Cape May Historic District facts for kids
Cape May Historic District
|Location||Cape May, New Jersey|
|Area||380 acres (1.5 km2)|
|Architectural style||Late Victorian|
|NRHP reference No.||70000383|
Quick facts for kidsSignificant dates
|Added to NRHP||December 29, 1970|
|Designated NHLD||May 11, 1976|
The Cape May Historic District is an area of 380 acres (1.5 km2) with over 600 buildings in the resort town of Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey. The city claims to be America's first seaside resort and has numerous buildings in the Late Victorian style, including the Eclectic, Stick, and Shingle styles, as well as the later Bungalow style, many with gingerbread trim. According to National Park Service architectural historian Carolyn Pitts, "Cape May has one of the largest collections of late 19th century frame buildings left in the United States... that give it a homogeneous architectural character, a kind of textbook of vernacular American building."
The City of Cape May sits at the south end of Cape May Peninsula which divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Delaware Bay. Cape May Point, about two miles west of the City of Cape May, borders the Bay, while Cape May City borders the Ocean. Cape Island Creek, a tidal "creek" and marsh, originally divided the site of the city from the rest of Cape May, but its southern end has long been covered with landfill. The Cape May Canal, built in 1942, now divides both Cape May City and Cape May Point from the rest of the peninsula.
History of Cape May
Cape May was first discovered by Europeans by Henry Hudson on August 28, 1609. He landed on the shore of Delaware Bay a few miles north of Cape May Point before returning to the Atlantic Ocean. Cornelius Mey explored the area further in 1621 for the Dutch West India Company and by May, 1630 Samuel Godyn and Samuel Blommaert bought land for the Dutch from Native Americans covering the southern four miles of the Cape. In 1632 the Dutch established a fishing and whaling settlement in the area, but by 1638 colonists from New England had moved in. By the 1660s the English gained control and Daniel Coxe, a London Quaker, organized a government in 1687. Early settlers worked in the lumber, shipbuilding, whaling, fishing and shellfish industries. A road along the coast built in 1796 helped establish the hamlet of Cape May.
The early emergence of Cape May as a summer resort was due to easy transport by water from Philadelphia to the Atlantic Ocean. Early Cape May vacationers were carried to the town on sloops from Philadelphia, and water transport was also easy from New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and points south. Southerners later became a large proportion of summer vacationers. The resort business in Cape May began to thrive when regular steamboat traffic on the Delaware River began after the War of 1812, carrying passengers from Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware. Commodore Stephen Decatur made his summer home at the Atlantic Hotel about this time. The predecessor of the Congress Hall Hotel was opened in 1816 by Thomas Hughes. It took its current name in 1828, when Hughes was elected to Congress. In 1830 a visitor wrote that
Cape May Island is a noted and much frequented watering place, the season at which commences about the first of July and continues until the middle of August or the first of September. There are six boarding houses, three of which are very large; the sea bathing is convenient and excellent, the beach affords pleasant drives and there is excellent fishing in adjacent waters.
Early visitors included Henry Clay in 1847, and possibly Abraham Lincoln in 1849. Serving Presidents who visited included Franklin Pierce (1855), James Buchanan (1858), Ulysses Grant (1873), Chester Arthur (1883), and Benjamin Harrison (1889). Harrison made Congress Hall his Summer White House. From the 1850s through the 1880s up to 3,000 visitors arrived each day during the summer season. Newport, Rhode Island, Saratoga Springs, New York and Long Branch, New Jersey were the town's main rivals in the summer resort business, as Cape May's reputation rose and fell with the whims of fashion.
During the 1850s summer cottages were first built and the construction of large hotels continued. Thomas U. Walter, the Architect of the Capitol, designed an addition to the Columbia Hotel. The Mount Vernon Hotel, which was designed to be the largest hotel in the world burned down in 1856, however, before its completion. Competition from Atlantic City appeared in 1854 with the construction of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. Cape May was not connected to Philadelphia by rail until the completion of the Cape May & Millville Railroad in the mid-1860s.
Architect Stephen Decatur Button began designing buildings in Cape May in 1863 when he remodeled and expanded the Columbia Hotel. During the next thirty years he designed over forty buildings in the town. His best known buildings there include the John McCreary House (1869–70), Jackson's Clubhouse (1872), the Stockton Cottages (1872), the Windsor Hotel (1879) and the Atlantic Terrace Houses (1891–92). Plans for the George Allen House are believed to have been taken from a pattern book by Samuel Sloan. Architect Frank Furness is believed to have designed the Emlen Physick Estate, but may have otherwise visited Cape May only as a vacationer. Otherwise most of the buildings were built and designed by local builders in the vernacular style, borrowing from older buildings, pattern books and fashionable architects alike.
