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Cape May, New Jersey
City
City of Cape May
Beach Avenue, from the sea
Beach Avenue, from the sea
Motto(s): 
The Nation's Oldest Seashore Resort
Cape May City highlighted in Cape May County. Inset map: Cape May County highlighted in the State of New Jersey.
Cape May City highlighted in Cape May County. Inset map: Cape May County highlighted in the State of New Jersey.
Census Bureau map of Cape May, New Jersey
Census Bureau map of Cape May, New Jersey
Lua error in Module:Location_map at line 412: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
Coordinates: 38°56′28″N 74°53′54″W / 38.941147°N 74.898372°W / 38.941147; -74.898372Coordinates: 38°56′28″N 74°53′54″W / 38.941147°N 74.898372°W / 38.941147; -74.898372
Country  United States
State  New Jersey
County Cape May
Incorporated March 8, 1848, as Cape Island Borough
Reincorporated March 10, 1851, as Cape Island City
Reincorporated March 9, 1869, as Cape May City
Named for Cornelius Jacobsen Mey
Government
 • Type Faulkner Act (council–manager)
 • Body City Council
Area
 • Total 2.90 sq mi (7.50 km2)
 • Land 2.47 sq mi (6.41 km2)
 • Water 0.42 sq mi (1.10 km2)  14.59%
Area rank 341st of 565 in state
8th of 16 in county
Elevation
10 ft (3 m)
Population
 • Total 3,607
 • Estimate 
(2019)
3,422
 • Rank 428th of 566 in state
8th of 16 in county
 • Density 1,500.6/sq mi (579.4/km2)
 • Density rank 336th of 566 in state
6th of 16 in county
Time zone UTC−05:00 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−04:00 (Eastern (EDT))
ZIP Code
08204
Area code(s) 609
FIPS code 3400910270
GNIS feature ID 0885178

Cape May is a city located at the southern tip of Cape May Peninsula in Cape May County, New Jersey, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. One of the country's oldest vacation resort destinations, it is part of the Ocean City Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a year-round population of 3,607, reflecting a decline of 427 (-10.6%) from the 4,034 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 634 (-13.6%) from the 4,668 counted in the 1990 Census. In the summer, Cape May's population is expanded by as many as 40,000 to 50,000 visitors. The entire city of Cape May is designated the Cape May Historic District, a National Historic Landmark due to its concentration of Victorian buildings.

Cape May was recognized as one of America's top 10 beaches by the Travel Channel. It is also known as one of the best beaches on the Middle Atlantic coast.

History

The city was named for 1620 Dutch captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey who explored and charted the area between 1611–1614, and established a claim for the province of New Netherland. It was later settled by New Englanders from the New Haven Colony.

What is now Cape May was originally formed as the borough of Cape Island by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 8, 1848, from portions of Lower Township. It was reincorporated as Cape Island City on March 10, 1851, and finally became Cape May City as of March 9, 1869.

Cape May began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia in the mid 18th century and is recognized as the country's oldest seaside resort. It became increasingly popular in the 18th century and was considered one of the finest resorts in America by the 19th century. In 1878 a five-day-long fire destroyed square blocks of the town center and as part of the reconstruction efforts replacement homes were almost uniformly of Victorian style. As a result of this and of more recent preservation efforts, Cape May is noted for its large number of well-maintained Victorian houses — the second largest collection of such homes in the nation after San Francisco. In 1976, the entire city of Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark as the Cape May Historic District, making Cape May the only city in the United States wholly designated as such. That designation is intended to ensure the architectural preservation of these buildings.

U.S. Navy support during World War II

Because of the World War II submarine threat off the East Coast of the United States, especially off the shore of Cape May and at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, numerous United States Navy facilities were located here in order to protect American coastal shipping. Cape May Naval facilities, listed below, provided significant help in reducing the number of ships and crew members lost at sea.

  • Naval Air Station, Cape May
  • Naval Base, Cape May
  • Inshore Patrol, Cape May
  • Naval Annex, Inshore Patrol, Cape May
  • Joint Operations Office, Naval Base, Cape May
  • Welfare and Recreation Office, Cape May
  • Dispensary, Naval Air Station, Cape May
  • Naval Frontier Base, Cape May
  • Degaussing Range (Cold Spring Inlet), Naval Base, Cape May
  • Joint Operations Office, Commander Delaware Group, ESF, Cape May
  • Anti-Submarine Attack Teacher Training Unit, U.S. Naval Base, Cape May
  • Naval Annex, Admiral Hotel, Cape May

Geography

Cape May Harbor
Cape May Harbor as seen from Devil's Reach.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 2.743 square miles (7.103 km2), including 2.404 square miles (6.226 km2) of land and 0.339 square miles (0.877 km2) of water (12.35%). Cape May is generally low-lying; its highest point, at the intersection of Washington and Jackson Streets, is 14 feet (4.3 m) above sea level.

