Historic Gardens

Cantwell Tavern's History

"To my surprise, I soon found myself in the pleasantest spot I ever saw in New Castle County, below Appoquinimink Creek … the land rises into gentle eminences, is very good, and affords situations that appear to be healthy."
- John Dickinson, May 13, 1789

Called "Apequinemy" by the Lenni-Lenape Indians, Odessa was first settled by the Dutch in 1662 on the banks of the Appoquinimink Creek~ an Indian trade route on what is the shortest distance over land between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay. The Dutch settlement quickly fell to the English by 1664, and by the 1730's a fully developed town had evolved. Success was evident when Sir Richard Cantwell built a bridge and toll house at this site, and in 1731 the town of Cantwell's Bridge was born. For the next 124 years Odessa played a vital role in commercial life along the Delaware River as a busy grain shipping port. In 1855 the railroad bypassed Odessa going 4 miles west through Middletown. Being cheaper and easier to ship by rail, Odessa's economy began a slow slip into decline. It was this threat of economic failure that prompted the town fathers to rename the village after the great Ukrainian wheat port on the Baltic Sea…but Odessa's fate had already been sealed. Today, visitors to our town can stroll along tree-lined streets and admire examples of 18th- and 19th-century architecture and tour a remarkable collection of antiques and Americana preserved in period room settings as well as quaint exhibits.

The Cantwell's Bridge Hotel and Tavern was built by prominent businessman, William Polk, in 1822 and was operated as such for the next 100 years. The simple, clean, classic Federal lines denote a sophisticated style rather than that of a "country" inn typical of small towns. Merchants, ship captains and visitors to the busy port town of Cantwell's Bridge would have found comfort in the accommodations offered at this fine establishment. During Colonial times, most towns on busy travel routes had several taverns, and Odessa was no exception, with five taverns in addition to the beautiful Cantwell's Tavern.