In 1620, the same year the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts,  Dutch Sea captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey sailed into the Delaware Bay aboard his ship “Blijde Boodschap (Good Tidings).” Mey and his crew surveyed the Delaware River and traded for furs with the local Indians. He also named the prominent peninsula at the southern tip of what would become New Jersey after himself. Decades later the spelling would be changed to Cape May.

Wealthy Philadelphians began building summer getaways around Cape May in 1761 and it became the first seashore resort in America. By the early 1800s the largest hotels in the world were being built along the wide, white Cape May sand beaches. Presidents James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce vacationed here. Abraham Lincoln was a visitor before being elected 16th President of the United States.

On November 9, 1878, at seven o’clock in the morning, fire broke out in a hotel attic near the center of town. Winds at over 50 miles per hour allowed the fire to jump over roads from one block to the next. The fire department did not have enough water – as a bucket brigade stretching from the ocean to the water was their main supply. Sadly a request for more funds to buy more fire-fighting equipment had been denied only a few months earlier. 

The fire (hereafter referred to as the “Great Fire”) raged for over eleven hours. When dawn broke the following day, 44 acres of downtown Cape May were destroyed. Although other resorts at the time were built in a more modern fashion – Cape May officials decided to rebuild in the same traditional Victorian style of the hotels that the fire had destroyed.  This decision has reverberated ever since - Cape May has the greatest number of picturesque Victorian structures in America and in 1976 the entire town was officially designated a National Historic Landmark City, one of only five in the nation.

Our tour will start at the Mid-Atlantic Center For The Arts at 1048 Washington Street, site of the Emilen Physick Estate, five blocks north of the Cape May’s commercial center.

HEAD SOUTH ON WASHINGTON STREET (ocean on your left)

1.   
1048 Washington Street
Emlen Physick Estate

Built in 1879 from designs by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, it is considered by some to be one of the finest examples of Victorian “Stick Style” architecture in America. Back in its heyday, the Physick Estate housed a rather unusual household: Dr. Emlen Physick, who never married; his widowed mother, Mrs. Ralston; and his Maiden Aunt Emilie. Dr. Physick's grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) was known as the Father of American Surgery. Emlen Physick followed family tradition by completing medical training, but he never practiced. He lived the life of a country gentleman and animal breeder. He is remembered for having the first automobile in Cape May. The exterior of the Estate is distinguished by Furness’ trademark oversized features, including gigantic upside-down corbelled chimneys, hooded “Jerkin-Head” dormers, and the huge stick-like brackets on the porch.

2.  
1033 Washington Street
Ralston Physick House

The Ralston Physick House traces back to circa 1850, showing framing of the same type as in the "Colonial House" (Historical Society) located at 653 1/2 Washington Street. It's visible structure todayleads to the conclusion that the older part of the house is at the center. This graceful Italianate building is known for its historical connection to the prominent Physick family. The original house was built across the street from its present location at the Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May's only Victorian House Museum. The main house and land was owned by Mrs. Francis M. Ralston (Dr. Emlen Physick's mother). Dr. Emlen Physick then purchased the land from her and had the house moved to its present location so he could build his home. 

3.  
1002 Washington Street
Henry Walker Hand House

Modest but handsome Queen Anne, circa 1893, built for a local ship captain. Note the corner tower with a Witch’s Cap roof and sharply sloping main roof.

4. 
915, 917 & 921 Washington Street
Pilots’ Row

Delaware River boat captains congregated on this block of Washington Street and these three are typical of their homes.

5.  
821 Washington Street
Wedding Cake House

A simple Federal-style vernacular frame house, circa 1850, was gussied up 30 years later after owners grew tired of their plain house among its flowery neighbors and piled decoration upon decoration.

6.  
817 Washington Street
The Duke of Windsor

The home was built in 1896 by the York Brothers for Delaware River boat pilot Harry Hazelhurst and his wife Florence. Since Harry and his wife were grand in scale (both were over six feet tall), the rooms are large and airy, and the stairway that vaults three stories is extra wide and gracious. The house was used as a hospital during World War II; then suffered years of neglect until it was converted into a Bed and Breakfast Inn in 1982. Erected in the age between the popularity of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival, the house shows elements of both.