Several fires destroyed portions of the town and the mostly wooden, frame-built houses. The fire of 1878 destroyed about half the town, but many buildings were quickly rebuilt. This fire gave a particular boost to Button's career, and many of the local builders appear to have copied Button's style at this time. These newer buildings were built with gingerbread trim, gables and turrets.
From about 1900-1920 larger bungalows and mansions were built, especially on Beach Avenue on the eastern end of town. Having lost its transportation advantage with the coming of the railroad and the automobile, Cape May fell out of fashion as a popular resort. Atlantic City became the popular New Jersey beach resort in the 1920s and in the 1950s and 1960s the automobile-oriented Wildwoods, just north of Cape May, became a strong competitor, with its own distinctive architecture.
The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and then listed as a National Historic Landmark District in 1976. The NRHP nomination form does not include an inventory of the buildings in the district, but rather refers to about 20 buildings that were documented by drawings or photographs by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). HABS now lists about 70 buildings in the district.
Architectural historians George E. Thomas and Carl Doebley list 100 significant buildings in their 1976 book Cape May, Queen of the Seaside Resorts: Its History and Architecture.
Selected contributing properties
Contributing properties in the district include the following. Construction dates may be approximate. T&D reference gives the reference number from George E. Thomas and Carl Doebley's book with Roman numerals indicating the more significant buildings, and Arabic numerals the less significant buildings. Both lists are ordered by approximate date of construction. HABS reference links to the building's page in the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress.
|Name||Image||Address||Date||Architect||Builder||Notes||T&D reference||HABS reference|
|Erwin Agnew House||20 First Avenue
||1886||Unknown||Ware and Eldredge||In the Mt. Vernon tract||43|
|George Allen House||720 Washington St.
||1863-64||Plans from Samuel Sloan||Henry Phillipps||An elegant Italianate villa, called "one of the State's most impressive 19th-century seaside structures."||II||NJ0012|
|Arlington Hotel||Grant and North Streets
||1878||Unknown||Joseph Q. Williams||Also known as Huntington House.||25||NJ0928|
|Atlantic Terrace Houses||10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 Jackson St.
||1891-92||Stephen Decatur Button||William Cassedy||Seven essentially identical balloon frame houses built on the site of the Atlantic Hotel. Three stories in height, with a one-story porch and a bay window with an ogee roof at the second story, they face an off-street courtyard.||XX||NJ0013|
|Julius Baily House||907 Stockton Avenue
|Baltimore Hotel||644 Hughes Street
||1867 or later||Unknown||Unknown||In 1896 the Episcopal church established The Girls' Friendly Society here.||4|
|Beirn's Cottage||5 Perry Street
||1879||Enos Williams||Enos Williams||AKA Avenue House.||29|
|George Boyd House||1501 Beach Avenue
||1911||Frank Seeburger||Unknown||Georgian Revival style with two-story porches.||XXVI||NJ0014|
|Charles Burns House||929-931 Beach Avenue
||1881-82||Enos Williams||Williams and Cassidy||Corner tower reflects the influence of the J. McCreary house.||33||NJ0952|
|Cape Island Baptist Church (1916)||SE corner of Columbia Avenue and Gurney Street
||1916||Ferdinand Witt||Winchester Bonham||67||NJ0954|
|Cape Island Presbyterian Church (1853)||417 Lafayette Street
||1853||Unknown||Peter Hand||Wooden construction with an "onion-style" cupola. First of two churches built by the congregation.||I||NJ0016|
|Cape Island Presbyterian Church (1898)||Hughes and Decatur
||1898||Isaac Purcell||George West||Third church built by the congregation and currently used by it.||XXIII|
|Cape May City Firehouse||923 Washington St.||1875||none||Enos Williams||Across the street from the current fire station||19||NJ0354|
|Cape May High School||Washington St.||1917||Henry Vaughn||William Porter||Now used as city hall||68|
|Carroll Villa||19 Jackson St.
additions 1892 and 1895
|Unknown||Charles Shaw for George Hildreth.||Eclectic Victorian style with Italianate motifs. Named for Charles Carroll to attract clientele from Maryland.||XVII||NJ0017|
|Chalfonte Hotel||NW corner of Howard and Sewell St.
