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Want to Go 'Resorting'?

  • Ted Landphair

This could be Charleston, South Carolina, or another Old South town. But it was taken in Cape May, where a number of southern gentry once summered and built houses.

This could be Charleston, South Carolina, or another Old South town. But it was taken in Cape May, where a number of southern gentry once summered and built houses.

A gussied-up old seaside town in New Jersey is one option

Spring is just days away in the Northern Hemisphere. That means the people of quaint Cape May, New Jersey, may already be busy, airing out their sumptuous homes in preparation for the annual rush of beach-loving guests.

This town of 4,000 people, whose numbers swell to 40,000 in the summertime, lies on the tip of a little peninsula that sticks out into the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

Sea captains on the way up the Delaware River to Philadelphia would stop at Cape May to pick up pilots who knew the bay's treacherous shoals and currents. Many ship's captains fell in love with the town and built homes there.

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Even before the American Revolution of the late 1700s, Cape May merchants advertised in Philadelphia newspapers, inviting people to resort in Cape May. Guests take in the sea air on the veranda of the commodious Cape May Hotel in the New Jersey resort town of the same name in 1909.

Guests take in the sea air on the veranda of the commodious Cape May Hotel in the New Jersey resort town of the same name in 1909.

America's first seaside resort also became a cool summertime retreat for wealthy planters from the American South. That's why you see columned mansions there.

And plenty of stately, English-style Victorian houses and grand old hotels, too. In fact, Cape May now boasts the single greatest concentration of late-19th Century architecture in the world! More Victorian homes, even, than you'll find in any one place in England.

Cape May is also famous for its brightly painted gingerbread accents — gingerbread meaning fancy wooden decorations from the time when people in town had a saying: Decorate everything, including the decoration! This is a small, but quaint Cape May Victorian home. Note the ruffled gingerbread trim.

This is a small, but quaint Cape May Victorian home. Note the ruffled gingerbread trim.

You might wonder how such treasures survived the hurricanes, fires, and recessions that have surely battered the area — and indeed they have.

The answer is that despite appearances, Cape May is not a wealthy town. People have not had a lot of money to tear down the old homes and build new ones. So now Cape May — all of it, not just a neighborhood or two — is preserved as a historic district, the first ever designated in America.

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