7. 
720 Washington Street
The Southern Mansion

In 1863, the Philadelphia hat merchant George Allen built an American bracket- post-beam villa on the island of Cape May where he was the main investor in the town’s first railroad.. Designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Samuel Sloan and constructed by Henri Phillipi, this seaside palace was used by Allen and his descendants as a country estate for the next 83 years. After World War II the property became a boarding house and maintenance lagged until its license was revoked in the 1980s. Restored as a private hotel in 1996, the rotting main beams were replaced with new I-beams to support the Mansion and straighten the rolling hallway floors. Outside, the entire house was ground down to the bare wood and repainted in the original earth-tones and all five chimneys were rebuilt using the original bricks. The slate and tin roofs, copper gutters, brackets, porches, soffits, trims, moldings and fascia boards were replaced. Finally, the finial was re-gilded, the entire grounds were tamed and the Italian gardens were re-established. Inside, all of the original architectural elements, furnishings, including the gasolier fixtures, walls, ceilings, floors, stairs, doors and windows have been restored to their original splendor. Southern Mansion and the Physick Estate are the only two multi-acre estates in the town of Cape May.

8.  
Corner of Washington & Franklin
The Episcopal Church of the Advent

Designed in 1869 by noted Philadelphia church architect Henry Sims, this handsome example is a Carpenter Gothic, the medieval style rendered in wood. The stain glass windows are original.

9.  
Corner of Washington & Franklin
Fireman’s Hall History Museum

The fire department has built a small colonial style museum to house a 1928 American LaFrance fire engine as well as other vintage engines, photographs and other pieces of fire fighting history.  Their modern firehouse with all of the latest technology is next door but what is amazing is that they continue to use the Gamewell Diaphone, a cog system from the 1920s that will ring a bell a number of times to let the fire fighters know what vicinity the fire is in

10.  
653 1/2 Washington Street
Colonial House

This simple, heavy timber-framed house, one of over 600 remaining in Cape May County, was built circa 1800 and moved to this location in 1982. It was originally a tavern and the family house of Revolutionary War Patriot Memucan Hughes. Today it serves as headquarters for the Greater Cape May Historical Society

11. 
653 Washington Street
Alexander’s 

Built in 1883 as a private residence and now an inn. Notice bands of colored tile on the mansard roof.

12.  
643 Washington Street
Cape May City Hall

The building was originallyCape May’s High School built in 1917. It became the seat of city government in 1961. Cape May’s original City Hall was built in 1899 and could be found on the corner of Franklin and Washington where today the Fire Museum resides. The original City Hall building was home to the fire department, police station and municipal court. It was torn down in 1970. 

13.  
526 Washington Street Mall
New Jersey Trust & Safe Deposit Company

The bank building erected in 1895 in the Renaissance Revival style with its trademark arches. Note the elaborate trim and nautical seashell in the doorway keystone.

14.  
525 Washington Street Mall
Our Lady Star of the Sea Church

The first Catholic Church in Cape May County was opened in 1848 in a simple frame building located opposite the site of the present church. The first Mass in the new edifice was celebrated in 1913 and finishing touches continued for five years. Cast in a transitional Medieval revival style, the church is constructed of Holmesburg granite, trimmed with buff Indiana limestone.  Round arches of the Romanesque style co-exist comfortably with angular arches of the Gothic.  These features are replicated in the borders of the large stained-glass windows. The steeple houses a 650-pound bell.

15.  
Washington Street Mall
Information Booth

The Information Booth originally functioned as a guardhouse for the l876 Philadelphia Exposition. In the 1970s the Philadelphia Park System was demolishing these guardhouses, but the Cape May Cottagers Association stepped in to save this significant part of history. They moved it to Cape May and presented it to the City after the Washington Street Mall was completed in 1971. The booth retains its grid pattern of stick work on the exterior walls, indicative of the Victorian Stick Style architecture.

CONTINUE DOWN THE PEDESTRIAN MALL AND TURN RIGHT ON JACKSON STREET. TWO BLOCKS AHEAD IS LAFAYETTE STREET.

16.  
405 Lafayette Street
Cape May Stage Theatre

In January of 1853, the trustees of the Cape Island Presbyterian Church purchased a lot on the north side of Lafayette Street, at the corner of what is now Bank Street. Local builder Peter Hand designed and built their church, completing it by July with dedication services on July 17th. Hand designed a Georgian-vernacular style building with an oddly graceful onion-curved, mosque-like, cupola. The Church moved in 1898 and the building was saved to serve as the Cape May Information Center and home for the Cape May Stage.

