When I think of New Jersey, I basically picture a Bruce Springsteen song come to life. To be fair, I’ve only spent a comparatively small amount of time there, but still. Anyways, after spending some time swooning over pictures of New Jersey’s Cape May Historic District, I can safely say that my view of New Jersey has shifted dramatically. It looks like a neighborhood of life-sized dollhouses, done up in ornate and colorful Victorian architecture. So, basically, this town of storybook homes is a world away from a Bruce Springsteen song.
The Historic District claims to be America’s first seaside resort town and covers some 600 buildings over 380 acres. It’s one of the country’s largest collections of original 19th-century frame buildings left, so exploring the neighborhood really does feel like going back in time. Cape May also claims to be the country’s first and oldest seaside resort town. If you’re looking to bask in the antique vibes of a really historic hotel, Cape May is the place to be.
People started building summer cottages in the 1850s, and hotels soon followed. Railroads passing through bolstered its popularity as a seaside destination. Through the 1900s and until the 1920s (when Atlantic City started to become the cool place to visit) bungalows and mansions popped up across town. Despite a devastating 1878 fire that ravaged the town, some buildings survived, and even more gorgeous painted ladies were rebuilt. Luckily, hundreds still survive today.
Today, many of the historic homes are now hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts. The oldest building that’s been operating as a hotel is The Chalfonte, built in 1876 and renovated most recently in 2009. It’s not hard to picture what these hotels looked like in their heyday; yachting, croquet, and opulent parties were the usual past times.
It’s especially interesting when you compare Cape May to Wildwood, which is less than 10 miles north. Wildwood is basically the 1960s version of Cape May, with its own historic district, this one loaded with neon-lit, fake palm tree-studded motels and motor lodges instead of Victorian cottages and grand resorts. They’re both incredibly fascinating places worth visiting… But Cape May is, and always will be, the OG seaside town.
Header image via flickr/mbtrama
A few more one-of-a-kind neighborhoods…