OPINION COLUMNS

All the Wiser: Why oh why Odessa?

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, March 16, 2019
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Charles Petty asked via Facebook: “Why was Newark called Odessa?”

For those not totally up on their Wise County historical markers, the first post office in Wise County was granted Sept. 8, 1855 (before Wise County was formed). The name of the post office, and thus the town, was Odessa. The Odessa post office was discontinued Nov. 5, 1866. (I know the marker says Dec. 5, 1866, but the post office says Nov. 5. I’m going with the post office.)

ODESSA TRIED – This historical marker commemorates the first post office in Wise County, which was established in 1855 in Odessa, now Newark. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Time passed and a West Texas town was granted a post office Aug. 19, 1885, with the name Odessa.

In 1893, the Rock Island Railroad built its way through Wise and established the area that was known as Odessa as a new town, which was renamed Newark.

NAMING NEWARK

Newark has had many names, according to various sources.

First it was referred to as Caddo Village, due to evidence of Caddo Indians having resided there. Then Odessa. It became known as Huff Valley after the post office closed, because many members of the Huff family lived there. It was also known as Sueville, after a woman named Sue Gary, who was apparently well liked. I saw it referred to as “Gary’s” which I’m assuming is also reference to Sue Gary.

Ragtown was more of a nickname given to the place when the railroad workers were living out of tents during the construction of the railroad.

A correspondent for the Messenger wrote of the town’s name in the June 20, 1893, edition: “The Rock Island track layers came to our town yesterday at 11 o’clock and was greeted by a host of men, women and boys. I said ‘our town’ because I did not know what else to call it as it has been called by several different names and I did not know which one was real. … I’ll tell you the many names it has been called by already and you can call it what you please: Odessa, Needmore, Skilletville and Newark.”

As the story goes, Newark became Newark when the train came to town for the first time. The conductor looked around and proclaimed, “This is Newark.”

At this point, Odessa was off the table because it was taken by, well, Odessa. If a different name had been initially submitted, there would be a scratch-out and “Newark” substituted on the original form. The 1893 application for a post office requested the name Newark with no scratch outs. So Newark was granted a post office on Oct. 4, 1893.

DISCONTINUED

If Odessa hadn’t been discontinued, there would be no Newark. So, why was it discontinued?

I cannot give you a definitive reason why, but I can offer the following information.

The Decatur post office was discontinued on the same day. Many Wise County post offices were discontinued around that time. Most were re-established, but Odessa was not.

According to my new friend Steve Kochersperger, a senior research analyst of postal history for the U.S. Postal Service, the most likely reason for discontinuation of these post offices was the Civil War.

Many of the Wise County post offices were recommissioned by the Confederate States of America (Odessa and Decatur included). After the war, anyone who served the confederacy was disqualified from any position with the federal government. They could not take the loyalty oath.

He stated, “In many communities it was hard to find a man who had not aided the secession in some way. Consequently, many women were appointed to Postmaster positions during the war’s aftermath. In many communities the Post Office was simply discontinued due to lack of a qualified Postmaster.”

RE-ESTABLISHING ODESSA

Odessa was nixed out of existence by the USPS, and the people area did not seek re-establishment. Why?

It may be that there weren’t enough people in the Odessa area to warrant another post office.

Wise County struggled in the years during and after the Civil War with renegade raids and killings. It was so bad that most of the population pulled up stakes and headed for safer ground. Between the 1860 and the 1870 censuses, the population of Wise County was cut in half.

Most of Wise County had to start over. The first wave of settlers from the 1850s to 1870s were wiped out either because they were killed or they moved away. Most of Wise was established after 1870. That which was already established had to be re-established and so that historical hiccup can be found throughout the stories of early Wise County.

It is also possible that the post office was not re-established because there was a flood in 1866 in the area which could have made the Odessa area inaccessible to the mail carriage.

WHY ODESSA?

And finally to the actual question: Why was it named Odessa?

There is no record of why the name was chosen, probably by Benjamin B. Haney, when he applied for a post office.

Here’s what I can tell you. I found Odessas in seven states besides Texas. Of these seven, I found information that six of them were named specifically for the port city in Ukraine, although it would have been a Russian city in the 19th century.

The Ukrainian Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea, founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great. The story of why she named that place Odessa can be found online and isn’t really relevant here. She had her reasons. But the founders, or renamers of Odessas in Delaware, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Washington all named their place after that place.

Odessa, Texas, (the current one in Ector County) was also named after the Ukrainian port city. The story is that the area reminded someone of the original Odessa, although I find that hard to fathom.

I’ve been to Odessa, Texas, and I’ve been to the Black Sea coast of Ukraine (although not Odessa itself). They do not remind me of each other.

There is also a Lake Odessa in Michigan and it, too, is named for the Ukrainian port city.

There is one Odessa hold-out. Odessa, New York was renamed in 1845 by two local businessmen, but it is unknown why they chose that name. It could be for the port city in Ukraine, but we’ll never know.

I’m going to guess that Odessa, in Wise County, Texas, was named for the Ukrainian port city of the same name. But I could be wrong.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist and self-proclaimed senior research analyst of Wise County History.

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