this isn’t it. Unless of course historic preservation is one of your favorite bells and whistles. This isn’t Disney or Six Flags (thank goodness.)

Enjoy the photos from my ramble and thanks for stopping by.

1 thought on “the beauty of historic preservation: back to odessa, delaware.

  1. Thank you Carla for writing this! I enjoyed reading it and it is now on my bucket list of little towns to visit. I am sure that I would love it! 💗

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