A Brief History of Cape MayHenry Hudson, an English Sea Captain, first documented the peninsula that is now Cape May. It was 1609 and Captain Hudson was sailing his small yacht, the "Half Moon", when he came upon a small peninsula situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. It wasn't until 1620 that Dutch Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey came upon the same peninsula while exploring the Delaware River. Captain Mey named the area Cape Mey after himself; the spelling was later changed to Cape May.
Cape May has catered to visitors since the 1600's when Native American tribes summered here, but a community didn't form in the area until 1685. In 1688, Quakers formed the first government based on strict moral order and Quaker piety. At this time a large whaling industry was beginning and many families from New York and New England, as well as a few original Mayflower families, were migrating to the area. Cape May also became a popular site for pirates and regular sailors alike because of Lake Lily's fresh water (back in the day), among other things. William Kidd (better known as notorious pirate Captain Kidd) is known to have stopped off in Cape May, NJ during his pirating/privateering days. There are even rumors that Kidd buried his treasure in Cape May prior to his eventual demise at the end of a hangman's noose.
When roads were laid in the late 1700's, the tourism industry of Cape May started to flourish. Two railroads, the Reading and West Jersey, provided service to Cape Island. In 1761 Cape May officially became the first seashore resort in America and was considered among the top vacation resorts in the country. Incidentally, it is said that in the 1800's the Reading & West Jersey weren't the only "railroads" in town. The Underground Railroad, used to transport slaves from Confederate Delaware to Union New Jersey, went through Cape May as well. Rumors in Cape May tell of many homes with long tunnels and secret rooms dating back to the Civil War.
Disaster struck in 1878, when Cape May nearly burned to the ground. The fire wiped out thirty blocks of the early seashore town, including some of the major hotels. The Hotel Alcott (depicted above), the Ocean Club Hotel's sister property, survived the fire and is the second oldest operating hotel in Cape May.
The town wasted no time in clearing out the devastation and rebuilding. For the most part, the new buildings that went up were built in the modern style of the day...later known as the Victorian style. This explains the huge concentration of late 19th century dwellings in Cape May today...everything from Gothic Revival to Queen Anne design...all part of the country's Victorian era. These "painted ladies" are known for fancy gables, gingerbread trim, stained glass windows and turrets.
During the Victorian period large hotels dotting the beachfront were the scenes of lavish parties and extravagant dinners, lawn tennis and croquet matches, yachting, fishing and promenading along the beachfront. Cape May became known in the mid-19th century as the "President's Playground." Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Arthur, Buchanan, Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison all vacationed here.
In 1976 Cape May was designated a National Historic Landmark. After the designation, a new revival effort began to protect and create a truly unique town where time seems to stand still. Gas lit streets and horse and buggy rides remain as a true reminder of days gone by. Visitors today are treated to Trolley Rides, Ghost Tours, Home Tours, the famous Sunset Beach, shopping and world class dining in a truly unique historic beachfront community.
Whether you're a history buff, culinary aficionado, beach bum or just someone looking to get away -- Cape May is the place for you. And the Ocean Club Hotel is the only way to stay in Cape May!
(Excerpts of History and Photo Courtesy of Cape May Times)