Love Victorian Houses? Plan a Trip to Cape May

Cape May Victorian houses as seen from the beach

Cape May, New Jersey, is America’s first seaside resort. With hundreds of years of history behind it, it’s full of gorgeous Victorian houses and architecture. This style is iconic, from the quaint turrets and gabled roofs to the gingerbread trim decorating the verandas.

Ocean Club Hotel is the place to stay while you enjoy all the things to do in Cape May. We offer luxury accommodations in Cape May and fine dining without the fuss. Here, we discuss where to go for gorgeous Victorian views, architectural styles, and other aspects of local history to enrich your experience.

Victorian History in Cape May

Cape May was first established as a seaside resort town. Tourists could easily travel by boat from Philadelphia to the new resorts, making it the perfect spot for a summer getaway. Famous visitors included Henry Clay, Ulysses S. Grant, and possibly even Abraham Lincoln.

Unfortunately, most of the original town was lost in 1878. A fire burned down thirty blocks—roughly half the town—and several major resorts were destroyed. The town voted to rebuild. New buildings quickly went up in what was then the modern and fashionable Victorian style, creating the foundations of the Cape May we can see today.

What Is Victorian Style?

Victorian-style architecture was the most common style used from the 1860s to 1900s, during Cape May’s reconstruction. It includes the “Stick” style and “Carpenter Gothic” style, which originated in a reimagination of Gothic Revival stonework into new wood constructions. Features commonly seen on Victorian-style houses include open verandas, bay windows, and steep gabled roofs topped with towers. Most houses are two or three stories tall with high, airy ceilings.

Perhaps the most recognizable hallmark of Victorian architecture, however, is its gingerbread trim. This highly ornate woodwork decorates almost every angle and facade. These embellishments are usually painted in bright candy colors, creating a fairy-tale or “gingerbread house” appearance.

Touring the Historic District

Many of the original Victorian-style houses still survive in the Cape May Historic District. You can see dozens of examples just by taking a walk down the street. Here are a few famous favorites:

  • Christopher Gallagher House – 45 Jackson St.
  • Atlantic Terrace House – 20 Jackson St.
  • Jeremiah Schellinger House – 1386 Lafayette St.
  • Eldridge Johnson House – 33 Perry St.
  • George Allen House – 720 Washington St.
  • George W. Boyd House – 1501 Beach Ave.
  • Stratton Ware House – 655 Hughes St.

The historic district wasn’t built in a day, and it has continued to grow and change since its Victorian origins. As such, it is also home to a broad range of other architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Italianate, Greek Revival, and more. Cape May MAC offers trolley tours during which you can learn more about local history and architecture over the years.

The Emlen Physick Estate

If you want to explore a Victorian house from the inside, check out the Emlen Physick Estate. This house museum features an eighteen-room mansion, fully furnished with period-accurate Victorian goods, and offers a glimpse of what life was like in the late 1800s. It offers a variety of tours, from focused history discussions to living history experiences, to provide a more in-depth look at the house’s history.

Designed in 1876 by famed architect Frank Furness, the mansion is an excellent example of a Stick-style house. It’s characterized by geometric shapes and partially exposed timbers that hint at the house’s support structure. You can also see the oversized details that are trademarks of Furness’s work.

It’s also said to be haunted. Past residents, staffers, and guests have reported unusual activity around the estate, including phantom footsteps, strange voices, and even ghost dogs running around the grounds. Book a ghost tour to learn more about the estate’s haunted past and maybe even experience a ghost encounter yourself.

Book Your Cape May Vacation

The Cape May Historic District is a stunning seafront location perfect for sightseeing and photography. When you’re done exploring, you’ll want to unwind and sleep somewhere comfortable with access to delicious seafront dining and numerous other amenities, and Ocean Club Hotel ticks all those boxes. Check our FAQ to learn more about what we can offer, or book your stay today.