we’re always reading, talking and writing
about the Victorians and their houses here
in Cape May but what about that fascinating
piece of real estate that you have to cross
before you even enter Cape May City? I’m
talking about Schellenger’s Landing.
Schellenger’s what? You ask. Schellenger’s
Landing – down at the Lobster House.
Schellenger’s Landing is where the boats
come into Cape May Harbor. It has a history
rich with tradition.
Schellenger’s Landing, tourists in the 1800s
had no way of reaching Cape Island proper.
Because of the tourists, Cape May Harbor was
constructed to open the waterways for larger
steamboats and commercial fishing boats.
Schellenger’s Landing is the point where the
tourist and the fisherman meet to share
their common love for the sea.
If you want a
pictorial history of the dock, just walk
into the lobbies of The Lobster House. The
walls are filled with pictures of fishermen,
their boats, the catch, and the dock dating
back to as early as 1912.
back it up a little – who are the
Schellengers were among the early settlers,
or more to the point whalers, who came down
from New England during the 1600s. Some of
the settlers were descendents of the
Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony -
Joseph Whillden, Thomas Leaming, Humphrey
Hughes, Samuel Crowell, Thomas Hand, Ezekial
Eldredge and Cornelius Schellenger.
of Cornelius ended up running a general
store down at the harbor.
Of course, there was no harbor in those
days. Heck, we couldn’t even get a decent
bridge to make a land crossing until Cape
Island incorporated and became the City of
Cape Island in 1851 and Lower Township
formed its own board of freeholders also in
I have to
tell you this little tidbit about the
bridge. Cape Island was strictly a summer
resort. The only people who lived here year
round were Delaware Bay pilots or commercial
fishermen but the stagecoach run from
Dennisville to the island in the summer
months was very lucrative.
stone bridge was authorized in 1832 by
Middle and Upper township officials to
facilitate the stagecoach. However, before
the money got doled out, some of the local
pilots (Wilmon Whilldin, Aaron Bennett and
Joseph Higbee) got the notion that they
could make a lot of money running steamboats
into Cape May Point and Higbees Beach and
then ferry them around to Cape Island. That
pretty much killed the stagecoach run. The
folks in Dennisville got miffed and
stonewalled funding for the bridge with the
cooperation of Upper and Middle township
officials' help for the next 20 years.
the Schellengers’ general store was located
right about where The Lobster House is
today. It didn’t really become a harbor
until the early 1900s when a group of
businessmen from Pittsburgh and
Philadelphia, led by Peter Shields, decided
they were tired of depending on a ferry to
shuttle tourists to Cape May. They wanted
steamships and commercial fishermen to be
able to dock right here in what would be
called Cape May Harbor at Schellenger’s
Landing. Their idea was to develop the
eastern portion of Cape May. They wanted to
design a plan for housing on streets names
after the states and large cities and they
wanted to build a large hotel to accommodate
the influx of tourists. They called the
hotel, appropriately enough, Hotel Cape May.
Later it was renamed the Admiral Hotel, and
later the Christian Admiral Hotel. A few
years back the hotel was razed to make way
for luxury homes.
So, from the get go, Schellenger’s Landing
was a place for tourists as well as
Bertolina, co-owner of Treehouse Antiques in
Cold Spring, remembers his summers in Cape
May helping out his father who ran a weekend
party boat called the Jean out of
Schellenger’s Landing. And by party boat, we
mean as in party of 12 not as in whoo hooo
was a lawyer in Philadelphia,” Chuck said,
“That was his full time job but on the
weekends, he ran the party boat from about
1947 to 1958. Monday morning he got back on
the train to Philadelphia. Of course, my
sister and I had to help and we’d be up
early in the morning, sometimes in the
freezing cold, to cut the bait.”
remembers that the people who ran the party
boats in those days were a tightly knit
group of hard working captains, all of whom
had day jobs. He said his father, like all
the other party boat captains… No, make that
all the other boat captains … thought about
ways to improve his boat all year long.
and father never argued,” he said, “except
about that boat. I remember one summer my
dad got it into his head that he wanted to
buy two brand new twin diesel engines that
he bought from a motor company in Detroit.
