Jeanne and William Buckworth: The January House in Odessa

Shining Star: By purchasing January House in Odessa, the Buckworths became a part of living history and the town’s holiday home tours.



At a Glance

Who Jeanne and William Buckworth
What January House
Where Odessa

 

Prosperity and population have ebbed and flowed throughout Odessa’s long and storied history and the various residents of January House, perched high above the Appoquinimink River, have borne witness to it all.

Each December, Jeanne Buckworth and her husband, William, station a large star on the hillside outside the house for passers-by to behold, a glowing herald of the holidays.

“This is a very special time of year in our little town,” says Jeanne Buckworth, who is informally known as the Christmas Star Lady.

Their house on Main Street was built around 1780 for the aptly named Thomas Star in a village that was then known as Cantwell’s Bridge. The deed lists the sellers as the January family. Actually, the original landowner was Thomas Janvier, a French Huguenot who changed his name to January after immigrating to America.

Gussying up the house for the holidays is a more recent tradition, in keeping with Odessa’s reputation as a destination for visitors who find inspiration in a bevy of abundantly decorated homes and historic properties.

“Every once in a while we worry that we will run out of ideas,” says the couple’s daughter, Dawn. “But we always manage to come up with something new and amazing.”

 

A family friend crafted the dining table and breakfront.LIVING HISTORY

Once a thriving grain port, the town was renamed Odessa in the 19th century in reference to the bustling shipping hub in the Ukraine. The house also evolved over the years, with a succession of owners renovating it to suit their taste.

In the mid-20th century, when the town’s population had dwindled to a few hundred souls, January House was purchased by H. Rodney Sharp, a DuPont Co. executive who envisioned Odessa as an enclave of architectural preservation. Sharp established a settlement of 10 historic buildings, including January House, as well as a Colonial Revival garden.

Jeanne Buckworth worked as Sharp’s secretary for 22 years. Her boss knew that she and her husband loved Odessa as much as he did. And so Sharp offered the couple a rare opportunity to become part of living history.

Would they be interested in renting January House?

No, the Buckworths did not want to rent. Could they possibly buy the property?

More than 30 years later, the couple is still marveling that Sharp took them up on their offer.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Jeanne Buckworth says.

 

The mantel is decorated with natural greens and gourds that have been rubbed with olive oil. OLD HOUSE, NEW IDEAS

Originally, the house faced the Appoquinimink, the better to view approaching vessels. That structure included six rooms, essentially two rooms on each floor stacked on top of one another for three stories. Today, that part of the house retains its wide, random-width flooring and four fireplaces.

That historic core is sandwiched between two additions constructed on either end during the restoration. The modern-day front of the house is a symmetrical four-bay brick facade facing a long driveway. The property also includes a garage and a smokehouse.

The Buckworths have put their own stamp on their home, making additions to both the house and the grounds. They bought a 40-acre plot that adjoined the two-acre gardens surrounding the house.

During the Sharp project, a large Victorian addition with columns was torn down to pare the structure back to its Colonial core.

The present-day kitchen was added during the restoration, part of a two-story, Federal-style wing that includes a second-floor bath. Originally, the kitchen was a utilitarian space with metal cupboards, Sharp’s concession to life in the 20th century.

Intent on creating a look that was warmer and more rustic, the Buckworths refaced the cabinetry with barn wood. An exposed brick wall is part of the original exterior of the house. “It’s functional and friendly, the two most important things in a kitchen,” Buckworth says.

The fireplace in the formal dining room is large enough to cook in—a task that could still be accomplished today by hanging a cast iron pot on the cooking arm.

“We think that this room probably was the original kitchen because of the fireplace,” she says. “It would have been the place where people gathered, to cook and to keep warm.”

A cherished family friend, the late cabinetmaker Ronald Starnes, crafted the dining table and breakfront. The J.E. Caldwell grandfather clock that ticks in the foyer was made in Philadelphia in the mid-1800s.

“It keeps perfect time,” Buckworth says.

 

The Buckworths have put their own stamp on their home, making additions to the house and the grounds. MAKING MERR​Y

The Buckworths can enjoy even the snowiest day in comfort in the large sun room they added to the side of the house that fronts the river. The heat from a gas fireplace ensures that leafy ferns are happy year-round.

Nearly all the greens Buckworth uses in her holiday arrangements are the genuine article, plucked from her garden and grounds. There are fragrant juniper boughs, spiky cryptomeria branches, glossy magnolia leaves and various species of holly.

Buckworth is blessed with many friends, who often volunteer to help her decorate for the holidays. For years, she resisted because she didn’t want to burden others.

“Then I realized how much fun it could be to get a group together and work as a team,” she says. “People love to help.”

Now, getting ready for the holidays is a social occasion, with neighbors chatting as they polish silver and unpack ornaments.

It’s the perfect time to bring out family keepsakes that have been tucked away for months. Buckworth tenderly places her favorite antique dolls in the wooden cradle passed down by her grandmother. She sets a wee table and a child’s tea service in front of the fireplace.

 

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

In Odessa, homeowners also benefit from advice from the pros as they prepare for the annual Christmas tour. Buckworth worked with Scott Mastrangelo of Gardens Great and Small in Hockessin to fashion holiday arrangements from such unexpected materials as gourds, dried hydrangea and river birch, known for its artfully peeling bark.

“Odessa is all about being natural,” he says. “I don’t use anything shiny or glittery because there were not a lot of sparkling objects in Colonial days.”

Mastrangelo treks into the woods in search of moss, a welcome flash of green in the midst of a long winter. He serves up the moss on a china platter, a merry juxtaposition of primitive plant and civilized ceramic, and tops the moss with fresh apples. He rubs gourds with olive oil to give the skin a mottled effect and places the hardy veggies on the mantel.

Buckworth slices pomegranates in half to expose the nubby seeds and arranges the fruit in a crystal bowl with fresh red roses.

Sometimes, the most dazzling displays are the easiest to assemble, she confides. To create instant “wow,” take a tall glass cylinder and fill with fresh cranberries, readily available at the grocery store. Drop a votive candle on top of the berries and light.

“People always love that arrangement—and they love it even more when they learn that they can do it themselves,” she says.

 

The Grand Tours

• The Women’s Club of Odessa’s house tour, Christmas in Odessa, is Saturday, Dec. 1. (christmasinodessa.com, 378-4900)

• The annual holiday tour sponsored by the Historic Odessa Foundation runs from Nov. 14-Dec. 30. (historicodessa.org, 378-4119)

 
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Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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