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Christmas in Odessa Tour - Christmas at the Wilson-Warner House
Christmas at the Wilson-Warner House
Colonial Sense wants
to put you in the Christmas spirit, and what better way than going on another house tour with us. We all know how much we love to see how other people decorate their homes for the special holiday of Christmas. We know in Colonial times that Christmas was not a big celebration with all the trimmings it has today. We therefore will keep it simple and show you one of the oldest home tours that you can attend each year, the Christmas in Odessa Homes Tour.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - David Wilson's 1812 Fieldstone Stable where green demonstrations were taking place
David Wilson's 1812 Fieldstone Stable where green demonstrations were taking place
The Women's Club of Odessa held their 47th Annual "Christmas in Odessa" tour on December 3, 2011. In 1954, the Women's Club needed a suitable fundraiser for scholarships for their children who lived in rural districts. They needed to look no further than the historic streets of their beautiful town. With the help of Historic Odessa Foundation and the ownership of five historic houses and adjacent properties, it is easy to get a glimpse of what life was like in the 18th Century in Cantwell's Bridge, Delaware.

The importance of the historic properties was recognized by Winterthur since they were the original owners of the colonial homes. Historic Odessa Foundation was incorporated in January 2005 and the ownership of the properties was transferred to them on December 3, 2005 when the site was officially opened to the public. Colonial Sense spoke with Debbie Buckson, Executive Director of the Historic Odessa Foundation during the tour. She noted that their is a Calendar of Events throughout the year. We now post their events in our Event Calendar Section. Colonial Sense expressed our gratitude for the ability with the owner's permission to photograph the interior of the homes during the holidays. So many historic properties in Pennsylvania are unable to be photographed.

lexi lineberry
Lexi Lineberry dressed for the "Christmas in Odessa" tour
So lets take a tour with a little girl by the name of Lexi Lineberry because we know that the Historic Odessa Foundation encourages children to attend the tour, especially the Collins-Sharp House. The importance of the historic significance of our rich colonial nation must start out at a young age. And it is important to share the colonial experience with the entire family.

In conjunction with the Women's Club of Odessa and the Historic Odessa Foundation, three historic properties were open for the "Christmas in Odessa" tour, the Corbit-Sharp House which is a handsome Georgian house built in 1774, the Wilson-Warner house built by David Wilson in 1769 and possibly one of the oldest operating house museums in the state, and the Collins-Sharp house built in 1700 which is one of the oldest log and frame dwellings in the state.

Christmas in Odessa Tour Picture
Odessa got its start with the name of Cantwell's Bridge when in 1731 Richard Cantwell was granted permission to build a bridge over the Appoquinimink Creek which was the major navigable waterway of the area. William Corbit was born on the banks of the Schuykill near Philadelphia November 10, 1745. He became a farmer and later moved to Odessa, Delaware where he purchased a tract of land and opened one of the first tanneries in the area. In 1855 it was thought advisable to change the name of the village and Odessa was adopted. It was named after Odessa, Russia, a large grain port on the Black Sea. An English contractor named Robert May began construction of the Corbit Georgian colonial home which was completed in 1774 at a cost of 1500 pounds sterling. It was a square block two stories high with four rooms and a hall on each floor. The kitchen was in the basement, and under the roof were three additional bedrooms and a square hall. The architecture was elaborate for its day.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Inside the Corbit-Sharp House
Inside the Corbit-Sharp House
Corbit spent considerable money on the decoration of the house with protruding chimney breasts in downstairs parlor and upstairs drawing room. There are fluted pilasters which frame the drawing-room chimneypiece with a broken pediment surmounted the overmantel frame in the upstairs rooms. Pediments crowned the matching doors at each side of the fireplace which exceed the rudimentary expense of raising the building. There are 89,250 bricks that were used in the house and cellar. The total cost including the labor came to £78. The 935 feet of decorative cornice used both on the interior and exterior was more than £102. The broad staircase that leads from the entrance hall to the second floor cost £35, The paint and labor amounted to more than £45.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The Storybook Trees Exhibit at the Corbit-Sharp House
The Storybook Trees Exhibit at the Corbit-Sharp House
Historic Odessa Foundation sponsored a Storybook Trees Exhibit to encourage children to read. There were close to forty trees which were decorated by families and organizations with themes inspired by children's books. It was the perfect setting to highlight the beautiful architecture within the interior of the Corbit-Sharp House.

