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SOURCE: SOUTH JERSEY, A History, 1664-1923; Alfred M. Heston, editor-in-chief.

Volume I, 1924, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago.

Page 546


The foothold that was won by the whalemen, hardiest of sea-toilers, in the earlier part of the seventeenth century, and secured for us through their pioneer qualities or perseverance and persistency, became a permanent one, and presently townships sprang up, and settlements grew and throve. Sparsely settled hamlets laid the foundation of about all the present communities at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the settlers having located their homes parallel with the seashore or the bayside. In the year 1800, there were 3,066 residents of the county, ninety eight of whom were slaves, and at that time the present Cape May court House was known as Middletown. Cape May City was Cold Spring, Cape Island , Eldora was Tuckahoe, East Creek, Dennisville was West Creek, Fishing Creek was Goshen, Seaville was Green Creek. The naming was generally typical of the locality and the topography, of founders and discoverers, and places whence they had come.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, and in many cases earlier than that, the camp meeting or religious summer resort was being established in and along the Atlantic seaboard. Reasons of similar kind predominated for the founding of communities in Cape May County, such as at Sea Grove and Ocean City; and there and at Cape May city and the Island, the summer resorter has made his home, in numbers, season after season since that time.

Cape Island and Cape May City

Cape May Town, settled in 1691, is considered to have been the first town built in this county, the settlers having come from New Haven and Long Island, these being the whalemen of whom we spoke so often, and whom in this present history we dominate the backbone of the Cape. Previous to the year 1875, what is now the City of Cape May was called Cape Island, the first reference to which in the course of the early activities there having been in 1699, when the causeway was built by George Eaglesfield. In the year 1796, a law was passed for the building of a road along which boats might be stowed.

The site, dwelt upon so long, was already a considerable hamlet in 1812, and in the year 1829, Watson the annalist, visited the place, and he described it as a village of about twenty houses, and in his account stated that the streets were very clean and grassy. In the early part of the nineteenth century, occasional visitors came here with their friends, and thus early the summer resort advantages of the location were forseen by Philadelphians and others, so that by the year 1815, it was the customary thing for a slop to convey passengers to the island. The first and only hotel of that period was the Atlantic , where commodore Decatur came during the summer.

In its turn came the Old Congress Hall Hotel that was not on the site of the later Congress Hall, built in 1812 by Thomas Hughes, its rotunda occupied a position where the Marcy and Mecray pharmacy was erected. Among the proprietors of this pioneer hostelry besides Thomas H. Hughes were Joseph Hughes, Jonas Miller, W. Burr Miller, Richard Thompson, John West, and Jacob F. Cake. The old hotel stood upon Jackson Street, the first street in town. Lafayette Street, Washington Street, Delaware Avenue, Franklin, Jefferson, and Queen were among the oldest streets. Ephraim Mills was also one of the hotel keepers of this period, his house, built in 1812, standing on the lot north of the old Atlantic.

The Mansion House was built soon after Congress Hall, in 1632 with its four acres of ground, and remembered as having been the first lathed and plastered house on the island. It was built by Richard S. Ludlam who also opened Washington Street, fifty feet in width, and among the first proprietors of the hotel were Ephraim Mills, Isaac Schellenger, Eli B. Wales, Daniel Saint, John Sturtevant, and Mr. Ludlam, up to 1839. The house was burned in 1856, and William S. Hooper and Alfred H. Ludlam were proprietors from 1850 to that time. The American, with accommodations for about one hundred and twenty-five guests was built after the Mansion by a Mrs. Reynolds, and in 1832, the Ocean House was built by Israel Leaming on the east side of Perry Street. Then followed the old Columbia Hotel in 1840, built by George Hildreth, with Harwood and Bolton as proprietors; the Central House, in 1840, kept by Jeremiah Mecray and destroyed by fire in 1878; the New Atlantic, built the same year, and burned also in 1878, and kept by Benjamin, Joe and John McMackin. In the fire of 1878 also was burned the Merchants Hotel built on the site of the New Columbia, and whose proprietors in its later days were Mason and Eldredge. The Madison House was built in 1845; the Washington Hotel in 1840; White Hall was erected in 1850 by Dr. Samuel C. Marcy, and the Delaware in 1840; Aaron Garretson built National Hall about 1850. These together with the Stockton Hotel, built in 1869 by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at a cosat of $600,000, constituted the largest and most important of the hostelries that dominated the summer resort activities in the early and middle parts of the nineteenth century.

