How did Cape May begin?

July 26, 2022

Cape May, New Jersey is a city filled with lots of history and family attractions. This beautiful beach is located at the Southern tip of Cape May, New Jersey where the Delaware Bay reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Cape May is known for its gorgeous beaches and historical sites which are great tourist attractions. This city is unique with its Victorian era houses and a long Promenade to stroll in.
The very first inhabitants of what is now called Cape May were the Kechemeche Indians of the Lenni-Lenape tribe. In the early 1600s, the first residents bought the land from the Indians. With this land, the new residents created a fishing and whaling industry. Later on into the 17th century, English colonists arrived and expanded the fishing and whaling industry. These colonists also introduced farming techniques to the land previously known as Cape Island.
Cape Island gained popularity by the citizens in Philadelphia. These citizens came to visit and traveled in horse-drawn wagons and coaches. The tourists who came to Cape Island stayed in rustic public houses, taverns, and resident homes, some of which are still in use today. People felt it was necessary to visit Cape Island for its beauty and serenity.
Cape Island expanded and attracted lots of new people from New York, Baltimore, and Washington when 6 boarding houses were built in 1834. The New Atlantic was a hotel built in 1842 which held 300 people. Eventually, Cape Island was named the Queen of the Seaside Resorts.
In 1852, the Mt. Vernon Hotel on the West end of the oceanfront was built and gained popularity. This hotel held 3,500 guests. Unfortunately, the hotel was set aflame in 1856 while it was unfinished and holding 2,100 guests. In 1859, the Cape May Lighthouse was built. This lighthouse is still standing today and is heavily visited by tourists. A railroad from Philadelphia to Cape Island was built in 1863, introducing the Cottage Era. This was an era when families from Philadelphia bought shore homes in Cape Island.
Later on in 1878, a huge fire destroyed 35 acres of Cape Island from Congress Hall over to Ocean Street. Following the fire, people in Cape May decided to rebuild the city, but scaled-down. The houses were then built ​​in Queen Anne, Gothic, and American bracketed styles, which lots of tourists find remarkable today.

Taylor Goodman (’25)

In 1908, 3,600 acres of East Cape May were developed, and a Newport-like Hotel Cape May took the role of a centerpiece of East Cape May. The hotel closed 6 months after opening when the Corporation President, Peter Shields, resigned. During World War I, the hotel was used as a hospital and a base for the Navy. In 1920, the hotel reopened. In 1931, it was sold and it operated as the Admiral Hotel until the city bought the building 9 years later. A few other events occurred in the 1900s such as the Great Atlantic Hurricane which took place in 1944 and destroyed the boardwalk. This hurricane also ended the borough of South Cape May. After World War I, the Navy gave up the base to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard then created a Training Center at this base in 1948.

In 1954, the Garden State Parkway was formed and removed Cape May’s isolation because the number of automobiles entering Cape May increased. On March 7, 1962, the March Nor’easter storm demolished the boardwalk, beachfront, Convention Hall, and many properties. Something else that contributed to the change in Cape May’s history was the visiting of Reverend Carl McIntire, a fundamentalist minister. He changed the city’s landscape after the treacherous storm by purchasing Victorian era properties. In 1963, the city received 3.5 million dollars and created a Cape May Promenade to replace the boardwalk. Also, a ferry service to Delaware was created in 1964 which helped increase the number of people coming to visit Cape May.
After Cape May recovered from destructive storms, entrepreneurs began creating stores and restaurants in this city. Also, the Victorian era homes began to be used as Bed & Breakfast Inns. In 1971, the Washington Street Mall was created. Later on, a trolley was given to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts. The workers began hosting tours of Cape May and taught people about its history.

Currently, tourists enjoy visiting Cape May for its relaxing beaches, beautiful scenery, and historical sights. People delight in walking around the Washington Street Mall and taking tours to historical sights. Overall, Cape May is a beautiful city to visit for a special beach experience filled with lots of history.

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