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Month: May 2000

One Answer to Cape May’s Parking Woes?

cmsllogoWDuring last month’s National Geographic Traveler Magazine on-line forum, many respondents proposed rail service as one possible solution to Cape May’s parking and congestion problems. CapeMay.com takes a look at the Seashore Lines — its history, current presence and potential future.

Before the dawn of the automobile age, railroad tracks ran through mainland Cape May County.

Steam locomotives chugged past pine forests, salt swamps and seaside villages, bringing restless Philadelphia passengers to Cape May. Urban-weary city slickers caught their first glimpses of summer cottages, whaling vessels and white, sandy beaches because of a burgeoning 19th century railroad industry that birthed several barrier island towns and communities on Cape May County’s coast.

In 1863, the Cape May and Millville Railroad became the inaugural rail line to link Camden, Millville, Woodbine, Cape May Court House and Cape May. The South Jersey Railroad followed in 1894, connecting Camden, Tuckahoe, Woodbine, Dennisville and Cape May Court House.

cmslrdcBy the turn of the 20th century, the Atlantic City Railroad and the West Jersey and Seashore railroad competed for passengers, racing to Cape May on tracks set miles from each other. For many a summer wayfarer, buying a ticket to Cape May was the only way to travel. Train stations today mostly non-existent or shells of their former selves were once cluttered with passengers switching trains, boarding and disembarking. Stations like Tuckahoe, Cape May Court House and Cape May were the most used.

In 1933, the Atlantic City and West Jersey and Seashore merged and became the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines.

The age of train travel competed steadily with the automobile. During the 1920s, when automobiles became popular and affordable, railroads saw a deterioration in passenger volume. And this progress was the death knell for passenger train service to Cape May.

By 1981 all service to Cape ended. The rails carried freight to Tuckahoe until 1983. Then, for almost two decades, train tracks sat vacant and unused while the shore town tourist industry flourished just miles from the very tracks which created them in the first place.

But now the sound of train whistles once again echo off Cape Island, as refurbished trains again bring tourists to Cape May. This time, the trains are part of a local short line railroad, Cape May Seashore Lines.
Founded in 1984, Cape May Seashore Lines, owned by New Jersey Transit, is licensed to operate passenger rail service between Tuckahoe and Cape May, a 27-mile distance.

Currently, the railroad provides service from the 4-H Fairground north of Cape May Court House to Cape May, a distance of 13 miles, after the restoration of the Cape May Canal Bridge reopened passenger rail service to Cape May on June 12, 1999.

Cape May Seashore Lines CEO and president, Tony Macrie, began his railroad career as a track laborer for a Pennsylvania railroad.

Macrie rose through the railroad hierarchy, working as a track supervisor and a qualified engineer. As president of Cape May Seashore Lines, he reintroduced passenger train service to Cape May County, a marriage of conveyance and tourism.

SeashoreCarBesides the 4-H Fairgrounds and Cape May, the rail line has train stops in Cape May Court House, the county seat and commercial hub, and Cold Spring Village, a historical recreation of a 19th century hamlet.

“It’s like we’re re-inventing the wheel,” Macrie said of the current train service.

Operating in the Cape May Seashore Lines are eight Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines Budd cars, circa 1950; two P-70s, circa 1915 and 1917; and a West Jersey and Seashore GP9 #700, circa 1955.

For just $8 for adults and $5 for children, passengers can board the train at the 4-H Fairgrounds and travel to Cape May round-trip. One way tickets cost $5.

Macrie hopes the train service depended upon by many past generations will remedy a modern problem: increased traffic in Cape May.

“It’s been very good for us. We carried a large number of people last year. We believe that’s a good solution for alleviating traffic and congestion problems down there,” Macrie said. “We hope the city would be more cooperative for using train. Its economical and an efficient way of moving people in and out of the city.”

Cape May’s traffic woes are the stuff of legend. A town with a 19th century street plan only had to deal with horses, buggies and pedestrians a century ago. Now, the influx of 21st century tourism has strained the city’s limit on parking spots and caused a burden on city fathers to find a solution.

Macrie believes Cape May’s rail line will cushion the city’s traffic malaise.
“We need to work closer with the city of Cape May. We need more cooperation. Parking garages aren’t the answer. You have to intercept people before they get into town,” Macrie said.

Wayne Piersanti, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, attests to the railroad’s impact on the tourist industry. “Public transportation is very difficult to look at because we recognize we have to wean our customers from the use of their automobiles when they come to town,” Piersanti said. “With the train bringing people there are mixed reviews because we have a viable bus business bringing people in,” Piersanti said.

No parking for large busses exists in tourist-rich destinations such as the quaint Washington Street Mall or the many beach entranceways. Busses drop sightseers off at the historic train station, currently undergoing restoration to become the city’s transportation center. Piersanti said for many Cape May visitors not inclined to gas up and drive to Cape May, the preferred conveyance is the bus.

However, he added an “inter-modal” transportation system, one where the train and busses work in harmony, is what the city needs to reduce in-town traffic. By utilizing a jitney service already in place, train and bus passengers can freely move about the city, not worrying about traffic jams or finding all-too-elusive parking spaces.

SeashoreMap“The problem with public transportation is if it becomes too cost effective, people will continue to use their automobiles. Automobiles are cheaper. To take the train from here to Court House is expensive. People will always rely on cars,” Piersanti said.

Macrie disagrees that the train is relegated to an antique curiosity bereft of benefits for travelers. An average rail car can hold as many passengers as 30 automobiles.