Richard S. Ludlam, hotel proprietor and live townsman of his day, as well as Assemblyman, started a movement in the Legislature for incorporation of the borough, and thereupon March 8, 1858, an act was passed to incorporate Cape Island as a borough. This government which existed until 1851, name as chief burgess, James Mecray; assistant burgess, James Clark; high constable, Thomas H. Hughes; borough clerk, William Cassedy, and with an assessor and collector of taxes they were to constitute the government up to the first Tuesday of May, 1849, when the people were to chose their successors from year to year.

In March, 1851, the City of Cape Island was incorporated with its mayor, six councilmen, an alderman, and a recorder, and their first council met March 15, 1851, in the school house on Franklin and Lafayette streets; and Isaac M. church the first mayor, delivered his inaugural on March 22. Mr. Church was a clergyman of the Baptist Church, a chaplain in the civil War, and was one of the most industrious and useful citizens of his time. James Clark, the second mayor, filled out the unexpired term of Mayor Church, upon his resignation in October, 1851. Mayor Clark was also twice appointed postmaster. John Kake Church, the third mayor, was city clerk in 1852. At the charter election in 1853 he was chosen mayor, and he was re-elected in 1854 and 1855. Joseph Ware, the fourth and tenth mayor of Cape Island, had been a member of the Board of Freeholders, and he was assessor and recorder. He was chosen mayor in 1856, and was re-elected three times, serving until 1861. Again he was chosen in 1871, and served a term of two years.

In the year 1862, an act was passed by the Legislature in which Cape Island was allowed to issue $20,000 in bonds to build a water works, subject to the people’s vote. The next year 1863, the West Jersey Railroad was opened to Cape Island. In the year 1866, the councilmen were elected for two years instead of one by change of the charter of that year. The disastrous fire of 1869 destroyed all of the island between Washington Street and the ocean, and between Ocean and Jackson streets, with the exception of the Columbia House; but the United States Hotel, the American House, and the Atlantic House were burned. John G. W. Ware was the twelfth mayor. He was a native of Cape May, had lived here all his life, and was one of the most enterprising townsmen. He had been a member of the council in 1851, and received re-election in 1857, 1858, 1859, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1867. He was elected alderman in 1870 and served until 1875, when he was elected mayor for two years’ term. He was re-elected alderman in 1877, 1881, and 1888.

John Q. Williams, who was the sixth, eighth, and thirteenth mayor here was a native of Philadelphia, and he came to Cape May in 1850, where he held many public offices. He was elected mayor in 1862, in 1868, 1877, 1879.

In the spring of 1875 the new charter of the City of Cape May went into effect, changing the name from City of Cape Island, and at the election he was chosen alderman for one year. He was succeeded in 1881 as mayor by Mayor Melvin.

The fire of 1878, in which so many hotels were destroyed was one of the most disastrous that ever visited this place. Starting at the Ocean House, the fire covered an area of over thirty acres, in this division: Congress Hall property, five acres; the block bounded by Perry, Jackson, and Washington streets, and the beach, eight acres; the block bounded by Jackson, Decatur and Washington streets and the beach, eight acres; the property destroyed between Decatur and Ocean streets, from east of Washington Street to the ocean, five acres; the property destroyed Ocean and Guerney streets, five acres. The damage amounted to $600,000, and include nine hotels: Congress Hall, Centre House, Ocean Hall, Avenue House, Merchants, Centennial, Atlantic, Knickerbocker, and Columbia. Later, Congress Hall was rebuilt of brick, and Congress Place was laid out, and the New Columbia was built of brick.

Frederick J. Melvin was mayor of Cape May the following years: 1881-5, 1908-11, 1919-23; also sheriff 1911-14. He was a successful salesman the early part of his life and later became a prominent merchant at Cape May. In 1880 he was chosen alderman, and in 1881 he was elected mayor, being re-elected in 1883. He entertained President Chester A. Arthur here in 1883, and through his influence St. John’s Commandery Knight Templars from Philadelphia, twice visited the city, as did the Washington Light Infantry upon two occasions. Nine years previous to 1804, he had been proprietor of the Sea Breeze Hotel, the property of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he was postmaster of Cape May City from 1886 to 1889. In 1885, the iron ocean pier was built at the foot of Decatur Street at a cost of $60,000.

The fifteenth and seventeenth mayor of Cape May City was James Henry Edmunds, who was a native of this county. He held a number of city offices, and, elected mayor in 1885, he received re-election in 1887, 1889, 1891, and 1895. James M. E. Hildreth the sixteenth and eighteenth mayor was born at Cape May City, studied law, and became a prominent practitioner in his native city. He was elected mayor in 1893 and again in 1897; a member of the New Jersey Legislature, 1904-05-06 and 1912. He held many prominent offices and other positions here and was general manager of the Franklin electric Light Company, and a director of the south Jersey Railroad Company.

