a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Odessa holiday tradition returns as foundation beats endowment goal early

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines

a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

A display telling the story of “Little Women” lights up Odessa’s Wilson-Warner House this Christmas season.


The Historic Odessa Foundation has two things to celebrate this holiday season.

First, Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” will be the basis for the return of the historic houses’ Christmas tradition of recreating scenes from classic literature to celebrate the season.

Second, but perhaps most important, the foundation this week met its $3 million goal to create an Independence and Perpetuity endowment fund one year earlier than expected. The fund will enable the foundation to sustain the preservation of its six historic museum properties and 72-acre site, its collection of more than 7,000 decorative art objects and its Living History educational programming.

The early goal was particularly gratifying to Debbie Buckson, executive director of the foundation, who once feared the whole site would be lost.

“Our goal was to raise $3 million in three years, and we exceeded that by $70,000, a year ahead of schedule,” she said Thursday. “This is going to make all the difference in securing the future of the foundation in perpetuity.”

The site has made tremendous progress since 2005 when the foundation was established.

“It’s stunning how supportive and generous the MOT community and the people of the state of Delaware have been, in addition to all the donors who have a connection to us. We can’t thank our community enough,” she said.

“Historic Odessa was nearly gone. It came so close to disappearing as a museum … a public site. It took a lot of effort from a lot of people and now we have a secure future, which was our goal from the beginning.”

The foundation will celebrate with a ceremony Monday, Dec. 13, to unveil a donor plaque.

Historic Odessa was forced to skip its customary Christmas festivities last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it installed thousands of white lights along the roof lines of the old buildings to brighten the December nights.

This year, though, the Wilson-Warner House, built in 1769, is the setting of the “Little Women’ recreations, marking the 35th anniversary of the tradition. Alcott’s book was published at Christmas in 1868, nearly a century after the Wilson-Warner house was built.

This is the second time the book has been chosen for the holiday treatment. It was originally picked in 1991 and was scheduled to repeat last year, said designer Brian Miller.

“It was always on my shortlist,” he said. “So we got to do it this year.”

The coming-of-age novel is a perennial favorite at holiday time, with multiple film and television versions. Christmas plays a big part in the story of the family struggling to cope while the father is  away as a chaplain during the Civil War.

Alcott’s characters were way ahead of their time in allowing the daughters the choice of what they wanted to do with their lives and who they married, Miller said.

To prep for the Odessa show, Miller visited the Louisa May Alcott Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.

Ultimately, he chose to condense the book’s 46 chapters into several scenes, including a parlor decked out for Christmas, festive dining room set for Christmas dinner, the four sisters’ bedroom and the home of a poor family the family visits on Christmas Day.

His favorite is the bedroom of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth.

“At the foot of their bed, on a chair or near their bed on a chest of drawers, there are the things that characterize each girl and that shows the differences between them,” he said.

Little Women Bedroom

The sister’s bedroom is one of the scenes on the Odessa tour.

The director and education director of the Louisa May Alcott museum loaned Odessa a case full of Louisa May Alcott books and dolls, memorabilia related to the latest movie and a marble bust of Alcott that’s on display in the parlor.

The two museums have an interesting connection, he pointed out.

The Louisa May Alcott Orchard House was the first house museum devoted to a woman, he said. And Mary Warner turned her home into a house museum in the 1920s, he said.

Miller said the women’s attire in the exhibit was borrowed from friends, while the man’s uniform was borrowed from Fort Delaware.

Along with the “Little Women” exhibit, Historic Odessa will have its Storybook Trees exhibit in the Corbit-Sharp House, holiday Festive Foods cooking demonstrations and candlelight tours.

For information on the tours, which include a drink at Cantwell Tavern, contact Jennifer Kostik at (302) 378-4119, or [email protected].

A Recycled Holiday Ornament Resale Shop will run through Dec. 31 in its Collins-Sharp House at 2nd and High Street, Odessa. Community members are invited to donate their gently used decorations and ornaments through Dec. 31. All donations help support the foundation’s educational programming and preservation efforts. Donations can be dropped off through Dec. 31 at the resale shop when open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The complex is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults; $8 for groups, seniors, and students.

For more information, go to www.historicodessa.org or call 302-378-4119.


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