17.  
219 Jackson Street
Richardson’s Hotel

Built to cater to a middle class black clientele, the hotel is noticeably located just away from the town center.

18.  
305 Jackson Street
Swain’s Hardware Store

A Cape May landmark since 1896, this sprawling, wood building covers two blocks and looks more like the OK Corral than a hardware store.

Optional Detour:  West Cape May

One of four jurisdictions that comprise Cape Island, West Cape May was home to Mayflower descendants, former slaves, riverboat pilots and whalers. The borough features many examples of Victorian workman’s cottages. Noted for its agriculture, the area was once known as the ”Lima Bean Capital East of the Rockies.”

TO TOUR WEST CAPE MAY, CONTINUE ON PERRY STREET AND TURN RIGHT ONTO MYRTLE AVENUE, OTHERWISE TURN LEFT ON PERRY STREET AND WALK TOWARDS THE OCEAN AND PICK UP TH ETOUR AT #19.

A.  
133 Myrtle Avenue
Wilbraham Mansion

A simple farm house in 1840, the property was acquired in 1900 by John W. Wilbraham who enlarged and Victorianized the house by adding a wing.

B. 
127 Myrtle Street
Albert Stevens Inn 

Built by a local physician circa 1898 for his bride, the house has oak interior woodwork and a floating staircase extending to a third floor tower room. Double parlors and wraparound porch provide the spaciousness for relaxed living found in homes of this period.

TURN RIGHT ON NORTH BROADWAY.

C. 
115 North Broadway
Lizzee Richardson Home 

This handsome old home built in 1908 is now Buttonwood Bed and Breakfast.

D. 
121 North Broadway
Old Cape May Life Savings Society

This organization pre-dates the Coast Guard. The building was Captain James Eldredge’s home.

E. 
131 North Broadway
Aaron W. Hand House 

The house was part of the James Hillden Plantation beginning in 1822. It is presently the Highland House Bed and Breakfast.

F. 
139 North Broadway
Former Post Office for West Cape May

Established as Eldredge Post Office in 1898 the name was changed to West Cape May in 1909.

G. 
209 North Broadway
Eldredge Home

Captain William C. Eldredge, who lived in this house beginning around 1800, was the oldest in age and membership of the Delaware River Pilots of New Jersey. His grave is found at Cold Springs Cemetery and has a boat carved on the gravestone.

H. 
307 North Broadway
Former Plantation

Once part of a large plantation farm in the 1850s, the house once was a refuge for runaway slaves fleeing north. A unique interior closet gives witness to its part on the Underground Railroad.

I. 
417 North Broadway
The Eldredge House 

Built in 1780 at Jackson and Lafayette streets in Cape May, this is one of the few Colonial houses in this area. It was moved here in 1850. When additions were constructed in the late 1800s old bills, written records and a golden lock of hair were found in the walls of the attic.

J. 
515-517 N. Broadway
Store

Built in 1850, this building has been in continuous use as a store for more than 150 years.

TURN AROUND AND WALK BACK DOWN BROADWAY.

K. 
500 North Broadway
The Union Chapel

The church was moved to its present location in 1883, about a decade after it was built in affiliation with the “Old Brick Presbyterian Church” of Cold Spring.

L. 
222 North Broadway
Home of Dr. Clarence Eldridge 

M. 
102 Gold Beaten Alley (between Second and Third avenues)
Hastings Gold Beater Company  

In 1864 George Reeves began a business of beating gold blocks of 23K gold by hand into sheets of gold leaf for decoration and ornamentation. The business moved to this location in 1881 and operated until 1961.

N. 
218 North Broadway
T.W. Reeves Home 

Home of Theodore Reeves who managed the gold-beating business after his father’s death.

O. 
Broadway and Third Avenue
Judge Henry Eldridge House 

The elegant house built in 1906 belonged to Judge Henry H. Eldridge.

P. 
116 North Broadway
Nineteenth Century Home

This handsome old house from the 1850s is currently the only African-American owned Bed and Breakfast on the island. Named Akwaaba, meaning “welcome,” the rooms are named for local Black community leaders such as William J. Moore, Stephen Smith, Dolly Nash, Helen Dickerson, and Woody Woodland.

Q. 
110 North Broadway
Former Boarding House

This hostelry dates to 1870.

R.  
416 South Broadway
Whaler’s Cottage 

Also known as the T. Newkirk House, circa 1680 - the oldest occupied building in Cape May. The oldest part contains a giant fireplace that was said to be the base for the Town Bank Whalers. Later it is known to have housed Revolutionary War wounded. The front section was added in the 1870s.