||1875, 1876, 1879, 1888, etc.||Unknown||C.Shaw, D.D. Moore & Sons, and others||Originally built for Henry Sawyer. "Cape May's oldest and most ornate large hotel."||VIII||NJ0018|
|Horatio Church House||921 Washington St.||1888||Unknown||Hand and Ware||Shingled walls and gable and turned porch posts.||44|
|Cold Spring Life Saving Station||1111 Beach Avenue
||1890||Unknown||Unknown||Now Kiwanis Club||47|
|Colonial Hotel||Beach Dr. between Ocean and Gurney
||1894-95||William and C.S. Church||William and C.S. Church||South wing added 1905.||XXI||NJ0019|
|Congress Hall||251 Beach Dr. (between Congress and Perry)
||1879||J.F. Meyer||Richard Dobbins||Three-story veranda with mansard roof. Very large hotel visited by several presidents, including Benjamin Harrison who had offices here in 1891. Third hotel on the site. S.D. Button addition 1880.||X||NJ0020|
|Cook's Villa||9 Perry St.
||1879||Unknown||Wiliam L. Cummings||Second Empire style, with two-story porch with pierced tile trimming. Also known as Fryer's Cottage.||28||NJ0021|
|Denizot's Ocean View House||Decatur and Beach Avenues
|Ebbitt House||25 Jackson Street
||1879||Enos Williams||Enos Williams||Also known as Virginia Cottage.||30|
|J.R. Evans House||207 Congress Place
||1882-83||Stephen Decatur Button||Joseph Stretch||Simple proportions and horizontal form typical of Button.||XV||NJ0512|
|Charles Ferguson House||101 South Lafayette Street
||1870-71||Stephen Decatur Button||Hand and Ware||13||NJ0934|
|First Baptist Church||727-731 Franklin
||1879||C.H. Brown||Charles Shaw||Congregation moved to Cape Island Baptist Church in 1916. This building became the Franklin Street United Methodist Church, and is now condominiums. One story built in the Gothic Revival style. The spire was destroyed by lightning in the early 20th century.||XII||NJ0015|
|John Forsythe House||1601 Beach Avenue
||1910-11||J.A. Dempwald||Original cost $35,000||58|
|Frank Furness Cottage||261 Grant Street
||1870||Unknown||R.J.Dobbins||Owned, but not designed, by famous architect Frank Furness||10|
|Christopher Gallagher House||45 Jackson Street
||1882-83||Charles Shaw||Charles Shaw||Originally identical to the Hildreth Cottage.||38||NJ0943|
|J.H. Gemrig House||107 Ocean St.||1888 or 1889||Unknown||Unknown||45||NJ0946|
|George Graham Cottage||20 Queen St.
|Charles Grange House||1229 New Jersey Avenue
||1912||Unknown||Sherman Sharp||First and most expensive of 5 similar houses.||60|
|Nelson Z. Graves House||1117 New Jersey Avenue
||1912||Lloyd Titus||Unknown||Eclectic style.||XXIX|
|Douglas Gregory House||102 Ocean Street
||1881-82||Unknown||Unknown||Conservative, symmetrical, but rich design.||37||NJ0935|
|Joseph Hall Cottage||645 Hughes St.||1868||Unknown||Unknown||5||NJ0686|
|Frederick Harding Cottage||1117 Beach Avenue||1916||Dehmond, Ashmead, Bickley||Sherman Sharp||Built on Cape May Real Estate Co. land after its liquidation.||66|
|Joseph Hanes House||206 Perry Street
||1879-80||Enos Williams||Samuel Colladay||Typical Gothic Revival center-gabled cottage with elaborate porch.||XIII|
|Harrison, Warne and Morris Houses||615, 617, 621 Columbia Avenue
||1867-68||Stephen Decatur Button||Hand and Ware||All similar except that the Morris House has cast iron used on the porch.||IV||NJ0942|
|John T. Hewitt House||1311 New Jersey Avenue
||1914||Ferdinand Witt||York Brothers||Six bedrooms, 3 baths, 3 servant rooms and a garage with chauffeur's quarters.||XXX|
|George Hildreth House||17 Jackson St.
