One of the most interesting and well-preserved National Historic Districts in America is less than 20 minutes from Wilmington. And you’ve probably never heard of it. The district is home to a National Historic Landmark mansion overlooking one of Delaware’s most picturesque waterways. And you probably can’t pronounce it. The village is one of the principle sites on Delaware’s proposed Harriett Tubman National Underground Heritage Byway. But most visitors don’t even know that Byway exists. And the entire community is smack in the middle of one of the most important flyways in America. But the hundreds of thousands of vacationers that drive past this extraordinary historic treasure every year on their way to the Delaware shore, for the most part, don’t have a clue what they’re missing.
I’m talking, of course, about Odessa, Delaware, a wonderfully historic village on the banks of Appoquinimink Creek in the legendary Atlantic Flyway, just 5 minutes south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (the 3rd busiest canal in the world!).
Odessa was once a busy shipping port due to its close proximity to both the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Today – thanks in large part to the Historic Houses of Odessa Foundation – visitors can stroll Odessa’s tree-lined streets and admire some of the finest examples of 18th and 19th century architecture in Delaware. Chief among these are the five properties operated by the nonprofit Fouindation: the Corbit-Sharp House (c.1774), Wilson-Warner House (c. 1769), Collins-Sharp House (c. 1700), and Odessa Bank (c.1853), and Brick Hotel (c. 1822).
William Corbit built his handsome Philadelphia-style Georgian house in 1774. Today the Corbit-Sharp House is furnished to reflect the region’s lifestyle in the late 18th-century.
The Wilson-Warner House, built by prosperous merchant David Wilson in 1769, exemplifies Delaware-Georgian architecture. And, its furnishings reflect those recorded in the 1829 family bankruptcy “List of Sales.”
The Collins-Sharp House is one of Delaware’s oldest residences, dating to 1700. This picturesque log and frame building is the site’s center for educational programming.
The Bank of Odessa was built in 1853 as the First National Bank of Odessa and served the Odessa community as a bank until 2000. Today the Bank houses a small retail shop, the visitor’s center and the offices for the Historic Odessa Foundation.
The Brick Hotel was built in 1822 and restored for adaptive reuse as a changing exhibitions gallery in 1981. Later this year, the Foundation will re-open the property as a restaurant. And judging from the attention to detail as well as the wonderfully historic environment, I suspect it will rival the best heritage restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic region!
The Historic Houses of Odessa are open Thursday through Saturday from March through December, 10 am – 4:30 pm and on Sundays from 1 pm – 4:30 pm. Group and school tours are offered year round by reservation. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for groups, senior citizens, and students. Children under 5 are free.
Odessa really is a Delaware treasure, but it won’t be a secret for long! For more information about Historic Odessa or any topic relating to Delaware History contact the Delaware Historical Society.
TravelTip: There’s more to do in Delaware than you can possibly imagine. For more information, I’ve attached a list of Delaware travel information resources with direct links to the various websites on the right hand side of this page.