Unincorporated communities, localities and place names located partially or completely within the city include Poverty Beach.

Cape May borders West Cape May Borough, Lower Township, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Delaware Bay. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry provides transportation across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Delaware.

Cape May Harbor, which borders Lower Township and nearby Wildwood Crest allows fishing vessels to enter from the Atlantic Ocean, was created as of 1911, after years of dredging completed the harbor which covers 500 acres (200 ha). Cape May Harbor Fest celebrates life in and around the harbor, with the 2011 event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the harbor's creation.

Cape May is the southernmost point in New Jersey; it is at approximately the same latitude as Washington, D.C.

Climate

According to the Köppen climate classification system, Cape May has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa), typical of coastal New Jersey, with hot, humid summers and cool winters.

A panorama of Cape May Harbor.

Precipitation is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. Being the southernmost point in New Jersey, Cape May has fairly mild wintertime temperatures, with a January daily average temperature of 35.1 °F (1.7 °C). Conversely, summer sees less extreme heat than in most places in the state, making the town a popular place to escape the heat; on average there are only 12 days of 90 °F (32 °C)+ temperatures. Snowfall averages 15.7 inches (39.9 cm) per season, mostly from December to February. Extremes in temperature have ranged from −2 °F (−19 °C) on January 17, 1982 up to 106 °F (41 °C) on July 7, 1966; since 1894, sub-0 °F (−18 °C) have occurred only four times and 100 °F (38 °C)+ only seven times.

Cape May is in USDA hardiness zone 7b/8a, similar to parts of coastal Maryland, making it a suitable location to grow traditional northeastern plants including English yew, boxwoods, and sugar maples. Because of the warmer wintertime temperatures, Hardy Palms including Trachycarpus fortunei (Chinese Windmill Palm) and Needle Palms work quite well in the landscape. Wine grapes also do particularly well, given the long growing season.

Climate data for Cape May, New Jersey (1981−2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 42.3
(5.72)
44.3
(6.83)
51.4
(10.78)
60.8
(16)
70.4
(21.33)
79.4
(26.33)
84.5
(29.17)
83.4
(28.56)
77.8
(25.44)
67.1
(19.5)
56.8
(13.78)
46.8
(8.22)
63.75
(17.639)
Average low °F (°C) 27.9
(-2.28)
29.2
(-1.56)
35.2
(1.78)
43.8
(6.56)
52.7
(11.5)
62.5
(16.94)
67.7
(19.83)
66.8
(19.33)
60.7
(15.94)
49.9
(9.94)
41.1
(5.06)
31.9
(-0.06)
47.45
(8.583)
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.32
(84.3)
2.82
(71.6)
4.26
(108.2)
3.53
(89.7)
3.53
(89.7)
3.37
(85.6)
3.70
(94)
3.62
(91.9)
3.27
(83.1)
3.70
(94)
3.29
(83.6)
3.47
(88.1)
41.87
(1,063.5)
Snowfall inches (cm) 4.7
(11.9)
6.6
(16.8)
1.5
(3.8)
.2
(0.5)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
.2
(0.5)
2.5
(6.4)
15.7
(39.9)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.1 10.3 11.4 10.9 10.5 9.3 9.6 8.9 8.1 8.4 8.9 10.3 116.6
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 3.0 2.9 1.0 .2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .1 1.4 8.6
Source: NOAA

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 1,248
1880 1,699 36.1%
1890 2,136 25.7%
1900 2,257 5.7%
1910 2,471 9.5%
1920 2,999 21.4%
1930 2,637 −12.1%
1940 2,583 −2.0%
1950 3,607 39.6%
1960 4,477 24.1%
1970 4,392 −1.9%
1980 4,853 10.5%
1990 4,668 −3.8%
2000 4,034 −13.6%
2010 3,607 −10.6%
2019 (est.) 3,422 −5.1%
Population sources: 1870-2000
1870-1920 1870 1880-1890
1890-1910 1910-1930
1930-1990 2000 2010

2010 Census

As of the census of 2010, there were 3,607 people, 1,457 households, and 782 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,500.6 per square mile (579.4/km2). There were 4,155 housing units at an average density of 1,728.5 per square mile (667.4/km2)*. The racial makeup of the city was 89.05% (3,212) White, 4.85% (175) Black or African American, 0.30% (11) Native American, 0.67% (24) Asian, 0.11% (4) Pacific Islander, 2.30% (83) from other races, and 2.72% (98) from two or more races. [[Hispanic (U.S. Census)|Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.62% (311) of the population.