||1882||None||Charles Shaw||Hexagonal porch reflects Button's influence.||XVI||NJ0022|
|James Hildreth House||815 Washington Street
|Francis Hill House||1001 Beach Drive||1910-11||Frank Seeburger||Metzger and Wells||Interesting double gable. Original cost $20,000.||57|
|House at 10 Broadway||10 Broadway
|House at 815 Kearney||815 Kearney
|House at 817 Kearney||817 Kearney
|Dr. Henry Hunt House||209 Congress Place
||1881, renovated in the 1890s||Unknown||George Stretch||1890s addition added plumbing and ornament.||35||NJ0862|
|Jackson's Clubhouse||635 Columbia Avenue
||1872||Stephen Decatur Button||Hand and Ware||Originally a gambling club. "S.D. Button's finest surviving design in Cape May."||VII||NJ0025|
|J.F. Jacoby House||Columbia and Franklin
||1899-1900||Unknown||York Bros.||Colonial Revival style, with some decorative millwork.||52|
|Barclay Johnson House||1119-21 New Jersey Avenue||1913-14||Unknown||Sherman Sharp||Several features indicate a new "East Cape May" style.||62|
|Eldridge Johnson House||33 Perry St.
||1882||Unknown||Unknown||Moved from 225 Congress St. in 1970. Now known as the Pink House. "A tour de force in decorative millwork."||XIV||NJ0026|
|E.C. Knight House||203 Congress Place
||1882-83||Stephen Decatur Button||Unknown||Nearly identical to the Evans House next door.||36||NJ0500|
|Jacob Leaming House||712 Columbia Avenue
||1879||Unknown||Unknown||Permanent awning a recent addition.||31|
|James Leaming House||130 Decatur St.||1895||Unknown||Ware and Eldredge||Tiny cottage (on left in photo) with complex front. Roseman Cottage on the right.||51|
|Joseph Leedom House||111-113 Congress St.
||1887||Charles Collum||Unknown||Queen Anne style.||XIX|
|Joseph Lewis House||819 Beach Dr.
||1870||Unknown||Unknown||Stone basement and porch with Doric columns added 1905.||14||NJ0028|
|S.R. Ludlam House||Kearney and Jefferson Streets
||1875||Unknown||Unknown||Moved from Ocean and Columbia Avenue around 1900||23|
|Macomber Hotel||NW corner of Beach Dr. and Howard St.
||1919 or later||Unknown||Unknown||Reflects the "quiet middle-class resort of the 1920s."||69||NJ0024|
|Peter McCollum development houses||705 & 725 Columbia Avenue||1868-72||Peter McCollum (possibly)||Richard Souder (probably)||A basic formula was used by developer Peter McCollum, usually with contractor Richard Souder. After one house was built and sold, another would be built nearby.||7|
|John McConnell House||13 Jackson Street
||1882 or later||Unknown||Unknown||Sophisticated form, possibly from a Philadelphia architect.||39||NJ0033|
|George McCreary House||606 Columbia Avenue||1873||Stephen Decatur Button||Ware and Eldridge||18|
|John B. McCreary House||SW corner of Gurney and Columbia St.
||1869-70||Stephen Decatur Button||Richard Dobbins||Also known as the Christian Science Society.||V||NJ0030|
|Kate McCreary House||1005 Beach Avenue
||1922-1924||Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary
|Known locally as the "Mae West house" due to its protruding porches.||70||NJ0951|
|Evan Morris Cottage||17 Ocean St.
||1888||Charles Shaw||Charles Shaw||46|
|William Morice House||937 Beach Avenue
||1912||Brochie and Hastings||Sherman Sharp & Co.||Colonial Revival||59|
|Jacob Neafie House||26-30 Congress Street
|Jacob Neafie and John Levy stable||33 Windsor Street
||1865-66||Unknown||Unknown||Converted from a stable into a cottage.||3|
|New Jersey Trust and Safe Deposit||526 Washington St.
||1895||Thomas Stephens||Samuel Wiley||Small Renaissance Revival style first used as a bank, then as city hall, now as a store.||XXII||NJ0031|
|New York Avenue Development House||1021 New York Avenue||1909-11||C.E. Shermerhorn (possibly)||Unknown||One of 21 originally identical houses, all modified in 1916.||56|
|George Ogden Cottage||737 Washington St.||1895||Unknown||George Ogden (probably)||Ogden was a lumberyard operator and contractor. He may have sold the "standard gingerbread" elements from his lumberyard.||48|
|Henry Parker Cottage||22 Jackson St.||1896 or later||Unknown||Unknown||Similar in design to Aaron Roseman Cottage||49|
|Emlen Physick Estate||1048 Washington St.