Sea Grove, now Cape May Point

In the interesting list of communities along the Atlantic seaboard that have been founded and owe their origin chiefly for a religious purpose, if not wholly for sectarian enterprise, Sea Grove is to be enumerated with a number that, successful from the start, have not confined themselves to the housing and recreation of people of a single sect, but whose generous welcome has included those of all denominations, and whose institutions and means to spiritual and physical health have been a source to all comers.

Sea Grove was founded by a descendant of Joseph Whillden, one of the first purchasers within the county--Alexander Whillden, who was born in Philadelphia, in the year 1808, son of a sea captain, a native of New Jersey. His father was lost at sea in 1812, and the widow, together with her son and two daughters, came to Cape May County, the old home of the paternal family, to take up their residence again near the Court House. There Alexander Whillden lived for twelve years; but opportunity being offered him in employment at Philadelphia , he returned there at sixteen years of age, and went to work as a clerk, after which he branched out as a commission agent on his own account, in 1832.

His various business ventures met with success from that time forth, and his interests aside from business became those of philanthropist, the educator, and the churchman. He was honored with place and preferment, and for many years he was president of the American Life Insurance Company, an official of the American Sunday School Union, the Presbyterian Hospital. And other institutions. Meantime throughout his life in Philadelphia he kept in remembrance the land of his fathers, he was a constant visitor to Cape May, and became a considerable holder of real estate there.

For nearly a quarter of a century, he with intimate friends had under consideration the subject of the establishment of such a community as he believes Sea Grove might develop into. The early history of the site of the place is contained in these facts: Jonathan Pyne, the elder, became the purchaser through Jesse Basse, who was agent for the West New Jersey Society in England. Eventually the property passed into the hands of the inheritors, Jonathan Pyne, second, and Abigail Pyne, and in the year 1712, it was ceded by them and by Robert Courtney, who married Abigail Pyne,to Henry Stites, another descendant of the first settlers. This property remained in the family of the latter until 1836, when Jane G. Stites married Alexander Whillden. They, in their turn, conveyed the property to the Sea Grove Association, the conveyance taking place a month following the time of the organization, March 5, 1875.

Historian Wheeler, in making reference to the religious relationships and ownerships of the section, announces the fact that the property had been in Presbyterian hands for the long period of one hundred and sixty-three years. Mr. Whillden gave the Grove, its location and its possibilities much thought, and conferring with prominent Presbyterian men, an organization was effected February 18, 1875, and a charter was received from the State the same year under the style Sea Grove Association. The first board of directors consisted of Alexander Whillden, Dr. V.M.D. Marcy, Hon. Downs Edmunds, J. Newton Walker, and John Wanamaker. The purpose of these men was to establish a religious summer resort, in the words of the founders, themselves:

“To furnish a moral and religious seaside home, for the glory of God and the welfare of man, where the latter may be refreshed and invigorated, body and soul, and better fitted for the highest and noblest duties of life.”

Subsequently, the first officers of the association were elected, as follows: Alexander Whillden, president and treasurer; J. C. Sidney, secretary; Hon. Downs Edmunds, assistant secretary; and the board of directors adopted by-laws and regulations for the business conduct of the affairs of the organization. Thencefoward, the further work of beautifying and making the grove attractive and comfortable proceeded, the Sea Grove pavilion being completed in the late spring of 1875, which soon became the center and central meeting place of the entire enterprise. Rev. Alfred Nevins, D.D., was appointed the superintendent and manager, and S. E. Hughes conducted the Sunday School that was immediately organized. It was early in July, 1875, that services began to be held in the pavilion, and then streets, boulevards, and avenues were laid out for the new community; and a hotel and many neat and attractive cottages were built, among them that of John Wanamaker.

Then, not only Presbyterians, but people of many other beliefs began to come here and build. Aside from all the other advantages, each cottager was entitled to a free pass over the West Jersey Railroad, and all materials were transported at a reduced rate. Meantime the association had a horse railroad constructed from Cape May City to the Grove. Such were the beginnings of Sea Grove.

