The seaside resort of Cape May was named for Dutchman Cornelis Mey, who sailed past this part of southeastern New Jersey in 1616. Originally known as Cape Island, the area was settled by a handful of English-speaking farmers and whalers in the 1690s. By 1776, it was advertised as a popular, healthy place for bathing in the ocean. The first boardinghouses were erected in the early 1800s, and by 1850, the town boasted nearly two dozen. Vacationers came from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and even the Deep South, many building summer cottages along the shore. The establishment of rail service in 1863 brought a new era of growth and even more hotels. Although a devastating fire in 1878 destroyed several of the oldest, they were soon replaced by new hotels and cottages boasting broad porches and eaves lavished with gingerbread trim. Today, most of Cape May City is a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its well-preserved collection of Victorian-era buildings. Cape May showcases the rich architectural and recreational heritage of this coastal New Jersey town.
By Joseph E. Salvatore MD, and Joan Berkey