||1878-79||Frank Furness (attributed)||Charles Shaw||Very similar to Furness's William Rhawn House (1879) in Philadelphia.||IX||NJ0034|
|Potts Cottage||511 Hughes Street
||1881||Unknown||Unknown||Tiny cottage with an elaborately infilled gable.||32||NJ0937|
|Russell Robinson Development House||1607 New Jersey Avenue
||1914-15||Unknown||Russell Robinson||One of 6 adjoining houses, all built on speculation.||64|
|Aaron Roseman Cottage||132 Decatur St.
||1895-96||Unknown||Walter Peterman||Similar in construction to Parker Cottage.||50||NJ0957|
|St. John's Episcopal Church||Washington and Franklin St.
||1867-68||Henry Sims||Richard Souder||Original stained glass windows by I.C. Spence of Montreal.||III||NJ0036|
|St. Mary's Catholic Church||Washington and Ocean Streets
||1911||George Lovett||William McShane||Norman revival. Ceiling decorated with stars.||XXVII||NJ0949|
|Jeremiah Schellenger House||1284 Lafayette St.
||1860||Unknown||Unknown||2 story octagon house with Italianate details.||20||NJ0032|
|General Sewell House||249 Grant
||1870||Unknown||R.J. Dobbins||Built or sponsored by the West Jersey Railroad.||11|
|William Sewell, Jr. House||1507 Beach Avenue
||1912||Zantzinger, Borie & Medary||William Cummings||XXVIII||NJ0950|
|Peter Shields House||1301-1303 Beach Avenue
||1906-07||Lloyd Titus||William Cummings||First owner also was president of Cape May Real Estate Company.||XXV|
|Moses Simon Cottage||631 Columbia Avenue
|Selina Slaymaker House||11 North Street
||1877||Unknown||Unknown||Also known as Dolores Cottage.||24|
|Peter Small House||14 Broadway||1885 or earlier||Unknown||Unknown||In the Mt. Vernon tract. Developed by Mark Devine. Porch added later.||42|
|Morning Star Villa||1307 Beach Avenue
||1884-85 and later additions||Collins and Autenreich||Ware and Eldridge||Fourth floor built 1893 above the mansard roof.||XVIII||NJ0963|
|Dr. R. Walter Starr Cottage||1500 New Jersey Avenue
||1906||R.E. White||Metzgers and White||55|
|Joseph and John Steiner Cottages||22 and 24 Congress Street||1851||Unknown||Unknown||1|
|John K. Stites Cottage||659 Hughes Street||1869-70||Unknown||Hoffman and Williams||8|
|Stockton Cottages||12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30 Gurney St.
||1872||Stephen Decatur Button||Harden and Bro.||Lavish exteriors, simple interiors. All very similar except for larger porches on 26-30.||VI||NJ0039|
|John Tack House||715 Columbia Avenue||1872-73||Stephen Decatur Button||Joseph Q. Williams||16|
|Henry Tatham House||805 Beach Avenue
||1872-73||Stephen Decatur Button||Hand and Ware||Also known as Stockton Manor||17||NJ0944|
|Otis Townsend House||115 Reading St.
||1915||Unknown||Unknown||On long narrow lot. Built by carpenter-developer Townsend.||65|
|James Trindle House||1120 New Jersey Avenue||1913-14||Duhring, Okie, and Ziegler||Thompson, Dickson, & Co.||Colonial Revival||61|
|Thomas Wales House||1033-1035 Lafayette Street
||1870||Unknown||Unknown||Modernized in 1898 by McCollin and Fast.||12||NJ0140|
|Dr. Ware's Drugstore||Ocean and Columbia Streets
|J. Stratton Ware House||653 Hughes Street||1868 or later||Unknown||Probably J. S. Ware||6||NJ0825|
|Thomas Webster House||933 Washington St.
||1876||Enos Williams||Enos Williams||21|
|William Weightman House||Trenton Avenue near Beach
||1881-82 (alteration)||Unknown||Ware and Eldredge (alteration)||Moved from Washington and Franklin to Ocean and Beach avenues, then to Reading Avenue.||34||NJ0947|
|Thomas Williamson Cottage||501 Hughes Street||1885||Unknown||Unknown||41|
|John Wilson Cottages||15 & 17 Jefferson St.||1901||Unknown||William L. Cummings||54|
|Windsor Hotel||Beach Drive between Congress and Windsor
||1879||Stephen Decatur Button||Hoover and Hughes||Built immediately after 1878 fire. The fourth floor and elevator were added in 1899.||XI||NJ0004|
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