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Odessa

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This historic little community was long called “Cantwell's Bridge” for a toll bridge built in 1731 over the Appoquinimink River, a name that the town's twentieth-century benefactor, H. Rodney Sharp, always preferred. “Odessa” was applied in 1855 as appropriate to the town's prosperity in the grain trade, like the port city of the same name in the Crimea. As John Sweeney showed in his classic study of the Corbit-Sharp House (LN6), Grandeur on the Appoquinimink (1959), taste in the colonial village followed that in Philadelphia, as the leading families, the Corbits and the Wilsons, engaged in trade with that city and cultivated social ties there. Cantwell's Bridge had 211 residents in twenty-five houses in 1800. Growth was rapid after 1820 and, contrary to myth, did not slow after the railroad came through rival Middletown in 1855, although the latter town grew much faster and larger. There are fine examples of Italianate houses of the 1850s, the new mode being grafted onto a lingering Federal-style brick template during the peach-growing boom. By 1900, however, trade and prosperity had passed Odessa by, and a long slumber began. Sharp taught school here after graduating from the University of Delaware and later, having grown rich in the service of Pierre S. du Pont, returned to purchase and restore fifteen colonial properties. Later, Winterthur (CH10) took them over for many years as museum sites (an affiliation that ended in 2003). Du Pont Highway (U.S. 13) cuts through Odessa, causing traffic woes. The town itself had just 195 homes in 2003, but was soon to be ringed by mushrooming developments. Historical zoning is stringent, and painful debate erupted about loosening these rules to bring in business to the sleepy Main Street. A Winterthur guidebook, Discover the Historic Houses of Odessa (1999), lists thirty-six old buildings in Odessa, including some that are partly of log covered with weatherboards. Among these is the venerable-looking Starr-Lore House (mid-eighteenth century) at 310 Main Street.

Writing Credits

Author: 
W. Barksdale Maynard

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