Christmas tea with ‘Alice’ in Odessa, Delaware

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Diners at the Corbit-Sharp House have a view into the 1790 kitchen. Both are gaily decorated for the holidays from mid-November through December. The Corbit Sharp House is on the Historic Register.

I escaped to Odessa, a tiny town south of Wilmington, Del., and found Alice in Wonderland.

Don’t know Odessa? This colonial town was originally called Cantwell’s Bridge and was a thriving port city. That is, until the railroad was built and bypassed the town altogether. Today, it’s a quaint little spot with three historic houses open to the public March through December.

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A Christmas tree inside the Corbit-Sharp House pays tribute to the house’s role in the Underground Railroad.

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A table filled with humble necessities welcomes visitors just inside the door of the Collins-Sharp House.

Historic Odessa is composed of the three houses, two Georgian-style and one an expanded Dutch Colonial moved here from Collins Beach and restored, along with its visitor center and a cozy restaurant. All of them were restored in the 1930s. All three offer an interesting peak into days gone by.

The Dutch Colonial, named the Collins-Sharp for its builder and its restorer, was built in 1700. It’s more rustic than the other two houses, homier with a well-stocked kitchen and cozy rooms. Look for the secret shelves and the fireplace cupboards.

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The Collins-Sharp House was originally built in another part of Delaware. When a refinery threatened its existence, the house was moved here and restored

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Behind two tiny wooden door above the attic steps were two hiding places. You can tell by the mannequins just how tight these spaces were.

The pediments above the doors of the grand Corbit-Sharp House inspired the Historic Odessa logo — but the house inspires for many reasons. The most important is its role as a way station in the Underground Railroad. Above the grand rooms was a hiding place for enslaved people running for freedom.

I’ve visited the houses at other times of the year. Warm weather is better to see the garden behind the Corbit-Sharp House, serene and enchanting. But I like to come in December when the holiday decorations add a bit more fun. There’s always a celebration of literature and this year’s festivities are no exception.

This year, Lewis Carroll’s  Alice in Wonderland, which was published 150 years ago, comes to life in vignettes throughout the Wilson-Warner House. In addition to tours, there are all kinds of special events associated with the holiday exhibit.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the playing cards that come to life, the flamingos and hedgehogs used for a most unusual game of croquet and a little bottle that says “Drink me” are all on display in rooms filled with whimsy that will delight both children and grown-ups. In fact, my group wasn’t young at all but we laughed and remembered as we passed through each room.

I must give a shout-out to our guide Rudy, who did an admirable job of telling the stories of each of the three houses, pointing out as we went special features of each and relating details of Alice’s story as we passed through all the rooms of the Storybook Trees exhibit.

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Across the street from Cantwell’s Tavern is the old pump house, home of Butler and Cooke Antiques, the only shop in the historic town.

Odessa is small but there’s a lovely restaurant housed in the Brick Hotel, Cantwell’s Tavern. Need to shop? Butler and Cooke, a little antique store with an old fashioned pump outside is just the spot.

The historic houses are open March through December (except Christmas and Christmas Eve), closing for all of January and February.

ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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