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Delaware is a pretty small state to be divided into two civilizations, and in fact, it seems safe to predict that division will soon become meaningless. New Castle County and Wilmington are up north in DuPont country, with more Ph.D.'s than anywhere else in America, chateaux in the suburbs, plenty of Porsche's and other elements of the finer life. The other two counties, "South of the Canal," are rural, marshy, or beach front. Wal-Mart country. Aside from a distinct difference in the weather patterns, all of this is destined to change, and soon. A limited-access toll road, probably mostly intended to carry people to the slot machines of Dover Downs, makes it breezily simple to go from one end of the state to the other in an hour. A ferry from Cape May to Cape Henlopen makes sailing across the mouth of the bay a shorter simpler way to go from the urban areas of New York to and from Washington, Norfolk and points South. And changes in the tax laws make Delaware a great place to avoid sales taxes, estate taxes, business taxes, usury laws and lots of other things. That brings in businesses, and they, in turn, will bring in a swarm of home builders. It looks very likely Delaware will go the way of Luxembourg, urbanized from border to border.
The Corbit-Sharp House|
Built in 1774
Located in Odessa, Delaware.
Little Odessa (population 280) sits right at the pivotal point in this transformation. Here is the very narrowest point of the peninsula between Delaware and the Chesapeake bays. In the Seventeenth Century, there was only a five-mile portage from the head of one creek to the head of the other; the town there was called Cantwell's Bridge. Just why the two Delaware-Chesapeake canals were built a few miles further North is an engineering question, but they tended to shelter Cantwell's Bridge from Northern influences. The neck was so narrow, however, that the road couldn't avoid the town, and for a century it was a pleasure to find a little Colonial town, a little Williamsburg so to speak, popping up among the fields of clover bordering a drive to Dover. A few miles to the West, a very fine boy's boarding school adds to the tone of the place, and it's only a short 9-mile commute to the University of Delaware. The finest 18th Century country house, the Corbit-Sharp House sets the tone for the area, and Christmas season in Odessa is quite memorable. Rodney Sharp was the son of the local school teacher who acquired financial substance, private jet airplanes and all that, on the other side of the canal, and then restored his old home the Corbit house into the Corbit Mansion, bringing the whole farm village up to an elegant level. A visit to Odessa at Christmas, touring the open houses and visiting the festivities, is well worth the trip.
You have to hold your breath to see what is going to happen to real estate in the area. The toll road sweeps around the edge of Odessa, and now the people going to the slot machines and the beaches can hardly see it as they race past. But that's mostly weekend traffic, and during the week all of those cornfields are quickly turning into easy commuter villages, full of McMansions. They are going to fill up the schools, demand better ones, demand traffic signals to protect the kiddies, demand retail outlets for all those upscale stores with catalogers, demand to be noticed. Eventually, all those three-car families will choke up the toll-road, and it will become a great big congested parking lot at rush hour. Sad.
One final comment about the origin of Odessa. It's named after the city in Russia because both of them were wheat exporting cities at one time, although it is doubtful if they were ever comparable in the steamy nightlife. However, the one in Delaware is actually the older of the two. Cantwell's Bridge, Delaware was founded in 1731. For reasons unclear, its name was changed to Odessa in 1845, perhaps in the mistaken idea that the Russian city was where Odysseus once landed. That's what many Russians claim, but the place they have in mind was really in Bulgaria. The place the Russians call Odessa was founded by Catherine the Great in 1794, some sixty years after Cantwell began collecting toll at his bridge in Delaware. When the Bulgarian mistake was pointed out to Catherine the Great, she wouldn't change the name; she sort of liked it that way.
Originally published: Thursday, November 04, 1993; most-recently modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2021