TURN AROUND AND RETURN TO PERRY STREET AT THE INTERSECTION. TURN RIGHT AND RETURN FOUR BLOCKS TO CAPE MAY.

19.  
223 Perry Street
The Bayberry Inn

The back portion of the original house, believed to have belonged to a whaling captain, was built circa 1800. The front of the house, a Carpenter Gothic, was built in the 1850s by Joseph Q. Williams, a local builder and mayor of Cape May during the terms of 1862, 1868, and 1877. The Great Fire stopped just short of the “Mayor’s Hearth” leaving this as one of the town’s oldest homes. Look for the delicate acorns that hang from the cornice.

CONTINUE TO SOUTH LAFAYETTE AND TURN RIGHT TO THE INTERSECTION WITH CONGRESS STREET.

20.  
southwest corner of South Lafayette and Congress
The Joseph Leedom Houses

Built on “The Bluff” - at 14 1/2 feet above sea level, the highest spot in Cape May - Joseph Leedom built the white Queen Anne with dramatic witch’s hat tower for himself in 1881 and the varied-roofline house next door as a speculative property. Each is wrapped in fish-scale shingles.

TURN LEFT ON CONGRESS STREET.

21. 
Congress Street
Levy-Neafie House

John Levy, a very prominent Philadelphia businessman and controlling partner of the Levy-Neafie Shipyard, built this elaborate twin structure. His partner, Jacob Neafie occupied #30 while Mr. Levy occupied #28. Together they operated one of the country's largest shipyards during the Civil War, building many famous warships and some of the world’s earliest submarines. Neafie is credited with inventing what would become the modern day propeller for the shipping industry. Levy died before his American bracketed villa summer home was completed. The railings of this variation of the Italianate villa are taken from ship rails and are intended to soften harsh lines as your eye is drawn up to the cupola through the decorative gingerbread and curved arches. Gingerbread arches on first and second floor arches do not match.

22.  
22 & 24 Congress Street
Steiner Cottages

Built between 1848 and 1851, these antebellum twin cottages built from Gothic pattern book designs are Cape May's earliest summer homes. This style marked the beginning of the "summer resort cottage" that became popular in other Jersey shore communities. It was reported that the cottages were built by a Southern visitor for his two daughters.

WALK DOWN CONGRESS PLACE ACROSS THE STREET.

23.  
203 Congress Place
E.C. Knight House

Perched on this corner is one of Cape May’s grandest summer cottages, constructed after the Great Fire for successful businessman E.C. Knight who passed it down to his daughter, Annie Knight. The family fortune was powered by a Cuban sugar company and she became Cape May’s richest and most powerful woman. Among the many properties Annie Knight owned was the grand neighboring Congress Hall Hotel and the 7 Sisters facing the beachfront on North and Windsor Ave. She was a colorful figure, influential in Cape May politics, who drove her own horse carriage and held teas and dances in the Congress Hall for the young ladies and gentlemen to learn ballroom dancing and the genteel arts. When Miss Knight died in the late 1930s, she endowed many hospitals and societies for the poor. In the deed for the property she made it law that nothing would be built to block the view of the ocean from the house and it remains so today.

24.  
207 Congress Place
Joseph Evans House

Built on a design by influential architect Stephen Decatur Button in 1881-82. Wildly popular in Cape May before the Great Fire, the fervor for the architect’s simply ornamented Italianate designs had cooled by the time of this commission in the massive rebuilding era after 1878.

25.  
209 Congress Place
Dr. Henry Hunt Cottage  

One of Cape May’s most exuberant houses, you can see five Victorian architectural styles in play on this 1881 cottage: Queen Anne massing, Italianate bracketing, Second Empire mansard roof, Gothic gables, and Stick Style ornamentation.

WALK TO THE END OF CONGRESS PLACE, TAKING NOTE OF THE YELLOW LANDMARK CONGRESS HALL AND TURN RIGHT.

26.  
33 Perry Street
The Pink House

One of the best known homes in Cape May, the Pink House, or Eldridge Johnson House, is said to possess the fanciest porch trim in town. The 1892 house is characterized by pierced wooden balusters, a two-story porch, bargeboard and finial on the gable end, decorative cornices on the first and second story windows and round arched windows on the second story. Pink was not a color popular during the Victorian era when houses would have been painted with more subdued earth tones. It was moved to its Perry Street location from Congress Street in the 1970s.

