Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Odessa is a city of 95,700 inhabitants, located centrally in the Permian Basin of West Texas. It sits nearly equidistant from both El Paso and Fort Worth and serves as the county seat for Ector County. The city, which shares its name with Odessa, Ukraine, started as 640 acres in Survey 27 in 1876. Jay Gould's Texas and Pacific Railroad Company, which reached the survey in 1881, provided the impetus for further settlement. In 1886, when the population was only sixty, the Texas and Pacific transferred the acreage to John Hoge of Ohio, who then formed the Odessa Land and Townsite Company. Advertising in 1888 about the new town of Odessa on the Staked Plain of West Texas ensured eastern readers of cheap homes, provisions for religious and educational facilities, and the intentional absence of saloons. By 1890 there were 224 inhabitants; thirty-five years later, there were still only 750 residents of Odessa.

Population growth accelerated with the 1926 discovery of oil in Ector County and subsequent discoveries in nearby counties. The industry that emerged had its origins in the Permian Sea, which covered the area before dinosaurs made their appearance on the earth. As the waters eventually receded, the decaying plant and animal life became over time the future oil reserves. It was not until after the worst of the Depression that the burgeoning petroleum industry came into its real strength. Odessa's proximity to the oil fields and railroad made it the choice location to service and supply the wells, and Odessa and Midland together are jointly referred to as the Petroplex. Additionally, Odessans have experimented since initial settlement with livestock ventures. Early attempts at sheep raising failed due to barbed wire, which closed off the range. Cattle ranching strengthened over time and remains a vibrant business today. Football was introduced to the town in 1923 to encourage young men to stay in school. Today, Odessa is nationally known for its highly competitive football program: Permian High captured the Texas state high school title six times from 1964 to 1991, and Odessa High was champion in 1946.

In 1927 the town became a city when it incorporated, receiving its charter and electing its first mayor. But its development and growth still came in spurts, largely dependent on the oil economy and available accommodation. Such booms and busts continue to influence the area. It was during one such boom in 1948 that President George H. W. Bush and his family lived and worked in Odessa. They spent one year in the city before moving to Midland.

Modern Odessa, while still dependent on oil and cattle, continues to evolve. The Permian Basin International Oil Show, first begun in 1940, continues to be held biennially, but Odessa is also working to diversify its economy by attracting other businesses and industries. And although the city's first college was burned to the ground in 1892, possibly in response to the saloon debate, today there are two thriving institutions of higher learning: Odessa College and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Possibly, the area's oldest point of interest is the meteor crater created some 20,000 years ago but only declared a national landmark in 1965: the Odessa Crater measures 550 feet in diameter and is purported to be the second largest in the country.

See also IMAGES AND ICONS: Friday Night Football / INDUSTRY: Petroleum, United States.

Linda D. Brown Odessa College

Justice, Glenn. Odessa: An Illustrated History. Chatsworth CA: Windsor Publications, 1991.

Sheppard, John Ben. Odessa 100: An Informal History. Odessa TX: Exchange Club, 1981.

Texas: The New Town of Odessa. Odessa TX: Odessa Land and Townsite Company, 1888.

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