Amazingly the home stayed in the Corbit family until 1938 when H. Rodney Sharp acquired the property. He painstakingly restored the property. His other accomplishments were restoring the Frame and Log House, the Pump House, the Moore House, the January House, the Collins-Johnson House, and the Academy.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The Wilson Warner House decorated for Christmas
The Wilson Warner House decorated for Christmas
The Wilson-Warner House was built by a wealthy dry goods merchant, David Wilson in 1769. He sold imported goods he purchased in Philadelphia. In the same year after his wife and children died, he eloped with Mary Corbit, daughter of Daniel Corbit and Mary Brinton. This formed a prosperous alliance with a well established Quaker family. This was the first historic house to be opened to the public in 1924. Its L-shaped, two-story, five bay with one room deep Georgian architectural plan is typical of Delaware.

David Wilson along with William Polk were dealing largely in grain. Cantwell's Bridge was the principal grain market for the surrounding country. From 1820 to 1840, close to 400,000 bushels of grain were shipped annually. During the busiest seasons, six sloops made weekly trips to Philadelphia and three coasting schooners went to Boston and the East.

By 1828 David Wilson Jr fell on hard times and had to sell the house and contents at public auction

Christmas in Odessa Tour - A Joyful Tasha Tudor Christmas which was exhibited throughout the Wilson Warner House
A Joyful Tasha Tudor Christmas which was exhibited throughout the Wilson Warner House
Historic Odessa Foundation presented their special theme, "A Joyful Tasha Tudor Christmas" in eight rooms of the Wilson Warner House. There was an indoor snow scene, storybook trees, oversized gingerbread, and rooms filled with illustrations of the beloved children's book illustrator, Tasha Tudor. In the living room was a large Victorian Christmas tree decorated with candle light cornucopias and glass grape clusters

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Outside the Frame and Log House
Outside the Frame and Log House
Christmas in Odessa Tour Picture
We visited the Frame and Log House which was built in 1740 with white oaks. Rodney Sharp did a wonderful job in restoring this home in 1941. It was featured in Pre-Revolutionary Architecture written by George Fletcher Bennett, Colonial Homes, and Early American Life. The woodwork in the home was exceptional with original wood floors and beaded beams.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - A line outside the January House
A line outside the January House
Christmas in Odessa Tour - Inside the January House
Inside the January House
Mr and Mrs William J Buckworth were kind enough to open the January House for the tour. Thomas Starr built the house around 1780 along the Appoquinimink Creek with the original Flemish Bond brick facing the creek. The land was originally owned by John Janvier, a French Huguenot and famous cabinetmaker. The center section which includes two rooms on the first, second, and third levels are original, although the two ends of the house were added after restoration.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The Collins-Sharp House built in 1700 and moved to its present location
The Collins-Sharp House built in 1700 and moved to its present location
The Collins-Sharp House which is also known as the Vogel House was built around 1700 was the oldest house on the tour. There was a lady doing open hearth baking in the 18th century kitchen. The log and frame house was a wealthy farmer's house and originally located on State Road 493 and moved to Odessa by H. Rodney Sharp in 1962 from Collins Beach in Townsend when it was threatened by demolition. It was expanded in 1730. It is the perfect setting for Historic Odessa Foundation's museum center of educational programming. A foursquare garden is located outside to demonstrate gardening techniques.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Reed Macmillan dressed as Major James Moore greeting visitors to Fairview
Reed Macmillan dressed as Major James Moore greeting visitors to Fairview
Reed and Katie Macmillan were kind enough to let visitors tour Fairview which was originally built in 1773 by Major James Moore, a prosperous wheat farm, of the Delaware Continentals. Reed greeted people at the front door dressed as Major Moore. Their daughter, Mary was dressed as a colonial girl and gave a presentation by the fireplace mantel in the living room. Fairview was originally part of a 171 acre farm and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. listed on the Places. It is a well preserved example of a late colonial rural Georgian architecture home. Over the years Fairview suffered no heavy alterations during the reshaping of the architectural landscape which occurred between 1830 and 1870.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Mary Macmillan talking about the interior of Fairview
Mary Macmillan talking about the interior of Fairview
Major Moore had a colorful life. He served as First Lieutenant in the 6th Company of Colonel John Haslet's Regiment of the Delaware State Troops during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately he was captured by the British January 20, 1778 and held captive until December 7, 1780. He was instrumental in the promotion of the Delaware and Eastern Shore Advertiser, a local newspaper in the 1790's and building of Drawyers Church in 1773.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Drawyers Church built in 1773
Drawyers Church built in 1773
Drawyers Church was originally built as a Presbyterian Church with a congregation which may be traced to the 1670's which consisted of Dutch an Swedish members. The formation of the congregation occurred in the first decade of the 18th century when Scottish people emigrated in the area known as Appoquinimy. Hans Hanson, Andrew Paterson, Francis King, and Isaac Vigorue purchased one acre of land May 10, 1711 and constructed a log church on the tract of land shortly thereafter.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Interior of Drawyers Church
Interior of Drawyers Church
Thomas McKean, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the people to collect subscriptions for the building of a new church in 1769. In 1773, the newly built two story, 54 by 40 feet Georgian brick church first held services during the time of the American Revolution. The congregation eventually split and moved to the new church in Odessa in 1861. By 1895, the Friends of Old Drawyers were formed to preserved the church and grounds. In June 2011, the Church celebrated its 300 year anniversary.

