|
Middletown Transcript
  • Vision Edition: Quiet communities, booming businesses make southern NCCo the place to be

  • Apequinemy and Charley Town may not ring a bell to Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area residents, but they were once the area's most popular places to settle. Now the smallest two towns of M.O.T., Odessa and Townsend initially served as hubs of trade and were the foundation of civilization in southern New Castle County.
    • email print
  • Apequinemy and Charley Town may not ring a bell to Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area residents, but they were once the area's most popular places to settle. Now the smallest two towns of M.O.T., Odessa and Townsend initially served as hubs of trade and were the foundation of civilization in southern New Castle County.
    Odessa
    While countless historic structures still stand around southern New Castle County, Odessa remains a time capsule of centuries' old life.
    "We're lucky because our town is frozen in time architecturally and historically, which is lovely for us because we look very much like we did 200 years ago," said Odessa Mayor Kathy Harvey.
    The area of Odessa once served as a destination and settling point for the Dutch more than 350 years ago, according to the Town's Web site. The first settlers of the historic landscape arrived in the 1660s and paid homage to its roots by adopting its Native American name, Apequinemy. Del. 299 was once Old Hermann's Cartroad, and connected what is now Odessa to Bohemia Landing, Md. In the 1800s, Odessa served as an important link in the Underground Railroad.
    Harvey, who has lived in Odessa for 35 years, said its historic charm remains as it always has.
    "What's changed is I think there's a little bit more forward thinking," Harvey said.
    In 2008, residents of the Town of Odessa approved a referendum to annex approximately 48 acres along Del. 299 between Del. 1 and Odessa Memorial Park, a move that will ensure the Town's historic architectural design standards are followed when the now stagnant community of Odessa Common is built there.
    "In the last few years, we've pushed very hard to think out five years, 10 years down the road as to what Odessa is going to look like and knowing that we have to address growth going on around us," Harvey said. "We knew the growth was coming and we knew that area was going to be developed."
    The Odessa Common proposal, which would double Odessa's population, includes 65 townhouses, 119 single-family homes, parks and green spaces, and commercial and office space. The community would be reminiscent of the 18th- and 19th-century communities that allow people to work, live and play in a compact neighborhood, and would be an extension of the character Odessa has maintained for centuries.
    "[Odessa] is exactly what the term small town is about; people walk to the post office, walk around town, walk their dogs during the summer time," Harvey said. "Even though people go off to work here, there and everywhere, there is still a very small town feel. I think they care about their community."
    Harvey said they have found space for a few new additions to Odessa. The Odessa Fire Company is about to open its new building on Main Street. Cantwell's Tavern, a restaurant in the Historic Odessa Foundation's Brick Hotel, has been beneficial to area residents.
    Page 2 of 5 - "That's been different for the town to have a place to sit down and eat, and it's going very well," she said.
    Harvey said throughout her time on council, first in the '90s and again from 2005 until now, Middletown, Odessa and Townsend have worked in partnership with one another, and Middletown has always lent a helping hand with guidance or emergencies.
    "Years ago everybody was a small town and everybody was just banging heads," she said. "Now there really is a cooperative effort between the three towns. They've always been fabulous sister towns to us."
    Harvey said the success of nearby Middletown has been beneficial to Odessa, which is able to enjoy the conveniences found on the other end of Route 299 and still maintain its close-knit atmosphere.
    "We now look at another generation coming into town. We have people that have lived in town for 40, 50 years, and now their kids have moved back into town," she said. "They see something in the town that attracts them to raise their kids here; I think that's quite a compliment to Odessa."
    Townsend
    According to John W. Dickinson's senior thesis of 1951, "The History of Townsend, Delaware," a black man named Charles Lloyd was the town's first namesake. Charley Town was renamed as Townsend after Samuel Townsend, "in respect to the man who had allowed the railroad to be built through the community."
    Dickinson wrote that the opening of a railroad through Townsend in 1856 brought a prosperous farming industry and the construction of many houses in the downtown area.
    "Grain, peaches and lumber were among the many types of freight which were shipped from this town," Dickinson wrote.
    The homes in "Old Town" Townsend stand as visible reminders of what once was, but as with Odessa, the close-knit community feel remains.
    Townsend Mayor Joel Esler said when searching with his wife for a home in the Appoquinimink School District, the residential nature of Townsend was their perfect fit.
    "Townsend was trying to have a residential town that was nice and everybody knew each other," he said. "You live your life and if you need help, you can call your neighbor. That's what we've been trying to foster in Townsend, and it's worked out well so far."
    The community remained relatively the same size until the neighborhoods of Townsend Village I, Townsend Station and Townsend Village II were constructed in the last decade, when hundreds of residents were added.
    Esler said in the year since his election to Townsend Town Council, the council has worked to clean up the internal Town workings and is now looking to improve the town in various ways.
    Page 3 of 5 - He said the Townsend Streetscape project was originally slated to begin in 2010, but finances stalled the project. Phase I is now scheduled to break ground this spring along Main Street in the area around the Townsend Post Office; Phases II and III will eventually stretch down to the Townsend Fire Company. Plans by Remington, Vernick & Beach Engineers show brick sidewalks and crosswalks, new streetlights, benches and trash receptacles.
    Esler said the Townsend Municipal Park, which opened in 2009, has become so popular that its sports fields are reserved every day for the next few months.