27.  
Perry Street
Carpenters Square Mall
Site of the Great Fire of 1878

The fire that ultimately destroyed some of the most valuable and beautiful property in Cape May on November 9, 1878 erupted in the attic of the Ocean House on Perry Street.  Stiff winds and an inadequately supplied fire department allowed the fire to spread quickly get out of control. It has been noted that Civil War hero Colonel Henry Sawyer was the person who sounded the alarm, thus preventing the destruction from being absolute. They were finally able to put out the fire with the assistance of the nearby Camden Fire Department. The decision to rebuild in modest Victorian style allowed Cape May to maintain a distinct romantic ambience that is largely what makes it such a popular resort destination, even to this day.

28.  
9 Perry Street
King’s Cottage

This three-story "Stick Style" Victorian Cottage is an exquisite example of the work of noted architect Frank Furness. Set in the railings are ceramic tiles which were part of the Japanese exhibition from Philadelphia Centennial of 1876.

AT BEACH DRIVE TURN RIGHT TO VIEW THE CONGRESS HALL HOTEL. THEN TURN AROUND AND WALK NORTH ON BEACH DRIVE (ocean on your right) AND MAKE A LEFT ON JACKSON STREET.

29.  
Beach Drive & Perry Street
Congress Hall Hotel

It began life in 1816 as a simple boarding house for summer visitors to one of America's earliest seaside resorts. Its owner, Thomas H. Hughes, called his new boarding house "The Big House." The local people had other ideas, though. Convinced the building was far too large to ever be a success they nicknamed it "Tommy's Folly." In this first incarnation it was a quite different affair. Downstairs was a single room that served as the dining room for all the guests, who stayed in simply partitioned quarters on the two upper floors. The walls and woodwork were bare and supplies of provisions were at times unreliable. Guests were undeterred by the Spartan conditions and summer after summer the new hotel was packed to bursting. In 1828 Hughes had been elected to Congress and in honor of his new status his hotel was renamed Congress Hall. After the Great Fire the hotel in brick rather than wood, and business blossomed once again. The hotel and Cape May proved so popular that they gained renown as a summer retreat for the nation's presidents. Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all chose to vacation here. President Benjamin Harrison made Congress Hall his "summer White House" and conducted the affairs of state from the hotel. The hotel fell into disrepair and remained closed for more than a dozen years, sometime between 1905 and the early 20s, after a long and bitter dispute between owner Annie Knight and the city council. Finally, an agreement to repave the roads around Congress Hall was reached and the hotel reopened in the early 20s, with a stunning renovation. Congress Hall went on to open Cape May's first post-Prohibition cocktail bar (where the Brown Room sits now) in 1934. With many of Cape May's landmarks being demolished to make way for modern motels, the present owners purchased the building in 1995 with the goal of undertaking a complete renovation to return Congress Hall to its former glory.

30.  
10-20 Jackson Street
Seven Sisters

The house was constructed in 1891 and designed by Stephen Decatur Button. These "Seven Sisters" are uniquely situated, facing a communal open space so that the parlors and porches have an ocean view.  It is the only site planning in Cape May that doesn’t follow the street grid. The house's entrance was placed in the center, leading guests into a large foyer flanked with a hand carved spiral staircase winding up to the third floor.

31.  
15 Jackson Street
John McConnell House

This multi-faceted Queen Anne was built in 1893 and features simulated half-timbering, decorative gables and scale shingles.

32.  
17 Jackson Street
Poor Richards Inn

Built in 1882 as the private residence of a Cape May hotel owner, it has been run as an inn since 1977. Note the black and red tiles in the mansard roof.

33.  
19 Jackson Street
Carroll Villa

Built in 1882 as a seaside escape for families, the Carroll Villa was built in the Italian villa or American bracketed villa style. The Carroll Villa was on the cover of the Cape May handbook as an architectural example of this style which presents an imposing, sweeping porch, tall front windows, a symmetrical facade, and often a cupola, as does the Carroll Villa. The history of the Carroll Villa shows that about a decade later a second section was added to the main building .

34.  
22 Jackson Street
Inn At 22 Jackson

This charming Queen Anne design was erected in the 1890s.

35.  
24 Jackson Street
Windward House

This late Victorian was built in 1905 with three porches and multiple types of windows; designed to blend in with seashore.

