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.

going to delaware: still love odessa and the little towns in the vicinity

We were in Delaware over the weekend. We met people at Cantwell’s for an early dinner one night. I love Cantwell’s. It’s historic and the food is good.

And Odessa, DE? Odessa is one of my favorite little towns, ever. It’s quaint and historic and they take their history and preservation seriously. Awesome historical society with wonderful events. (Check out Historic Odessa Foundation.) Communities like Odessa, DE should be an example to other communities. They show you preservation IS possible and communities will embrace it.

Odessa and the surrounding small towns aren’t perfect. There are houses that you see that are distinctly unloved. But these communities are trying and it is SO nice to see farm and fields and water and a distinct lack of townhouses and ugly apartments. And there are some little bed & breakfast inns tucked here and there.

Because of the Sunday Delaware beach traffic, we took some windy and twisty back roads coming home. I saw some cool little crossroads towns and hamlets, all chock full of historic houses. Including in Port Penn, where I saw a fabulous but boarded up house owned by the State of Delaware. Another Linden Hall, AKA the Cleaver House.

“The Cleaver family dominated Port Penn throughout the nineteenth century. Joseph built this Federal-style brick house, which included an office and store at right, divided from the residence by a firewall. The whole resembles two urban town houses. Cleaver maintained the adjacent wharf, practiced law, founded an insurance company, served on the board of a bank, and was local postmaster. The contents of the house are known by a room-by-room probate inventory undertaken after his death in 1858. In 1977 a new owner altered the interior for rental units and redesigned the roof of the wing, which caused the front wall of that section to collapse. In 1994 the State of Delaware bought it.”

~W. Barksdale Maynard

The State of Delaware hasn’t done much with it. It’s a beautiful structure even in decay. It was built around 1814. Thanks to the Port Penn Historical Society, I learned a little more about the property and found some old photos (mixed in with photos I took):

Yep, I can find old structures to be obsessed over everywhere. Also flew by the Augustine Inn…too fast to get photos so I looked them up. Also found the place written up in Delaware Today. And a piece on Augustine Beach too.

The Augustine Inn was on Ghost Detectives once upon a time:

Port Penn was kind of cute. Did not realize until I looked the area up that a lot of the houses were moved from Reedy Island. This is all on the Delaware River, which you take for granted exactly HOW wide it is until you see it again. The Augustine Wildlife Area is here. There are beaches too. Saw lots of folks fishing.

Delaware has a lot of cool little nooks and crannies. It was fun exploring them a little bit again. Just like Route 9 in NJ leads to some fun meandering, so does Route 9 (and other roads) in Delaware.

Thanks for stopping by.