Guide to Cape May Historic District
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Cape May, NJ is considered by many people to be America’s oldest seaside resort. Located on the southern tip of the Jersey shoreline, people have been vacationing here since the 1700’s. But don’t confuse the city of Cape May (yes, it’s technically a city and not a town, though it bursts with small-town charm) with the rest of the Jersey shore – this is not your Snookie kind of place!
What sets Cape May apart from other Jersey towns – or any other beach town for that matter – is its sheer number of Victorian houses and buildings. It has the highest concentration of Victorians after San Francisco, no small feat! A little history of the city explains how this came to be: in 1878, a fire destroyed 30 blocks of the then-town, devastating the area. The town quickly re-built itself with the modern style of the day, later known as the Victorian style.
The Victorian era is made up of various architectural styles including Queen Anne, Gothic revival, Italianate, and French Second Empire. Walking around the Cape May historic district is a real treat, where everywhere you go, these styles shine through and give the town its own character. Stained glass windows, decorative trimming, turrets, front porches and bay windows all make up the design of the houses. Bright colors abound as well, lending a happy feel to the streets (though I learned that back in the day, the color of choice was muted browns, and not the colors of the rainbow…how times have changed).
In 1976 Cape May was designated a National Historic Landmark, and included the entire city. With its newfound title, the city made great efforts to restore and protect the buildings that make it truly a unique and historical place to visit. Apart from the wonderful architecture, horse-drawn carriages weave in and around town, gas lamps dot the streets, and old-school trolleys can be seen giving tours. We took one of the trolley tours – the Historic District architecture tour – and it was one of everyone’s favorite activities. It’s a great way to see and get a feel for the town, and our guide was excellent.
Most everything in the Cape May historic district is within walking distance, making the town easy to get around. Though Cape May is a city, it looks and feels more like small-town Americana. Adorable streets are marked by mom and pop shops, nostalgic candy and ice cream stores, and a plethora of old-fashioned looking b & b’s, inns and hotels. Practically everywhere you look is one of these historical inns, including the Virginia, the Hotel Alcott, the Macomber, the Chalfonte Hotel, and Congress Hall, to name a few. Everyone is sitting and hanging out on the front porches, one of my favorite things about the town. Often times you don’t actually see people rocking away on their porches, but in Cape May you do! (though not pictured here as I didn’t actually take photos of the people!)
You can walk from the center of town to the beach and promenade, where you can find restaurants such as Uncle Bill’s Pancakes, arcades, pizza joints and some of the bigger hotels with ocean views. People are running, biking and walking along the boardwalk; it is everything you think of when you think of a classic American beach town. The one twist: all of its Victorian era architecture. Cape May really is like no other seaside town! Take a visit and see for yourself, and go back in time.
Look out for upcoming posts on the Top Things to do with Kids in Cape May and Wine Vineyards of Cape May. If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy my post Cape May, NJ: Images of Independence Day Done Right!
Want to read more about New Jersey? Check out this guide!
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