36.  
25 Jackson Street
Virginia Hotel

This small hotel is of a kind that was once much more widespread; the white-porched Italianate-design dates to 1879.

37.  
42 Jackson Street
The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow, formerly the J. Henry Edmonds House, is one of Cape May's most historic and distinctive Victorian properties that began life as a simple farmhouse. The roof was added in 1879 and the towers were shipped here.

38.  
45 Jackson Street
Christopher Gallagher House

Built after the Great Fire in the Second Empire Style, the mansion features grand floral patterns in the mansard roof and a majestic iron fence.

TURN RIGHT ON CARPENTERS LANE AND RIGHT AGAIN ONTO DECATUR STREET.

39.  
132 Decatur Street
Aaron Roseman House

Built around 1895, the Roseman House is a combination Queen Anne and Steamboat Gothic. The building has stained-glass windows, an octagonal tower, and a façade filled with intricately turned spindles. According to one source, “This demure lady wears her lacy cream bargeboard like a scarf to protect her from the sea breezes.”

40.  
First Presbyterian Church of Cape May
corner of Hughes Street and Decatur Street

In 1844, with generous support from summer visitors, the Presbyterians residing on Cape May Island erected a church building costing $4,000 on Washington Street, which was called The Visitor's Church. By 1892, more space was needed by the congregation and the Holland lot on the corner of Hughes and Decatur Streets was purchased for $6,500.  In 1898, the present stone building was completed, a fine example of Gothic Revival, at a cost of $21,500.

41.  
114 Decatur Street
Sugarplum Cottage

This simple 1880s Victorian, is probably from a pattern book, as was popular after the Great Fire.

42.  
106 Decatur Street
The Merion Inn

In the summer of 1885, Patrick Collins opened on Decatur Street "...a fine marine boarding villa, convenient to the Iron Door and the big hotels, and a first class establishment." By 1900, Collins Cafe was advertising its fine old whiskies, fresh seafoods, Milwaukee beers and "neatly appointed rooms for ladies." Andrew Zillinger, chief steward of the Merion Cricket Club on Philadelphia's Main Line, purchased the inn in 1906 and changed its name to The Merion.

43.  
1
1 Decatur Street
Elward House

This wood frame rental property has been in the same family for over 100 years.

44.  
Beach Drive and Decatur Street
Cabanas

From this old Italianate patrons enjoy the “best view at the beach.”

TURN LEFT ON BEACH DRIVE AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO OCEAN STREET AND TURN LEFT.

45.  
Inn of Cape May
Ocean Street & Beach Drive

In the fall of 1894, William H. Church, a contractor and builder of West Cape May, began work on a 60-room boarding house at the foot of Ocean Street opposite the Star Villas, one of the most delightful locations on the beachfront. The structure was to be four stories high with a French roof and roomy porches from which there would always be an unobstructed view. The house was to be fitted throughout with steam heat in order to remain open all year. Gas lights were installed and an electric ball system. Special family rates were offered. One hundred thirty-five guests could be accommodated. It was to be known as the Colonial and to be operated by the builder himself.

46.  
22 Ocean Street
Leith Hall

Columbia House, that once occupied the entire block burned in 1878; this is one of several Victorians that went up in its stead.

47.  
24 Ocean Street
The Celtic Inn

Another Cape May Inn built after The Great Fire of 1878.

48.  
26 Ocean Street
Columbia House

The original Columbia House, built in 1846, was a large hotel built by Captain George Hildreth. Its grounds stretched from what is currently Hughes Street straight through to Beach Avenue, since Columbia Avenue did not yet exist. By 1850, the Columbia House had expanded to be the largest and most "aristocratic" on Cape Island. In 1878, a great fire roared through Cape Island, destroying most of the hotels and private homes in the center of town, including the Columbia House hotel. It was during this time that the Victorians built their opulent summer "cottages" with great attention to detail and architectural diversity. The streets of Cape May quickly became lined with Gothic Revival, Second Empire, and Renaissance Revival homes. On the grounds of the original Columbia House hotel, William Essen chose to erect a magnificent Queen Anne style cottage as his summer home complete with a majestic turret, a rounded veranda, and ocean views. Built in 1886, it is this structure which is currently known as the Columbia House. William Essen, a German immigrant, made his fortune selling ice cream and baked goods. The Essen family enjoyed entertaining guests on the veranda of their summer cottage and their parties often made the social pages of the newspapers at the time. The bakery that the Essen family opened in 1872 is still in existence today on Washington Street in Cape May and is currently called "La Patisserie."

