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From Russia with love

Apr 21, 2015 02:00PM ● Published by Steven Hoffman

(This story originally appeared in Middletown Life in the summer of 2008)

How did Odessa, Delaware, a town of just 286 people at the time of the 2000 Census, get named after one of Russia’s largest seaports?

The area known today as Odessa was originally an Indian Village called Appoquinimi. According to a Web site that explores how all American cities, towns, or villages got the name Odessa, the area was part of a land grant to Alexander D’Hinoyossa, the Vice Director of New Amstel. Ownership of the land next passed to Edmund Cantwell, and in 1731 the small tract became known as Cantwell’s Bridge. The land was rich for farming, particularly for wheat, and the Appoquinimink River allowed for easy transport of the product.

According to www.2odessa.com, six large granaries were built and shipments were sent out to larger ports like Philadelphia and Boston. The small town had found its niche as a Delaware shipping center and was located quite favorably between Wilmington and Dover.

The far-off Odessa, Russia had grown into that country’s most cosmopolitan city and was Russia’s largest grain-exporting port. It had likely gotten its own name from the Greek colony of Odessos. It served as a model for other seaports all over the world.

Back in Delaware in 1855, by vote of the people in a town meeting, the name was changed from Cantwell's Bridge to Odessa--after Odessa, Russia, the large grain port on the Black Sea. According to www.2odessa.com:

“The date of the vote is significant--this was the time of the Crimean War, and Russia's fortunes on the Black Sea were very much in the newspaper headlines of the world, America included. But while history was being made at Sevastopol and Odessa in Russia, Odessa in Delaware had its own events of significance: In 1783 the Quakers built a brick meeting house which, during the Civil War, was a station on the underground railway for runaway slaves. The slaves were considered safe after reaching Odessa. A recent guidebook on Delaware devotes several pages to these and other details of its Odessa's past. Among sundry points, the authors make the interesting assertion that the change from Cantwell's Bridge to its Russian name was inspired not by the town's prosperity but contrariwise by "the collapse of the grain trade." They explain the collapse by the shortsightedness of the vessel-owners (of the Delaware port) who fought railroad magnates wanting to bring the iron horse to this shipping center. Seeing a competitor in the locomotive, the ship-owners of Cantwell's Bridge vetoed the railroad's coming to their town. Thus by 1855 even the hurried changing of the town's name that year to Odessa, for the Russian grain port on the Black Sea, could not prevent the gradual disappearance of the sloops and schooners from the wharves at the foot of the hill.”

Odessa, Delaware wasn’t the only town to take its name from Odessa, Russia. Indeed, a number of American cities, towns, and villages--most that served as port cities--adopted the name.

Odessa, Texas is the largest of the bunch, with a population in excess of 90,000. While it would seem difficult to believe, there are several towns named Odessa in the U.S. that are smaller than the one in Delaware. Among them: Odessa, Minnesota had 113 people at the time of the last Census; Odessa, North Dakota (in Ramsey County) had a population of 56, and Odessa, North Dakota (in Hettinger County) had a population of 17.

More information on cities named Odessa can be found at the aforementioned Web site or at http://history.odessapage.com.



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