Cape May - silhouette photography of bird on seashore during golden houir
Image by Ryan Stone on

Nestled along the southern coast of New Jersey, Cape May is a charming seaside resort town that has captured the hearts of visitors for centuries. With its beautiful beaches, Victorian architecture, and rich history, Cape May is a place that seems to have stood the test of time. But just how old is this beloved destination? Let’s take a journey through its past to find out.

Early Beginnings

The story of Cape May begins long before it was officially established as a town. Native American tribes, such as the Lenape, were the first inhabitants of the area, living off the land and the bountiful resources provided by the sea. They were eventually displaced by European settlers who arrived in the early 17th century.

Colonial Era

In the late 1600s, Cape May began to take shape as a colonial settlement. It was named after Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, a Dutch captain who explored the area in 1620. The town quickly grew into a vibrant trading hub, with ships from all over the world docking at its bustling port. Cape May’s strategic location made it a vital link in the trade routes connecting the American colonies to Europe and the West Indies.

The Victorian Era

The mid-19th century marked a significant turning point in Cape May’s history. As the town’s popularity as a summer resort grew, Cape May experienced a wave of new development. Wealthy visitors flocked to the area, constructing magnificent Victorian-style homes and hotels that still grace the streets today. This era, known as the Victorian Age, is what gives Cape May its distinctive architectural character.

Preservation and Restoration

In the 1970s, Cape May faced a new challenge as many of its historic buildings fell into disrepair. However, instead of tearing them down, the town took a different approach. Cape May became one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a comprehensive historic preservation program. This initiative aimed to save and restore the Victorian buildings that had become symbols of the town’s identity. Today, Cape May is a National Historic Landmark, with more than 600 preserved and restored structures.

The Modern Cape May

While Cape May has certainly preserved its rich history, it has also adapted to the needs and desires of modern visitors. The town is now a popular destination for beachgoers, nature enthusiasts, and food lovers alike. Its pristine beaches, picturesque lighthouse, and vibrant downtown area continue to draw visitors from near and far.

Conclusion: A Timeless Gem

Cape May may be several centuries old, but it has managed to maintain its charm and allure throughout the years. From its early colonial beginnings to its transformation into a Victorian resort town, Cape May has a fascinating history that is still visible in its architecture and atmosphere today. By embracing its past while embracing the present, Cape May has become a timeless gem that continues to captivate all who visit. So, the next time you find yourself in this enchanting seaside town, take a moment to appreciate the layers of history that have shaped it into the beloved destination it is today.

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