Sea Isle City

Philip B. Baker was also interested in the beginning of Sea Isle City, although the actual founder of the community was Charles K. Landis. The place, which includes the whole of Ludlam’s Beach was first laid out in 1880, and the West Jersey, and Seashore and South Jersey system of railroads assured transportation. With its front on the Atlantic Ocean of six and one-quarter miles, the island varies from quarter to one and one-quarter miles, extending as it does from Corson’s Inlet on the north, to Townsend’s Inlet on the south, while its bounds on the west are Ludlam’s Bay and a navigable channel, called the Thoroughfare. Here there are thirty hotels, a Methodist Church built in 1888, a Catholic Church built in 1890, school house, electric railroad, ice plant, and other institutions.

Other Boroughs

In 1878 Cape May Point was set off as a political division, and it so continued until 1896. The borough government of this section soon became a matter of uncertainty, and the section is now part of Lower Township. There are churches here--Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, as well as several hotels, boarding houses, public school, and electric works and water plant. Anglesea, a great resort for fishermen, and with several hotels and boarding houses, became a borough in 1885; Holly Beach, with a number of hotels and boarding houses was made a borough the same year; West Cape, coming out of Lower Township in 1884, became a borough, and in 1894 South Cape May Borough was made.

Jewish Colony at Woodbine

In August, 1891, the Jewish Colony at woodbine was founded. The American trustees of the Baron Hirsch Fund in the early spring of that year purchased 5,100 acres of land in and around Woodbine from John M. Moore, glass manufacturer at Clayton, New Jersey, for the sum of $30,000, and in April of that year, work was begun upon the erection of small houses for those who came to clear the land and to build homes. In the survey of the land, whose title had been found in the proceedings of the West Jersey society of the early days, sixty two farms were sold to settlers on liberal terms, while to every family, most of them being immigrants from Europe, were allotted a house, a barn, cow, poultry, farming implements, and seeds. Every settler here was given ten years in which to pay for his purchase, each farm costing $1,200. The trustees erected a large cloak factory for the community, and here many refugees were given employment. The town site was laid out in 1892 near the depot, and within six months, thirty-five new houses, at a cost of $50,000 were built for the employees of the cloak factory. Shortly afterwards a factory for the manufacture of trousers was built, and both industries assured employment for five hundred people. Within a year nearly seven hundred people were residing here. The synagogue was consecrated Sunday, November 29, 1896, the colonists themselves having built the structure, at a cost of about $6,000.

Professor H. L. Sabsovich was appointed superintendent of the plantation, he having been a graduate of the Agricultural College of Russia. A native of Southern Russia, he left the country in 1888, and after some time as professor of chemistry in the Colorado State Experimental College at Denver , he came to Woodbine as superintendent of the newly established colony.

Ocean City

Three brothers, Samuel, James, and Ezra Lake, all clergymen, were sailing across Great Egg Harbor Bay for an outing on the beach . The day was clear as a bell, beach silvery white and smooth, the bathing glorious, but few were there to enjoy it. Impressed with the beauty and great possibilities of the place, they thought: “Why not establish here a Methodist summer resort?” Accordingly, in October of the next year, 1880, the Ocean City Association was formed, land was purchased, survey made by another brother, William Lake, and an auction of lots held in the following May. From this fortuitous beginning came Ocean City with its well chosen slogan: “America’s most popular seaside resort.” All the work in planning of the new city was done in a painstaking broadminded way. Wide streets, sewage and drainage systems were laid out, electric lighting provided, and artesian wells eight hundred feet deep driven, so that the town was born almost full fledged. In 1884 organized as a borough, Ocean City was incorporated as a municipality in 1894 with the following bounds:

“Beginning at a point in the line of low-water mark on the northerly side of Corson’s Inlet, at the intersection of the low water-mark with said Corson’s Inlet, with the low-water mark of the Atlantic Ocean; thence northwesterly along and in line of the low-water mark of said Corson’s Inlet to the intersection thereof with Beach Thoroughfare; thence northeasterly along said Beach Thoroughfare to the most easterly channel of Peck’s Bay; thence still northeasterly in and along the most easterly channel of Peck’s Bay and Great Egg Harbor to the dividing line between Cape May County and Atlantic County; thence following said dividing line in a southeasterly direction down Great Egg Harbor Bay and Great Egg Harbor Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean; thence extending into the Atlantic Ocean as far as the jurisdiction of the State of New Jersey exists; thence southwesterly along and in said jurisdictional line of the State to a point in said line ar right angles to low-water mark on the north side of Corson’s Inlet, aforesaid; thence northwesterly, to the place of beginning.”

