Historic Cape May: Victorian Sightseeing, World War II, and History on a Budget

In New Jersey, you cannot go much further south than Cape May. A long time heralded vacation spot, its beaches are one of the largest tourist attractions in the state and region. It is one of the most recognizable locations in New Jersey because of its unique architecture and history.

First, I would like to apologize. In my last entry, I stated that I was going to write about the “Victorian Weekend” that was supposed to take place October 7-9. Unfortunately, when I went to Cape May I saw no mention of the event, nor people dressed in Victorian clothing.

Furthermore, it seems many events were restricted to tours of historical sites that were well out of my price range (I’m a college student!), while many others were simply closed on that day.

Due to the circumstances, I decided to focus this post on some interesting places you can visit in Cape May that are low-cost and unique historical sites in New Jersey. This can be a helpful guide if you are planning to visit the area for a  vacation or for sightseeing! After all, seeing historical places does not have to break the bank!

The first thing you will notice about Cape May is its well-known collection of Victorian era architecture. The Victorian era usually refers to the unique style of cultural representation in clothing and architecture during the reign of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (r. 1837-1901). In 1878, the city experienced a fire that destroyed a large portion of the town center and its buildings. The structures erected in their place were in that distinct Victorian style that was groundbreaking at the time.

 

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Many of the lavish Victorian buildings in Cape May have since been turned into luxurious bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and other businesses such as museums. This is only one of the many that dot the coast of Cape May’s Beach Avenue. Photo courtesy of George Macey.


Great views of this architecture can be spotted by simply walking down Washington Street, or on Beach Avenue, both of which I highly recommend. Both streets make you feel as if you are walking back into the 19th century. Permitting the weather is nice, the walk is rather pleasant and relaxing! After the long drive, and a busy week in school, the walk cleared my thoughts and made me feel refreshed!

The next location is only a quick 10-minute drive away. On the southern side of the peninsula is Cape May Point State Park. This area holds a number of interesting historical spots. First and most famous is the Cape May Lighthouse. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for kids. It is a very interesting experience that provides an interesting display of great history inside, and a spectacular view of the beaches and city! Unfortunately, I was unable to take pictures inside. Definitely, check it out if you do not mind paying the admission or if you are not afraid of heights!

 

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Section of Cape May State Park. On the left is a small museum, while on the right is the Cape May Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of George Macey.


Next door to the lighthouse is a small museum that is free to enter. Inside contains various artifacts representing Cape May’s history and wildlife. Surprisingly, the small museum also contained numerous reptiles native to the area! Overall, I have to admit it was a very cute museum that had a surprising amount to offer!

One of the coolest things about this park, however, is what still stands on the beach. Back in World War II, Cape May was an important location for United States’ homeland security. Many installations were built in order to watch the Delaware Bay and prevent enemy submarines from entering the Delaware River.

After I walked over the sand dunes, to my surprise I saw a World War II bunker, known as “Battery 223,” still standing. The feeling I had is incredibly hard to describe. Any fan of history or of World War II will find the experience of walking up to this structure incredibly fulfilling. All I can say is to go visit for yourself! Beach erosion is a long standing issue with Cape May, go see it before it is gone for good!

 

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“Battery 223” is completely sealed, all the doors and windows have been long since closed off. One can only imagine what it looks like on the inside. Photo courtesy of George Macey.


Finally, on the west side of the Cape May peninsula is Sunset Beach. This spot holds two places I highly recommend seeing. One which you will notice as soon as you arrive is the World War II watchtower known as “Fire Control Tower No. 23.” Although it was closed the day I visited, it is incredibly well preserved and incredibly creepy to walk around! A few of these watchtowers were installed in the area to scout out into the Delaware Bay for enemy vessels. This is the last one remaining in New Jersey. They do have tours of the tower on specific dates, click here for more information about the tower, and if you are interested in visiting.

The second attraction is viewable once you arrive at the shore of Sunset Beach, which are the remains of the concrete battleship S.S. AtlantusIt was part of a fleet of 12 built by the U.S. Navy in 1918 for World War I. The battleships were never deployed in action and were sold off for various uses after the war. The S.S. Atlantus ran aground during a storm in 1926, where the sea has since eroded it to its current state. The other members of the fleet are in similar conditions in bays all around the country. Moreso than the bunker at Cape May State Park, this is a site that is critically endangered of disappearing within a few years. After all, the battleship was made out of concrete, which is highly suspectable to erosion. I highly encourage you to head down there before it does!

 

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The S.S. Atlantus has laid in the same spot for over 90 years. Will it survive 10 more? Photo courtesy of George Macey.

 

While there is much more to do in Cape May, these were some of my favorite things I found while at Cape May. Once again, I apologize for not delivering the Victorian Weekend as I had hoped to. If all else falls, Cape May’s beaches are still fantastic to walk on. Since it is now off season, they are free to enter and relatively empty! This was my first time at Cape May, and I really enjoyed it. I’m happy I was able to share my first experience with you!

 

Until next time, see you later!

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