Birds, butterflies and diamonds at Cape May Point NJ. Nestled at the very southern tip of New Jersey, the Borough of Cape
May Point still resembles the original settlement of Sea Grove, a
Presbyterian retreat established in 1875 as part of a nation-wide
The original plot of ground, about 266 acres, was
sold to the Sea Grove Association for $5 by Alexander Whilldin, a devout
Presbyterian and cotton merchant in Philadelphia. Members of the Sea
Grove Association were religious leaders and businessmen, including John
Wanamaker, who supported a ban on all liquor and amusements. The 275
lots sold quickly and the little settlement became a thriving community.
In 1878, Sea Grove was incorporated as the Borough of Cape May Point.
Wanamaker also built a summer cottage at the Point and
later, when he was Postmaster General in President Benjamin Harrison's Cabinet,
he invited the President and First Lady to visit Cape May Point and use Congress
Hall in Cape May as the summer White House.
For years, the Republic, a side-wheeled steamer that
carried passengers and freight between Philadelphia and Cape Island, the
original name of Cape May, docked at the Point just to the east of Sunset Beach.
Summer visitors then had to travel by carriage from the landing area along a
shell-covered road called the Cape Island Turnpike, now Sunset Boulevard, to
reach the grand hotels in Cape Island. A few years later, Jonathan Cone, who
owned the Republic, decided to provide narrow gauge railroad service for the
2-mile trip from Sea Grove to the Grant Street depot in the resort.
Today, Cape May Point NJ is still a tiny community with no
boardwalk, no motels and no liquor. It is well-known for a small gingerbread
church, a lighthouse, a concrete ship that lies just off Sunset Beach and tiny
pieces of quartz called Cape May diamonds.
In the 1920s, there was talk about a ferry service across
Delaware Bay and plans were made to use a World War I concrete ship as a ferry
dock near the old steamboat landing. The SS Atlantus, one of four concrete ships
built as an experiment during the war when steel was scarce, was towed from
Norfolk, Va. to Cape May. In a high wind, the ship slipped its mooring and ran
aground just a hundred feet or so off the end of Sunset Boulevard where it
quickly became a popular attraction. Although not much is left of the ship, it
continues to attract visitors, especially those looking for the quartz pebbles
on Sunset Beach, known locally as Cape May diamonds.
The Cape May Lighthouse, the third lighthouse to guard the
waters where the ocean and bay meet, was built in 1859. It has been completely
restored and is open to visitors, offering an incredible panoramic view of the
Cape for anyone willing to climb the 199 steps to the top. Technically, the
lighthouse and Sunset Beach are actually parts of Lower Township although they
are most commonly referred to as being located in Cape May Point NJ.
St. Peter's by the Sea, a tiny gingerbread-adorned church
was part of the Philadelphia Centennial in Fairmount Park in 1876. The building
was purchased by the Episcopal congregation at the Point and moved here in 1879.
The first services were held in July 1890 and have continued every summer since
then, although the church has been moved several times from its original
location to protect it from the ever-encroaching ocean. It is a favorite spot
with photographers and artists. During the summer, a brief ceremony takes place
every evening at Sunset Beach that includes patriotic music and the lowering of
the American Flag at sunset.
Cape May Point State Park is a bird watcher's paradise,
attracting naturalists from all over the world to enjoy the varied populations
of birds and butterflies.
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