The West Jersey Railroad gave direct connection with the large cities as early as 1884, but to accommodate the consequent growth in travel, the Pennsylvania Railroad System provides excellent train service from Philadelphia and more distant points, the trains entering the resort at South Ocean City. In addition to this service electric trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, operating at practically every hour during the summer months, from early morning to late at night, between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, make convenient connection at Pleasantville to and from Ocean City. Numbered with the first hotels erected were the Brighton, Illinois, Emmett, Wesley House, Vandalia, Strand, Lafayette, Traymore, Excursion, Adams’ Casino, but in late years there has been a marked increase in hostelries and apartment houses, climaxed with the building of a new million dollar hotel, “The Flanders.” There are now ample facilities to care for the most exacting vacationist.

Although planned as a Denominational Christian and temperance resort. It has outgrown its swaddling clothes, but is to this day noted for the moral tone that pervades its spirit and civic life. As Mayor Champion has well phrased it, “Our summer population is one hundred percent American; we do not seek a cosmopolitan atmosphere, of which some resorts proudly boast; we are satisfied with the wholesome, clean-minded folk, who come to enjoy Ocean City’s healthy outdoor sports, her sunshine and her ocean, and yet are entirely free from snobbery or class distinction.”

With its extensive area, wide avenues, admirable beach, splendid three-mile board walk bordered with pavilions, casinos, shops, and places of amusement, trolley and highway connections, Ocean City is eminent among its sister resorts. In addition, since it boasts of ten miles of inland waterways offering the unrivaled fishing and crabbing, and connecting with some of the finest sailing and cruising waters along the coast, with yacht, golf, and fishing clubs for those interested in these sports. It stands pre-eminent as a resort for the lover of the out-of-doors life.


Many years ago, on an island in far South Jersey, having no distinctive name other than Five Mile Island, there was discovered a unique bit of woodland, where grew a remarkable variety of trees, vines, and flowers. Naturalists came from far distant places to see, and endeavor to explain, this sylvan grove so like many of the Florida hammocks. Great oaks, enormous vines, twisted and intergrown, wild flowers simple and gorgeous, and of more kinds that could be found in any single location in the East, all made a beautiful setting for the lovely Magnolia Lake. This wonder spot was simply called “Wildwood,” and when the Baker brothers chose this spot on which to realize their vision of an ideal city, they wisely did not change the name but founded it as “Wildwood by the Sea.”

The woodland has passed, driven out by an expanding city, but the climate, soft and cool that made it, has helped make a resort, probably the fastest growing section on the Jersey shore. With the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Delaware Bay , thirty miles wide, cooling the air from the west, it is seldom hot. The miles of ocean beach are gently sloping, suburban safe for bathing, and the waterways, natural and artificial, at its back, are wonderfully attractive to the sailor and fisherman. Its railroad and highway connections, direct and speedy, with Philadelphia, New York, and nearby resorts, can hardly be bettered.

The island, still by its old title “Five Mile Beach” is now really a multiple city, having as its various parts, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, North, and West Wildwood. It has everything that any modern municipality can have, including schools, public and high, with an enrollment of two thousand one hundred pupils, fire department, artesian water, gas and electric lights, a trolley service from one end of the beach to the other, and five miles of forty foot boardwalk. There are hospitals, a free public library, stores, shops, and three banks and as many newspapers, all of the most modern type; hotels and boarding houses everywhere, ready to cater to the vacationist, with boulevards and avenues lined with residences, bungalows, and cottages, of the year-round inhabitants.

No fewer than eleven churches of eight denominations care for the religious life. Business men have their Board of Trade, the American Legion has a vigorous post, the Wildwood Athletic Club represents the beach in sports, and the Golf Club maintains a “year round” course. Wildwood is a central member of the four sister resorts. The northern resort is known as North Wildwood and includes Anglesea.

The southern end is called Wildwood Crest. The three are connected without geographical marks to designate boundary lines. At North Wildwood, a handsome residential district, is a splendidboulevard one hundred feet wide, with right and left drives on either side of a finely laid-outand well tendered garden, the only one of its kind on the New Jersey coast. It stretchesthe only one of its kind on the New Jersey coast. It stretches from Twenty-sixth Street to the Hereford Inlet. Lighting standards, specially designed, add to its attractiveness and utility. Wildwood Crest, adjoining Wildwood on the south and bounded on three sides by salt water, is known for substantial houses, splendid streets, healthfulness and cleanliness. On its new Ocean Pier excellent concerts are given daily throughout the summer, and many other forms of refined amusements are provided. West Wildwood, the youngest of the group lies next to the Wildwood Canal and Sunset Lake, with the railroad skirting the opposite side. A motor boat and fishing center, close to all the advantages and pleasures of the island, it has made a most remarkable growth in the few years of its existence. Together the four sisters form one delightful city of ten thousand, having sometimes an additional summer population of 100,000.