West Cape May
West Cape May, NJ is a small community nestled between Cape May City and Cape May Point and was once only a town visitors would pass through on their way to Cape May.
With new businesses geared toward a growing tourism trade, this little residential place that was often a forgotten section of the peninsula, is now a popular place for visitors to dine, shop, and even stay overnight at a growing number of bed and breakfast inns. On the way to Cape May, today, for many visitors will certainly include a visit to the "small town next door."
For a number of years, even before West Cape May NJ was officially incorporated, the community was one of the few places in the United States with a goldbeating industry. George Reeves established a branch of Hastings, a gold beating company in Philadelphia, in 1879 at his family home along what is now Sunset Boulevard and two years later moved it to West Cape May. He employed a small number of "beaters," people who pounded inch or half inch strips of gold in wafer thin sheets.
About 50 local women also worked in the gold beating business, carefully cutting the thin sheets into squares to be sold as gold leaf. The gold beating industry provided work for residents for years until it succumbed to the Great Depression and laid off 55 people in the early 1930s. A tiny street off Broadway called Goldbeaten Alley is the borough's only link to this unique industry.
Between 1885 and 1895, a major political and economic figure in West Cape May, James Henry Edmunds, co-partnered with businessman Theodore Reger to form the West Cape May Improvement Company to develop lots and streets in the newly-incorporated borough. The men also planned to advance the resort community with the development of the Cape May Driving Park, an oval horse (and probably bicycle) racing track located where Columbia Avenue, Fourth Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, and Stevens Street are today in West Cape May. However, the driving park did not enjoy the success predicted by the planners and without the promised rail link, the grandstand built to hold 3,000 spectators attracted only a few fans.
In 1926, with talk of ferry service between New Jersey and Delaware across the bay at a fever pitch, the county freeholders paved the Cape Island Turnpike, a shell-covered road that linked the Point with Cape May. The new road was named Sunset Boulevard and during excavation work the developers uncovered burial mounds, skeletons and artifacts on old Reeves farm, once owned by man who started the goldbeating industry on the Cape. The relics confirmed that the earliest residents of the peninsula were Lenni Lenape Indians.
For years, West Cape May NJ was dubbed the Lima Bean Capital of the World, a tribute to the acres of lima beans once grown on farms in the area, especially the Rea family farm. To capitalize on this distinction, the town inaugurated the annual Lima Bean Festival held in Wilbraham Park every October. Highlights include crowning the Lima Bean Queen, lima bean tossing contests, endless Lima Bean dishes and the singing of the Lima Bean Blues.
Today, visitors and residents enjoy specialty shops and businesses offering unique services, varied accommodation styles and a variety of restaurants around town. The area is also enjoying a resurgence of popularity as a residential area. Quaint side streets, well-maintained homes and a quiet ambiance add to West Cape May's charm for a leisurely stroll or a meandering bike ride.