Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cape May, New Jersey and a Trolley Tour

After a wonderful five days of camping, we continued our vacation by changing the scenery a bit.  We left the mountains of the Bald Eagle State Park of Howard, Pennsylvania, drove back home, parked the camper, emptied its refrigerator, picked up some clean clothing, and headed to the New Jersey beach.

In contrast to the lazy, relaxing way we spent the first half of our vacation, the five days we spent at the beach were packed full of all sorts of interesting and new adventures.

Washington Street Mall
We've stayed at the Jersey beaches many times throughout our lives, and we especially enjoy returning there, year after year.  Usually we tend to visit the same places, eat at the same restaurants, and do the same things.

This year, however, we determined ahead of time to find some new experiences in the same old place.  So, we made it a mix of the old (Mack's Pizza must not be missed there, ever) and the new.

On the first morning we set out from our hotel in Wildwood and drove down the coast to Cape May.  Always in the past, we would spend several hours nosing in and out of the shops and eateries of the Washington Street Mall, in the heart of Cape May.

As usual, there were numerous horse and carriage rigs showing folks around the town.

For something new and different, we took a trolley tour of the historic district of Cape May.  A knowledgeable guide was on board who shared entertaining and educational stories about the nation's first seashore resort and its rich history.

We passed by all sorts of brightly colored Victorian style homes.  Many varieties of gingerbread trim adorned these homes, along with exotic color schemes.

 Our guide informed us that although there are strict building codes for those homes in the historic district, there are no regulations regarding the paint colors.  So, home owners try to out-do each other with their elaborate and colorful colors.  See for yourself:

Tours of the Cherry House are available

If you look carefully at each of those houses, you may notice that the one thing they all have in common is a large front porch.  Our guide informed us that back in the day, it was important to the residents to be able to look up and down their street, and be able to see what all their neighbors were up to.  (I do that too.)  Also, they felt that they were more likely to attract dinner invitations if they sat out on their porches so their neighbors would know they were back in town for the summer season.

The Emlen Physick Victorian mansion
At the conclusion of the trolley tour, we were deposited at the entrance to the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May's only Victorian house museum.  This 18 room home was built in the Stick Style of architecture, which was viewed as somewhat avant-garde for Cape May.  It has the trademark design features of renowned architect Frank Furness, and provides an in depth glimpse of the period.

Dr. Physick's house and even his furniture was architect designed:  no off-the-shelf retail stuff for him.  He had indoor bathrooms and piped hot water, when everyone around him contented themselves with outhouses and boiling water in pots on the stove.  Although this was a very wealthy estate that employed many servants, I found the decor to be way too dark and depressing.  The wallpaper was atrocious.  It closely resembled some wallpaper we have found in our own 1890's home after we removed several more modern layers.

The Carriage House at the Emlen Physick Estate
Finally, on the grounds of the Physick home, we visited the Carriage House.  This building has changing exhibits throughout the year, and currently houses an exhibit highlighting Cape May's Chalfonte Hotel.  Built by Civil War hero Henry Sawyer who was taken prisoner 150 years ago, the Chalfonte Hotel has hosted guests continuously for over 137 years.  Home to heroes, heroines, heartaches, legends, love affairs, unforgettable characters and nationally famous cooks, the hotel's intriguing history was displayed in this interesting pictorial exhibit.

I found our trolley tour of historic Cape May and the subsequent stop at this Victorian estate quite enlightening, especially since my 1890's home is of the same Victorian era and is subject to our town's historic district regulations.  I find it challenging to try to imagine how people lived and did things in earlier eras.

As for me, I'm just glad we have comfortable indoor plumbing nowadays, and that we don't have to boil our steaks in a pot of water over a fire.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great houses! It is always fun to play tourist in an area you are familiar with.