As revolutionary novelist Søren Kierkegaard once stated, “Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward.” What better time to truly get in touch with our area’s history than a lazy rainy day? We here at Blast have decided to outline a few of Cape May County’s historical landmarks that are definitely worth a visit in order to learn about our rich past and thus gain more understanding of our looming future.
Naval Air Station Wildwood
Naval Air Station (NAS) Wildwood Aviation Museum is a non-profit museum located at the Cape May Airport inside historic Hangar #1. Commissioned in April 1943, NAS Wildwood served as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility during World War II. Today, Hangar #1 has been restored and transformed into an Aviation Museum that houses a number of aircraft, engines, special exhibits, and educational interactive displays. The museum’s mission is to memorialize the 42 known airmen who perished here while training during World War II, educate the public, and restore Hangar #1. The museum invites visitors to explore aviation, New Jersey, military and WW II history through “hands-on,” fun and educational activities for the entire family!
500 Forrestal Road, Cape May Airport
Cape May Lighthouse
The Cape May Lighthouse is at the tip of Cape May, in Lower Township’s Cape May Point State Park. It was built in 1859 under the supervision of U.S. Army engineer William F. Raynolds, was automated in 1946, continues operation to this day, and is said to be the second oldest continually operating lighthouse in the United States. There are 199 steps to the top of the Lighthouse where the best panoramic views of the Atlantic in all of Cape May County can be enjoyed. The view from the top extends to Cape May City and Wildwood to the north, Cape May Point to the south, and, on a clear day, Cape Henlopen, Delaware, to the west. On the way to the top, visitors can view interpretive exhibits about the lighthouse’s history, the lives of the former keepers, and other maritime history of the Jersey Cape.
215 Light House Ave, Cape May Point
SS Atlantus is the most famous of the twelve concrete ships built by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Brunswick, Georgia during and after World War I. The steamer was launched on December 5, 1918, and was the second concrete ship constructed in the World War I Emergency Fleet. The war had ended a month earlier, but the Atlantus was used to transport American troops back home from Europe and also to transport coal in New England. After 2 years of service, the ship was retired in 1920 to a salvage yard in Virginia. In 1926, Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld purchased the Atlantus for use in the creation of a ferry dock. The Atlantus was repaired and towed to Cape May, New Jersey. On June 8, 1926, a storm hit and the ship broke free of her moorings and ran aground 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach, New Jersey. Several attempts were made to free the ship, but none were successful.
Sunset Blvd, Cape May
J. Thompson Baker House
Built in 1904 to replicate the White House, it once was the private residence of the first mayor of Wildwood, J. Thompson Baker, and his family. Baker, along with his two brothers, was a founding father of Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. He was elected the first Wildwood mayor as well as one of the first congressman elected in Cape May County. The Baker family built this historical home as a refuge for relaxation from city life in Philadelphia. Now home to the Wildwood Civic Club, the J. Thompson Baker House is proud to announce the availabitly of provate guided tours through the historical residence. Appointments are required for all tours. For more info, call 609-522-0060 or 609-522-3639.
3008 Atlantic Avenue, Wildwood
Emlen Physick Estate
Attributed to the renowned architect Frank Furness, this 18-room mansion is one of the finest examples of “Stick Style” architecture in America. The Estate was designed for Dr. Emlen Physick, descendant of a wealthy and famous Philadelphia family, and his widowed mother, Mrs. Ralston and maiden Aunt Emilie. Although Emlen followed the family tradition and completed his medical training, he never practiced and rather lived the life of a country gentleman in Cape May.
Cape May is reputedly one of America’s most haunted towns, and nowhere else is this reputation so well-earned as at the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May’s original haunted house. For years, MAC’s staffers had felt they were not alone in the house, but it was not until psychic medium Craig McManus began his investigations into the town’s paranormal activities that those who were not regular members of the MAC staff were identified. Most prominent among them is Dr. Physick’s Aunt Emilie, who has great energy and a vibrant smile. Another resident is Isabelle, or Bella, Mrs. Ralston’s invalid younger sister, who died in 1883, shortly after the family moved into the mansion. Among the unique spirits that McManus has reported are several of Dr. Physick’s dogs.
1048 Washington Street, Cape May
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
Historic and picturesque Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, a beacon of safety and assurance to the 19th century mariners, has become a cherished landmark for residents and visitors of this seashore resort community. The Lighthouse is situated on the south side of the Hereford Inlet, which leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the famed Intra-Coastal Waterway linking Maine to Florida. First used by the 17th century whalers to haul in and butcher their catches, the Inlet’s use as a haven to mariners greatly increased as travel and shipping along the coast became more prevalent. Strong currents and shifting sandbars near the entrance to the Inlet caused frequent groundings and shipwrecks. Because of this, in 1849, a Life Saving Station was constructed along the south bank of the Hereford Inlet. As the use of the Inlet and coastal shipping continued to increase, so did the number of shipwrecks. It became obvious that a Lighthouse was needed to mark the mouth of the Inlet. Construction began on the uninhabited barrier island on Nov. 8, 1873 and was completed on March 30, 1874. This wood frame residential style Lighthouse was designed by the Lighthouse Boards Chief Draftsman, Paul J. Pelz. His Victorian era design is referred to as “Swiss Carpenter Gothic” and also “Stick Style”. Hereford is the only Lighthouse like it on the East Coast.
111 North Central Avenue, North Wildwood