    "One of the things we really want to work on is trying to find ways to bring more income into town," he said. "I don't mean by raising taxes, but other things to raise money so we can build a [new] town hall, improve the park, build bike trails. I don't want to take out loans or put the Town in debt to do aesthetic things."
    Esler said the Town Council has worked to restart stalled construction in Townsend Village II by negotiating with Handler Homes.
    "They've approved several lots and they've been able to sell several already to new homeowners," Esler said. "It's looking good as far as the housing market in town."
    He said the commercial parcel along Summit Bridge Road in front of Townsend Village II was recently sold to Pettinaro, and the marketing plan calls for a gas station, a bank, childcare center, two restaurant pads and several strip stores.
    "We have to have that first vendor to come in there and build something," Esler said. "If you get one in there, more will come."
    He said he would love to expand the town a little more, and can annex adjacent properties into Town limits if those property owners request to do so. For example, several properties along Main Street are technically in New Castle County limits, and Esler said he would like to see those residents become official Town of Townsend residents.
    "I would love for the Town to get bigger, but I don't want Amazon to build a warehouse down here," he said. "I'm not trying to turn it into Middletown or Odessa with Odessa Common. You can work elsewhere, just live here."
    Esler said about 90 acres are set aside on South Street in case a residential developer were to approach the Town Council about building in Townsend.
    He said he encourages residents to attend Town Council meetings and to bring any concerns or suggestions they may have to him.
    "Hopefully we can keep the town moving in a forward direction and get a lot more involvement from the residents," Esler said. "Things are happening, and I'm glad to see that fire is being lit in Townsend again."
    Page 4 of 5 - Middletown
    Long before Middletown became the fastest growing community in southern New Castle County, it was just a tavern stop along Old Hermann's Cartroad, halfway between the Appoquinimink Creek and Bohemia Landing, Md. According to the Town's Web site, the halfway point is the reason for its current name, and where oxen once transported produce and materials elsewhere, automobiles now use that artery to get from one end of town to the other.
    The site states that upon incorporation in 1861, the first Town Council decided Middletown should be one-half mile in each direction of the crossroads of Main and Broad streets. Multiple annexations have stretched town limits past Route 301 to the west, Springmill to the north, Route 1 to the east and to the limits of Townsend to the south.
    Middletown Mayor Kenny Branner Jr. and Vice Mayor Jimmy Reynolds cherished the small town where they were raised, but say the overall feel of the community remains.
    "We didn't have anything to do when I was growing up," Branner said. "I played sports and that's great, but if you wanted to go somewhere or do something, you had to leave town."
    Reynolds said when he was a kid, everyone in town knew everyone else.
    "I could ride up and down every street and I knew who lived in every single house in Middletown," he said.
    Reynolds, who along with Branner played on Middletown High School's undefeated football teams in the '60s, said Middletown athletics have a history of making those in the area proud.
    "People expected us to win every game. They didn't come to see us win; they came to see how big we won," he said. "We were probably the undeclared state champions. We always felt like the guys before us did it, and we continued it and we were proud we could live up to their expectations for us."
    Branner said his first task when elected to the Middletown Town Council and as mayor in 1989 was to get the budget in order.
    "The vision started about two to three years after that," he said. "That's when we realized building was really taking off, and we had to control our own destiny through growth. If we didn't, developers would build right up to our municipal limits and we would have no say in what's going on there."
    Branner said the Town had the foresight to put in place the infrastructure necessary for growth. That planning has made Middletown a prime choice for businesses in search of locations to build.
    "We always had that logic of 'Field of Dreams,' " he said. "The very first question any company asks is, 'Do you have water, sewer and electric available right now?' The answer is, 'Yes.' That's why they come to Middletown, because we have it all right now."
    Page 5 of 5 - Branner said additions of Amazon.com, Johnson Controls and the soon-to-open Christiana Care Emergency Department are a "big deal" for residents as high-paying jobs now exist in the area.
    Branner said while some may not like the Town's growth, it was necessary to draw commercial business to the area and make Middletown the center of convenience in southern New Castle County. Residents continue to ask for new commercial additions, and popular requests such as a movie theater and steakhouse are on the horizon.
    Reynolds said he enjoys not having to travel out of town for life's necessities.
    "Even though we've grown so big so fast, it still has that downtown, small town feeling," he said. "Some say we're getting too big, like a city, but you can still walk outside in the summer and smell manure. You can't do that in Wilmington; you can do that here."
    Branner said he feels good about the Town's current state, and believes most people who live there do, too.
    "The quality of life and what we now have to offer the residents really makes you feel good about what we've done to get to this point and what we're doing," he said. "The M.O.T. area is special. Below the canal we're a lifestyle, and it's great."
    SOUTHERN NCCo POPULATION
    Year Population
    1970 10,040
    1980 13,187
    1990 18,578
    2000 29,682
    2010 52,439
    Future projections
    Year Population
    2015 59,941
    2020 75,096
    2025 90,263
    2030 101,717
    2035 110,303
    2040 114,855
    Source: WILMAPCO, U.S. Census

    2010 MUNICIPAL POPULATIONS
    Middletown
    Incorporated: 1861
    Population: 18,995
    Odessa
    Incorporated: 1873
    Population: 364
    Townsend
    Incorporated: 1885
    Population: 2,200
    Port Penn
    Population: 250
    Source: 2010 U.S. Census
    MIDDLETOWN GROWTH BY THE YEARS
    Year Population
    1861 523
    1871 915
    1881 1,280
    1891 1,464
    1901 1,567
    1911 1,399
    1921 1,260
    1931 1,247
    1941 1,529
    1951 1,755
    1961 2,191
    1971 2,644
    1981 2,946
    1991 3,834
    2000 6,161
    2010 18,995
    Source: Town of Middletown

        calendar