49.  
19 Ocean Street
Coll’s Sea View House

Another post-fire Victorian.

50.  
23 Ocean Street
Beauclaire’s Bed and Breakfast

This beautiful Queen Anne was built in 1879 after the original house was destroyed by the Great Fire. It was maintained as a private summer home and many stories concerning those who lived and visited here abound. Many of Cape May’s tours state that Wallace Warfield, later to become the Dutchess of Windsor, summered here but this has not been substantiated.

51.  
25 Ocean Street
Inn On Ocean

This post-fire structure went Second Empire.

52.  
29 Ocean Street
Humphrey Hughes House

Captain Humphrey Hughes arrived in Cape May in 1692 and soon became one of the area's original landowners. A few decades later, his son, Humphrey Hughes II, added to the family holdings and purchased the ground on which the Humphrey Hughes House now stands. The first structure built on the property was moved to another location, and the current Queen Anne was erected in 1903. The home remained in the Hughes family hands until Dr. Harold Hughes' death in 1980. Now an inn.

53.  
102 Ocean Street
The Queen Victoria

The Queen Victoria was built in 1881 by Douglas Gregory, a Cape May native and Delaware river pilot, as a home for his small family. He purchased the land for his home for $3,500 from Philadelphia merchants Charles Potts and paid about $4,000 for the construction of the home with projecting mansard roof. The building sits on the former site of the huge Columbia Hotel, which burned down in the Great Fire. Across the street is the The House of Royals, designed and built in 1876 by Charles Shaw, the builder of the Chalfonte Hotel and the Physick Estate. The first floor was originally a general store offering stationery, sundries, and patent medicines (some refer to it as "Ware's Drug Store"). The second floor, with its high 11-foot ceilings and 9-foot doors, unusual in a residential setting, was a gentleman's gambling club, including a large common room and several smaller private gambling parlors. The third floor was a series of bedrooms, probably for the ladies who entertained the gamblers. The House of Royals is the only building of The Queen Victoria quartet that pre-dates the Great Fire. In fact, the fire fighters finally held their line at Ocean street just in front of the building, with the sparks flying into the roof.

54.  
111 Ocean Street
Fairthorne Cottage

Built in 1892 by a whaling captain this Colonial revival-style Cape May Inn features a gracious wraparound veranda.

55.  
202 Ocean Street
Captain Mey’s Inn

Captain Mey's Inn was built in 1890 by Dr. Walter H. Phillips who was a homeopathic physician and a true native of Cape May. This textbook Colonial Revival features a large wraparound porch and smooth, round columns. Today this Victorian Inn is named after Capt. Cornelius J. Mey. He found the climate charming, as has each succeeding generation. It was the greatest compliment when Dutch explorers, both home-loving and adventuring people, declared that the climate of the Delaware was "like that of Holland," as good as home. Captain Mey confirmed the compliment by giving his name to these shores.

56.  
208 Ocean Street
Ocean Street Gallery

This 1864 structure is the lone survivor that was in the inferno’s path in 1878.

TURN AROUND AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE LAST INTERSECTION AND TURN LEFT ON HUGHES STREET, HEADING NORTH (the ocean will be on your right).

57.  
608 Hughes Street
Memucan Hughes House

This 1847 home anchors the town's oldest residential street.

58.  
609 Hughes Street
The Wooden Rabbit

This Federal vernacular home looks much the same as it did when built in 1838.

59.  
619 Hughes Street
The White Dove Cottage

Built in 1866, the house is a Second Empire style with a beautiful mansard roof faced with original octagonal slate tiles.

60.  
633 Hughes Street

This 1880s home is a fine example of Stick Style architecture with Jerkin-Head roofs.

61.  
637 & 641 Hughes Street

These two houses were once matching Federal houses built in 1849; #641 was converted into a Colonial Revival.

62.  
644 Hughes Street
Girls Friendly Society House

Built in 1868 as the Baltimore House and one of only 17 hotels remaining after the Great Fire; it was the last of the big boxy style. The Girls Friendly Society, an organization of the Episcopal Church, acquired the property in 1911. At the time the Girls’ Friendly Society had 21 ”Holiday Houses” and 14 lodges in multiple states. Today, only this one remains. 