My mother wanted a new sofa and they went
back and forth and back and forth until my
dad won. My father had a reputation for
reliability. If you booked with him, you
were sure to get to the dock safe and
Turns out the
engines were lemons and every time he took a
party out that summer, he had to be towed
back in. Even though Chuck’s father was a
lawyer, he wasn’t pursuing the matter
quickly as far as Mrs. Bertolina was
got so mad she wrote to Detroit telling the
manufacturer to make good on the engines or
she’d put a big sign on the car and boat
saying they sold defective engines. Two free
diesel engines arrived a couple of weeks
later and Dad was back in business.”
Life on the
dock could get pretty dicey at times.
Chuck recalls, “I hated having to do all
that work as a kid and I was scared as hell
when we’d go out and a squall would come up.
The boat rocking back and forth. Water
slamming into us just like a brick wall.
Lightening all around us. You just felt like
a cornflake floating out there. Every time,
I’d swear that if I ever lived through it,
I’d never go out again. Of course, we’d be
right back out the next day. I don’t know, I
don’t miss any of it but I wouldn’t trade
those days for anything in the world. It’s
what Cape May’s about really.”
Schellenger’s Landing changed over the past
hundred years or so?
“No,” says Keith Laudeman, CEO of The
Lobster House and its affiliates.
It is Valentines’ Day night as I walk into
The Lobster House Restaurant looking for
Keith. I walk passed the picture galleries
on the walls and into the bar. The bar is
already filled with people waiting for a
table and it is only 6 p.m. I am told that
Keith is up in his office.
As I walk out onto the deck near the Raw
Bar, the rain is beating down on the wooden
planks and splashing the water where the
boats are docked. I wouldn’t exactly call me
a seaworthy person, so it is exciting to be
out here alone in the rain so near to the
water and the ghostly looking fishing boats.
I walk into the office but everyone has
already gone home. I climb the stairs to
Keith’s office, which I notice has no view
of the water. It is, like I said, 6ish and
he has been here since 7ish and will still
be here long after I have left on this busy
night for dining out. I don’t want to take
up too much of his time, so I get right to
it. You mean, I ask, the dock hasn’t changed
in all these years?
Shaking his head no, he
says, “Schellenger’s Landing has always been
for tourists. From the ‘20s on people always
brought party boats to the docks and there
have always been commercial fishing boats by
that has changed, he says, is the number of
“I remember when there was nobody here
before Memorial Day and nobody here after
Labor Day,” he said. “But otherwise it’s the
same. We packed a whole lot of fish before
and we pack a whole lot of fish today.”
House wholesale business started back in the
1920s by Keith Laudeman’s grandfather Jess.
“In those days,” Keith said, “the train came
right into Schellenger’s Landing. “ His
grandfather bought the catch off the boats,
loaded it onto the train cars where it was
shipped to Philadelphia and New York to be
sold to restaurants there.
When Keith’s father came out of the U.S.
Coast Guard in the 1950s and joined his
father’s business, he decided to open his
own restaurant and that’s how The Lobster
House got started.
was a commercial fisherman himself, joined
the family business in the 1980s and has
added a fleet of boats to The Lobster House
holdings but they still buy fresh catch from
the independent fishing boats and the deals
are still struck the way they always were –
with a handshake.
So, the next
time you cross the bridge coming into Cape
May, look to your left. You’ll see a huge
sign that says Lobster House, Fisherman’s
Wharf. Yes, I know. You’ve eaten there a
hundred times but listen take the time to
look around. Check out the harbor. Walk
through The Lobster House and look at the
history up on the walls. Then, walk out by
The Raw Bar. The large boats you see docked
out there are commercial fishing boats and
you’ll see party boats coming in as well.
Schellenger’s Landing is a place for common
ground. Where those who live by the sea and
those who simply love the sea come together
just as they have for the last one hundred