There were 1,457 households out of which 16.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.6% were married couples living together, 7.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.3% were non-families. 42.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 27.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.95 and the average family size was 2.64.

In the city, the population was spread out with 12.8% under the age of 18, 20.6% from 18 to 24, 18.6% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 27.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42.2 years. For every 100 females there were 104.7 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and old there were 107.4 males.

The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $35,660 (with a margin of error of +/- $4,248) and the median family income was $50,846 (+/- $16,315). Males had a median income of $43,015 (+/- $20,953) versus $31,630 (+/- $22,691) for females. The per capita income for the city was $30,046 (+/- $4,010). About 2.2% of families and 4.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.1% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Emlen-physick-estate
Emlen Physick Estate (1879), Frank Furness, architect. Victorian house museum at 1048 Washington Street.
Capebeachtags
Beach tags are required in order to use Cape May beaches.

Cape May has become known both for its Victorian gingerbread homes and its cultural offerings. The town hosts the Cape May Jazz Festival, the Cape May Music Festival and the Cape May, New Jersey Film Festival. Cape May Stage, an Equity theater founded in 1988, performs at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse on the corner of Bank and Lafayette Streets. East Lynne Theater Company, an Equity professional company specializing in American classics and world premieres, has its mainstage season from June–December and March, with school residencies throughout the year. Cape May is home to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), established in 1970 by volunteers who succeeded in saving the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate from demolition. MAC offers a wide variety of tours, activities and events throughout the year for residents and visitors and operates three Cape May area historic sites—the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, the Cape May Lighthouse and the World War II Lookout Tower. The Center for Community Arts (CCA) offers African American history tours of Cape May, arts programs for young people and is transforming the historic Franklin Street School, constructed in 1928 to house African-American students in a segregated school, into a Community Cultural Center.

Cape May is the home of the so-called "Cape May Diamonds". They show up at Sunset Beach and other beaches in the area. These are in fact clear quartz pebbles that wash down from the Delaware River. They begin as prismatic quartz (including the color sub-varieties such as Smoky Quartz and Amethyst) in the quartz veins alongside the Delaware River that get eroded out of the host rock and wash down 200 miles to the shore. Collecting Cape May diamonds is a popular pastime and many tourist shops sell them polished or even as faceted stones.

The Cape May area is also world-famous for the observation of migrating birds, especially in the fall. With over 400 bird species having been recorded in this area by hundreds of local birders, Cape May is arguably the top bird-watching area in the entire Northeastern United States. The Cape May Bird Observatory is based nearby at Cape May Point.

Cape May is also a destination for marine mammal watching. Several species of whales and dolphins can be seen in the waters of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean, many within 10 miles (16 km) of land, due to the confluence of fresh and saltwater that make for a nutrient rich area for marine life. Whale and dolphin watching cruises are a year-round attraction in Cape May, part of an ecotourism / agritourism industry that generated $450 million in revenue in the county, the most of any in the state.

Fisherman's Memorial

The Cape May Fisherman's Memorial, at Baltimore and Missouri Avenues, was erected in 1988. It consists of a circular plaza reminiscent of a giant compass, a granite statue of a mother and two small children looking out to Harbor Cove, and a granite monument listing the names of 75 local fishermen who died at sea. The names begin with Andrew Jeffers, who died in 1893, and include the six people who died in March 2009 with the sinking of the scalloping boat Lady Mary. The granite statue was designed by Heather Baird with Jerry Lynch. The memorial is maintained by the City of Cape May and administered by the Friends of the Cape May Fisherman's Memorial. Visitors often leave a stone or seashell on the statue's base in tribute to the fishermen.

Transportation

Roads and highways

As of May 2010, the city had a total of 31.63 miles (50.90 km) of roadways, of which 24.99 miles (40.22 km) were maintained by the municipality and 6.64 miles (10.69 km) by Cape May County.

