Today the town of Odessa, one of the most pristine Colonial townscapes, is a National Registry District, home to a National Historic Landmark and two National Parks Service Network to Freedom sites. We take pride in Odessa’s historic preservation efforts and delight in sharing our village with visitors. Our guests are welcome to relax, stroll our tree lined streets, explore our historic district, tour our museum buildings, enjoy shopping, and dining in our restaurants.
Odessa’s early history began in the 1660s when the Dutch settled the Appoquinimink area and adopted the Indian name for the area, “Apequinemy.” They were attracted to the area for its location along the river and had hopes of establishing a trading route with colonies to the west. Alexander DeHinijossa, upon his retirement as Vice-Director at New Castle, built a plantation on a tract of land given to him at Appoquinimink and intended to reside there and engage in trading.
During those years, the English began to colonize the region and peacefully gained control of the Apequinemy area in 1664. A few months later, the estate of Mr. DeHinijossa was confiscated by the British and granted to Captain Edmund Cantwell, the first sheriff of New Castle County under the government of William Penn. A roadway called “Old Hermann’s Cartroad” was established during these years, connecting Bohemia Manor, Maryland, with the village.
In 1731, permission was granted to Edmund Cantwell’s son, Richard, to erect a toll bridge over the Appoquinimink Creek at Appoquinimink Landing. It was called Cantwell’s Bridge, and the town took the same name. In 1767, William Corbit opened the first industry in the town, a tannery, and it continued in operation until the 1850s. In 1817 a blacksmith shop was opened and in 1855 the New Castle County Bank was incorporated. Throughout the 1800s, industries opened for the manufacture of fertilizers, the drying of fruits, and the canning of fruits and vegetables.
The first schoolhouse was erected at an early date by a Quaker group, but in 1817 it was closed. In 1855 a railroad was built, with the route going through nearby Middletown. Town officials, worried about the effect the rail could have on the busy shipping business on the Appoquinimink River, decided to change the town’s name from Cantwell’s Bridge to “Odessa” after the Ukrainian grain port located on the Black Sea. Shortly afterwards, the nationwide railroad network opened, causing Odessa’s grain boats to become obsolete.
In 1873 the State of Delaware granted Odessa a municipal charter. From 1870 to 1917, a steamboat operated from Odessa, transporting mainly agricultural and industrial products. A newspaper, The Odessa Herald, operated in town around 1890, but in 1892 it relocated to the Town of New Castle as the County Herald. A second paper materialized in 1890, but that soon failed. From 1903 to 1907, a trolley operated from Middletown to Odessa as an attempt to link the railway with the riverfront. Until the end of World War I, Odessa’s Main Street also served as a state highway. In 1923, the DuPont Highway was built, allowing Main Street to go back to its status as Odessa’s primary street.
In 1927 Odessa was provided with electricity for the first time. Street lighting was expanded (using mercury-vapor lights) in 1958. Today, Odessa is a small, history-rich town located in the midst of the rapidly growing Middletown-Odessa-Townsend (MOT) region.