63.  
645 Hughes Street
Joseph Hall Cottage

The Joseph Hall Cottage is a knockout example of a Carpenter Gothic/Italianate hybrid, painted a cheery golden yellow with blue shutters and abounding with cupolas and gables and gingerbread trim - one of the first painted in Victorian colors and not the standard white with green trim. It was built in 1868 for Joseph Hall, a wheelwright, who lived there with three wives, though not all at the same time.

64.  
655 Hughes Street
J. Stratton Ware House

A fine example of the Gothic/Italianate hybrid that was popular in Cape May in the late 1860s when this house was built.

65.  
664 Hughes Street
Spicer Leaming House

Another example of the Gothic/Italianate hybrid with elaborate porch trim.

TURN AROUND AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE LAST INTERSECTION AND TURN LEFT ON STOCKTON PLACE, TOWARDS THE OCEAN. MAKE A RIGHT ON COLUMBIA AVENUE.

66.  
635 Columbia Avenue
The Mainstay Inn & Cottage

Designed in the Italianate style by famous Philadelphia architect, Stephen Decatur Button, and built in 1872 as a private gambling club known as Jackson’s Club House, the Clubhouse operated until the late 1890's when gambling was made illegal.

67.  
621 Columbia Avenue
Delsea

617 Columbia Avenue
Pharo’s

613 Columbia Avenue
Summer Cottage Inn

These triplets were identical Italianates designed by Stephen Decatur Button in 1867.

68.  
606 Columbia Avenue
The Abbey & Cottage

This structure was commissioned by Pennsylvania coal baron John B. McCreary in 1869, and was built by architect Stephen Decatur Button as a summer retreat. The dominant features of the Gothic Revival structure are its 60-foot tower, as well as its unique windows. Notice the varied roof shapes and shingle patterns in the gables. In 1873, John's son, George D. McCreary built his summer home next to his father's. This building was built in the Second Empire style and with a convex mansard roof. 

69.  
Columbia Avenue and Gurney Street
Cape Island Baptist Church

Spanish mission style architecture has long been popular at seashore resorts to evoke the sunny feel of California but there are only two examples in Cape May. This one was built in 1937 for a congregation that began in 1844.

WALK DOWN GURNEY STREET TOWARDS THE OCEAN.

70.  
12-30 Gurney Street
Stockton Row Cottages

These Carpenter Gothic Revival structures are typical examples of the Cape May cottage, distinguished by its wealth of wood ornamentation . Built as cottages for the Stockton Hotel that was constructed in 1869 and was the largest hotel in the world at the time with 475 rooms. The hotel escaped the flames of the Great Fire of 1878 but was razed in 1910.

CONTINUE WALKING TO BEACH DRIVE AND TURN LEFT. GO TWO BLOCKS TO HOWARD STREET.

71.  
Beach Drive and Howard Street
Macomber Hotel

The Hotel Macomber is a family run Old Seashore Hotel built at the turn of the century. The grand Shingle Style mansion was the last Historic Landmark building erected in Cape May and the largest frame structure for its time east of the Mississippi River!

72.  
301 Howard Street
The Chalfonte Hotel

Colonel Henry Sawyer, builder of the Chalfonte in 1876, turned in the alarm for the Great Fire. The conflagration never reached his grand new hotel and the Chalfonte has continued to welcome guests to its gingerbread-trimmed verandas ever since. 

TURN RIGHT ON COLUMBIA AVENUE.

73.  
705 Columbia Avenue
Majestic Star

719 Columbia Avenue
Bacchus Inn

725 Columbia Avenue
The Linda Lee

Examples of Cape May tract housing from 1870s with prominent center gable and vergeboards.

74.  
712 Columbia Avenue
Jacob Leaming House

Constructed in 1879 at the time the railroad was offering a free pass to anyone who built a $2000 house. When the cost of his home came in at $1800 Leaming had elaborate trim, gazebo and canopy added to qualify for the free pass.

75.  
800 Columbia Avenue
Dormer House

The Dormer House is a center hall Colonial Revival built in 1899 for a rich marble dealer John Jacoby of Philadelphia. Mr. Jacoby, founder and first Commodore of the Cape May Yacht Club, built the cottage for his family as a summer house for "gracious living and entertaining."

76.  
803 Columbia Avenue
Buttercup Cottage

This 1878 house was floated down the beach on a log raft to arrive here.

GO TWO BLOCKS TO MADISON STREET AND TURN LEFT. AFTER TWO BLOCK TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET TO RETURN TO THE PHYSICK ESTATE.