The Oldest Seashore Resort

by Editorial | Apr 6, 2015
The Oldest Seashore Resort Located at the southern-most tip of New Jersey, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Delaware Bay to the west, Cape May — or Cape Island, as she was first called — has catered to visitors since the early 1600s when Native American tribes summered on her beaches, garnering the ocean's vast bounty of sea life.

Beautiful Cape May holds the distinction of being the oldest seashore resort in the United States, and is also one of the most unique. Stretching 20 miles out to sea, this oasis of ambiance is a refuge from the hectic 20th century American lifestyle. It is a place to relax, to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, the city's charming Mall, and most of all, to view the largest collection of authentic Victorian structures in the nation.

Cape May is rich in history. Among its famous visitors have been Maestro John Philip Sousa; circus impresario P.T. Barnum; Civil War Generals Robert E. Lee and William Sherman; Abe Lincoln before becoming president; Presidents James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison.

In the same year that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, a Dutch captain, Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, explored the Delaware River and named the peninsula Cape Mey, after himself, in 1620. The spelling was later changed to Cape May. Over a century later in 1761 Cape May became the first seashore resort in America.

The most distinctive feature about Cape May is its Victorian heritage, which is beautifully and carefully retained in several hundred beautifully manicured houses throughout the city. The Victorian Era was the period from 1837 to 1901 when queen Victoria ruled over England. The impact of her reign was felt throughout the world, including in Cape May, which was then considered to be among the top vacation resorts in the United States.

Cape May has enjoyed a major renaissance in the last decade. Many Victorian structures adorned with carved barge boards, ornate verandas and crowned dormers, have been restored. Most of the homes, hotels, shops and other buildings were constructed in the late 1800s at the prime of the Victorian era. Today small gingerbread houses stand beside magnificent Victorian showplaces.

An important milestone was reached in the Bicentennial Year of 1976 when Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark City, only one of five in the nation. That designation requires that the community must retain all structures in their original form and design and will insure that Cape May will remain within the architectural guidelines of the Victorian period.

Cape May is a real-life picture postcard of the past. In the summer and the rest of the year it is shared by hundreds of thousands of visitors in an atmosphere that can only be found in this southernmost New Jersey community, situated below the Mason-Dixon line.

Currently, Cape May stands as the nation's only entire city designated a National Historic Landmark. Twenty years of sustaining this prestigious distinction has brought pride to its 5,000 year-round residents — and an influx of over 80,000 visitors on any given summer weekend.

Cape May's streets are lined with buildings ornamented in gingerbread trim, most with airy porches, and garnished in pastel paint. Tours are given daily, some on foot and many by trolley, offering visitors a peek at the past.

For more information about Cape May, visit Some article information provided by Cape Computer Services.

For an incredible listing of Cape May events, please go to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts' website at, and for more, go to

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For more South Jersey History, visit our South Jersey History page.

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