Route 109 leads into Cape May from the north and provides access to the southern terminus of the Garden State Parkway along with US 9 in neighboring Lower Township. US 9 leads to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, which heads across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Delaware.

Public transportation

NJ Transit provides service to Philadelphia on the 313 and 315 routes and to Atlantic City on the 552 route, with seasonal service to Philadelphia on the 316 route and to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan on the 319 route.

The Delaware River and Bay Authority operates a shuttle bus in the summer months which connects the Cape May Transportation Center with the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal.

The city is served by rail from the Cape May City Rail Terminal, offering excursion train service on the Cape May Seashore Lines from the terminal located at the intersection of Lafayette Street and Elmira Street.

Coast Guard Training Center Cape May

The United States Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey is the nation's only Coast Guard Recruit Training Center. In 1924, the U.S. Coast Guard occupied the base and established air facilities for planes used in support of United States Customs Service efforts. During the Prohibition era, several cutters were assigned to Cape May to foil rumrunners operating off the New Jersey coast. After Prohibition, the Coast Guard all but abandoned Cape May leaving a small air/sea rescue contingent. For a short period of time (1929–1934), part of the base was used as a civilian airport. With the advent of World War II, a larger airstrip was constructed and the United States Navy returned to train aircraft carrier pilots. The over the water approach simulated carrier landings at sea. The Coast Guard also increased its Cape May forces for coastal patrol, anti-submarine warfare, air/sea rescue and buoy service. In 1946, the Navy relinquished the base to the Coast Guard.

In 1948, all entry level training on the East Coast was moved to the U.S. Coast Guard Recruit Receiving Station in Cape May. The Coast Guard consolidated all recruit training functions in Cape May in 1982. Currently over 350 military and civilian personnel and their dependents are attached to Training Center Cape May.

In popular culture

  • Cape May is the subject of the song "On the Way to Cape May", originally sung by Cozy Morley.
  • The 1980s horror film The Prowler was filmed entirely on location in Cape May, as was the 1981 film Graduation Day.
  • The town lends its name to the Cape May Cafe, a restaurant in the Beach Club Resort at Walt Disney World.
  • The 19th episode of season 3 of NBC's The Blacklist features Cape May.

Economy

Shops at Downtown Cape May, 2017
Shops at Downtown Cape May

Tourism is the dominant industry. Cape May's economy runs on shops, restaurants, lodgings and tourist attractions on Washington Street Mall, along the boardwalk and elsewhere throughout town. Many historic hotels and B&Bs dot the landscape. Commercial and sport fishing are also important to Cape May's economy. The Cove Beach host hundreds of swimmers, sunbathers, surfers, and hikers each day. Located at the very south west end of town, with a totally unobstructed view each day of the sunset Marine mammal watching, bird watching, and other forms of eco-tourism have become equally important. A small wine growing area is adjacent to Cape May and tours of several wineries are available.

For a period of several decades before 2010, French Canadian tourists visited Cape May during the summer. Cape May County established a tourism office in Montreal, Quebec, but around 1995 it closed due to budget cuts. By 2010 the tourism office of Cape May County established a French language coupon booklet.

Education

CapeMayESNJ
Cape May City Elementary School

For pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, public school students attend Cape May City Elementary School as part of the Cape May City School District. Also attending are students from Cape May Point, a non-operating district, as part of a sending/receiving relationship, with most students in the district coming from the United States Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. As of the 2018–19 school year, the district, comprised of one school, had an enrollment of 153 students and 20.7 classroom teachers (on an FTE basis), for a student–teacher ratio of 7.4:1.

FormerOurLadyStaroftheSeaSchoolCapeMayNJ
The former Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School, which merged into what became Wildwood Catholic Academy

For seventh through twelfth grades, public school students attend the schools of the Lower Cape May Regional School District, which serves students from Cape May City, Cape May Point, Lower Township and West Cape May. Schools in the district (with 2018–19 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics) are Richard M. Teitelman Middle School with 472 students in grades 7-8 and Lower Cape May Regional High School (LCMRHS) with 828 students in grades 9-12. In the 2011–12 school year, the city of Cape May paid $6 million in property taxes to cover the district's 120 high school students, an average of $50,000 per student attending the Lower Cape May district. Cape May officials have argued that the district's funding formula based on assessed property values unfairly penalizes Cape May, which has higher property values and a smaller number of high school students as a percentage of the population than the other constituent districts, especially Lower Township. The district's board of education has nine members, who are elected directly by voters to serve three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with three seats up for election each year Seats on the board are allocated based on population, with Cape May City assigned one seat.

