Travel | Painted Ladies by the Sea

Discover Peace Pies & Architectural Beauty in Cape May

By Kymberly Taylor

The entire city of Cape May, New Jersey, is a National Historic District, with nearly 600 preserved Victorian buildings designed by notable architects such as Frank Furness, who is now recognized as one of our country’s greatest Victorian architects.

High-rises are not permitted due to a strict zoning code. Adding to this visual feast are the beaches, dotted with old-fashioned life guard stands, each with its own Winslow-Homer
style dory.

Grand 19th-century mansions line Beach Avenue, the main thoroughfare, as if announcing with authority the town’s Victorian historic aesthetic. During its heyday, Cape May—established as the first official seaside resort in America in 1761—was the haunt of the rich and famous, including the likes of Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Arthur, Buchanan and Hayes. From Gothic Revival to Queen Anne, “painted ladies” come in an array of colors: pinks, blues, violets and two- and three-toned masterpieces, with mansard and hipped roofs, widows-walks, cupolas, turrets and wide-stepped fern-shaded porches.

Cape May reveals how architecture can shape a town’s consciousness, how the visual performs and perpetuates its own preservation or demise. There is an unusual atmosphere here, much like historic Annapolis, as if everyone is in on something special that must be protected, even cherished (Since its listing as a National Historic Landmark District in 1965, Annapolis has remained one of the most intact and authentic colonial towns in the nation).

The feeling in Cape May extends beyond the built environment. Even the ocean seemed more alive. Pods of dolphins frolicked daily beyond the breakwaters and gulls dove for fish, crashing into the sea yards from our beach chairs. Here, at least during the week, one can relax, mentally and even visually, creating an almost tangible joy. It’s the exact opposite of crass, chaotic, overbuilt Ocean City, Maryland—a model of poor beach town city planning.

During our visit to Cape May, we stayed at La Mer Coastal Inn and dined at the famous Washington Inn and Mad Batter. We devoured their local oyster, “the salt flats,” and roamed Washington Street Mall, a leafy outdoor collection of shops, including Peace Pie, which serves nothing but ice-cream sandwiches. As we drove through side streets and neighborhoods, I kept waiting for the beauty to fade away into the average chaos of many American beach towns. However, it did not and this is why we will surely return.


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Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 9, No. 4 2018