The 2 1/2 story Davis Store owned by Carla and Jeff Pyle was also opened for tour. It is federal style residence and store with a rear two story brick addition. Flemish bond brick was laid out for the facade with the remaining walls using the common bond. On each side of the entrance-way to the store were two original pocket shutters on either side.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Interior of the Davis Store built in 1824
Interior of the Davis Store built in 1824
The inside of the interior was set up as a general store should be with raised panel bottom shelf counter shelves with a refinished wooden countertop, and shelves filled with mason jars, porcelain dishes, coffee mill, coffee grinders, mason jars, soap boxes, coverlets, weights and scales, wrapping paper, baskets, crocks, and other items for sale. Jeff Pyle was standing behind the counter ready to serve the public in their dry good sales. The store remained in the Davis family from 1828 all the way up to the 1960's.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Weathervane at the Old Academy
Weathervane at the Old Academy
The Old Academy was where we met Jane Martin of the Women's Club of Odessa who was helping with the purchase of tickets. This brick structure building was erected in 1843 after the burning of the original frame structure that was on site. It operated as a school throughout the nineteenth century.

For part of the country tour we visited the Governor Biggs Mansion, a twenty-three room Second Empire Victorian Mansion which was up for sale by the current owners Wende and Jay Greene. It is not quite in our time period; however we were impressed with its grandeur of twelve foot ceilings, gas chandeliers, floor to ceiling windows, and open stair cases which went all the way to the third floor.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The Skrobot House built by Samuel B. Ginn in 1850
The Skrobot House built by Samuel B. Ginn in 1850
The Skrobot residence in Middletown on North Cass Street was built by Samuel B. Ginn in 1850 and was likely the oldest house on the block. The exterior of the Gothic Revival house was restored with original cedar clapboard siding. Like the Governor Biggs Mansion, the house also had twelve foot ceilings downstairs.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - Carol Pearl's Thugs, as she called them
Carol Pearl's Thugs, as she called them
Although there were newly constructed houses on the tour as there usually are, they had the exterior appearance that they were from another century. The New England House was a perfect example. The house which was built in 1987 was a perfect replica of the Israel Arnold House of Lincoln, Rhode Island. We were greeted at the door by carols sung by "Carol Pearl's Thugs" as she called them. In the Arnold House, the original structure was built in 1700 with the larger portion added in 1790. Carol and David Pearl greeted us inside.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The Gazebo Deck off the Smith Residence
The Gazebo Deck off the Smith Residence
The Smith Residence was a Southern colonial which was designed by William Poole, an architect of Colonial Homes, and custom built in 1995. The beautiful gazebo deck with round columns and pencil post railing sported a beautiful live Christmas tree. The home had custom molding, cherry floors, and a finished basement.

Christmas in Odessa Tour - The bar at Cantwell's Tavern Restaurant
The bar at Cantwell's Tavern Restaurant
Christmas in Odessa Tour - Seating at Cantwell's Tavern Restaurant
Seating at Cantwell's Tavern Restaurant
We were lucky in that there was another property open for tour no listed in the brochure.

It was Cantwell's Tavern Restaurant, welcome addition to the community of Odessa. At the time of the tour, the restaurant was not open, but we were given menus. It is now open for business. Robert E. Ashby, a graduate of the University of Delaware, is the restauranteur.

He was named Restauranteur of the year in 1989 and Delaware's best Restauranteur in 2005. Cantwell's Tavern is a casual restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere. It is located in the Brick Hotel which was built in 1822. This is also owned by the Historic Odessa Foundation. All proceeds will benefit the historic efforts of the foundation.

Although we asked a few people that we were in line with if we would be able to finish the tour in the allotted time, we were never able to see each home. Unfortunately some of the properties were only open until 3pm. With the long lines and the amount of time each owner spent on the discussing their properties which we wouldn't change for a minute, it was impossible to get through the entire tour. If the properties were open until 5pm, we would have been able to tour each home.

Make sure that you visit Christmas in Odessa. The Women's Club of Odessa and the Historic Odessa Foundation do a superb job in representing this quaint colonial community.

Source: Research, photos & text by Bryan Wright

Related Links:

Cantwell's Tavern
The Historic Odessa Foundation

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