CapeMayCityLib2
Cape May Library

Students are also eligible to attend Cape May County Technical High School in Cape May Court House, which serves students from the entire county in its comprehensive and vocational programs, which are offered without charge to students who are county residents. Special needs students may be referred to Cape May County Special Services School District in the Cape May Court House area.

The nearest private Catholic school serving Cape May is Wildwood Catholic Academy (PreK-12) in North Wildwood, under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden.

Colleges and universities in the Cape May area include Atlantic Cape Community College, Rutgers University–Camden, and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

The Cape May Branch of the Cape May County Public Library is located in Cape May City. The library was previously in city hall but later moved to a standalone building. In 2009 an estimated $507,800 renovation was to take place with $395,300, or about 78% of the expenses, paid by Cape May County.

History of education

Franklin Street School Cape May
The former Franklin Street School, the elementary school for black children

The first Cape May High School, built in 1901, was designed by Seymour Davis and built for $35,000. In 1917 a new Cape May High School facility was built, with the 1901 building becoming an elementary school. In the past Cape May elementary schools were segregated on the basis of race, with black elementary school students attending Franklin Street School. Cape May High School educated students of all races. Cape May High closed effective December 22, 1960, and LCMRHS opened in 1961. Circa 1970 the first Cape May High School building was demolished, and an Acme Markets location occupies where it was. The second Cape May High School building has since become the city hall and police station.

Cape May previously had its own Catholic K-8 school, Our Lady Star of the Sea School, which served as the parish school for Our Lady Star of the Sea, St. John of God (North Cape May) and St. Raymond (Villas) churches. The St. Raymond School closed in 2007 with students sent to Our Lady Star of the Sea. In 2010 Our Lady Star of the Sea merged into Cape Trinity Regional School (PreK – 8) in North Wildwood. That school in turn merged into Wildwood Catholic Academy in 2020.

Starting in 2010, discussions were under way regarding a possible consolidation of the districts of Cape May City, Cape May Point and the West Cape May School District.

Notable people

People who were born in, residents of, or otherwise closely associated with Cape May include:

  • Douglas Adams (1876–1931), cricketer, who played for the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in First class cricket.
  • Cliff Anderson (1929–1979), football player who played two seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants.
  • Nan Brooks (1935–2018), children's book illustrator.
  • Frederick B. Dent (1922–2019), politician who served as the United States Secretary of Commerce from 1973 to 1975.
  • Eugene Grace (1876–1960), president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation from 1916 to 1945.
  • Bubba Green (born 1957), football player who played defensive lineman for one season for the Baltimore Colts.
  • T. Millet Hand (1902–1956), politician who represented New Jersey's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives and served as mayor of Cape May.
  • Thomas H. Hughes (1769–1839), the founder and owner of the Congress Hall Hotel, and a Democratic-Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey.
  • Chris Jay (born 1978), musician, actor and screenwriter. Founding member of the band, Army of Freshmen.
  • Alan Kotok (1941–2006), computer scientist known for his work at Digital Equipment Corporation and at the World Wide Web Consortium.
  • John D. Lankenau (1817–1901), German-American businessman and philanthropist.
  • Jarena Lee (1783–1864), the first woman authorized to preach by Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1819.
  • Anthony Maher (born 1979), professional soccer forward.
  • Myles Martel (born 1943), communication adviser.
  • Sylvius Moore (1912–2004), football player and coach who was head coach of the Hampton Pirates football team.
  • Richie Phillips (1940–2013), sports union leader.
  • Bill Pilczuk (born 1971), competitive swimmer.
  • Louis Purnell (1920–2001), curator at the National Air and Space Museum and earlier in life, a decorated Tuskegee Airman.
  • Emil Salvini (born 1949), author, historian and host / creator of PBS's Tales of the Jersey Shore.
  • Charles W. Sandman Jr. (1921–1985), politician who represented New Jersey's 2nd congressional district and was the party's candidate for Governor of New Jersey in 1973.
  • I. Grant Scott (1897–1964), politician who served in the New Jersey General Assembly, the New Jersey Senate and as Mayor of Cape May.
  • Barbara Lee Smith (born 1938), mixed media artist, writer, educator and curator.
  • Witmer Stone (1866–1939), ornithologist who did much of his research in Cape May.
  • Paul Volcker (1927–2019), former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve who was born here while his father was the City Manager.
  • John B. Walthour (1904–1952), 4th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

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