That’s 30 cars that won’t be causing traffic headaches in Cape May, Macrie reasoned. According to Macrie, passenger numbers for Cape May Seashore Lines increased 18-percent last year. “Besides being a tourist attraction, it’s actually a mini-transportation system. Besides being recreation, it’s honest-to-goodness transportation,” Macrie said.

The ghosts of a southern shore railroad may be resurrected with an ambitious new project planned to restore rail service farther north to Tuckahoe and maybe even Atlantic City. Exactly $3.6 million in funding is in the works by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) for repairing a trestle in Woodbine and track rehabilitation to Tuckahoe. If the state green lights the funding, passengers can park their cars in Tuckahoe and ride the 24 miles of track to Cape May.

“We get a lot of riders from Ocean City, Atlantic City and people driving down from Cherry Hill. You intercept them before they can drive the congested Garden State Parkway. We see the train opening more markets for us,” Macrie said.

Merry May, past president of the Greater Tuckahoe Merchant’s Association, an entity consisting of 40 members with businesses in Tuckahoe, Corbin City and Estelle Manor, believes Cape May Seashore Lines’ extension into Tuckahoe Junction could help with Cape May’s tourist traffic.

Map courtesy of Yahoo.com     Tuckahoe, a section of Upper Township in northwest Cape May County, lies along the Tuckahoe River, across from Corbin City in Atlantic County. In its salad days, Tuckahoe had a vibrant boating industry, and its train station brought scores of visitors to the shore. Now Tuckahoe hopes to cash in on the Cape May Seashore Lines’ plans to extend the track. The Tuckahoe train station is being renovated and local businesses such as craft stores and artisans shops are opening, hoping visitors will make Tuckahoe a stop in vacation itineraries.

“We’ve been behind the project to move it forward so South Jersey isn’t left behind when it comes to transportation,” May said. “It would bring people into town to park their cars near the station and commute to Cape May. It’s important in the summer so people won’t park in Cape May.”

May, owner of Schoolhouse Enterprises, a quilting shop, said parking in Tuckahoe is currently limited, but hopes the township will find a way to add more parking spaces so Cape May-bound motorists can park in Tuckahoe and ride the train to Cape May.

“Every time we have an event we hear people say, ‘When’s the train coming?'” May said. “We’ve been waiting for it for years. We hope legislators look our way and filter out funds for the project.”

A long-range goal Macrie sees as “inevitable,” one destined to change transportation for the South Jersey shore region is the tying in of Cape Seashore Lines with the Atlantic City line. If the New Jersey DOT and New Jersey Transit permit the lines to connect, visitors from Philadelphia and Atlantic City can ride the rails directly to Cape May.

But before that can happen, Cape May Seashore Lines must reach Tuckahoe.

Piersanti believes train service to Cape May will increase passengers only if tourists resist the urge to use their automobiles, a tough sell for many who view the car as a symbol of independence and mobility. “If the train becomes a more viable source of transportation, then people may start taking the train into town,” Piersanti said.

Macrie said train service is a sensible alternative to driving to the shore, battling for parking spaces, and constantly feeding parking meters. “Every shore community from Atlantic City to Cape May had rail service. That’s how those communities were built,” Macrie said. “People now would like another alternative to the automobile.”


Cape May’s Seafood Industry: Dangerously Delicious

fishing2picCape May is the second busiest site for the off-loading of seafood on the East Coast. Approximately 11-million pounds of seafood are off-loaded annually at Fisherman’s Wharf for distribution to points throughout the globe: 600,000 pounds of flounder, 120,000 pounds of lobster, 1.5 million pounds of sea scallops, and massive quantities of at least 18 other seafood varieties pass through the plant on its way to plates world-wide.

When people sit down to enjoy a meal consisting of a fine fillet of sole, or lobster, or clams and other treats from the sea, they are partaking in the final step of an arduous progression through a major industry.

The seafood industry, which includes the dangerous occupation of commercial fishing, the processing and wholesale distribution of catches, and retail sales to consumers by shops and restaurants, is a vital and well-established aspect of life on Cape Island. Second only to the tourism industry, the Port of Cape May — which includes Wildwood and the stretch of Lower Township that lies between the two communities — is the second busiest site for the off-loading of seafood on the East Coast. New Bedford, Massachusetts, is number one.

Commercial fishing vessels and their crews from East Coast ports including clammers, lobstermen, scallopers and net fishermen, stop here throughout the year to off-load their catches.

WFishingBoatsD1The major fishing and processing operations in Cape May include Lund Fisheries, Atlantic Cape Fisheries and Axelsson and Johnson, all on Ocean Drive, as well as the Cold Spring Fish and Supply Co. and its associated Lobster House operation located on Fisherman’s Wharf at Schellenger’s Landing.

Commercial fishing is dangerous — very dangerous. Just last month, a local fisherman working aboard a vessel out of Atlantic Cape Fisheries was washed overboard in rough seas. A thorough search by the Coast Guard and other fishing vessels proved fruitless and he was presumed lost.
Through the decades, many Cape May fishing families have lost loved ones to the sea. A 22-day period between December of 1998 and January of 1999 saw five commercial fishing vessels sink and 11 lives lost.

When the 33-foot Predator sank on its way back to Ocean City, Maryland, one man was lost and one rescued.

The four men aboard the 84-foot Beth Dee Bob on its way back to Point Pleasant, New Jersey and the four aboard the 74-foot Adriatic returning to Atlantic City were all lost when their vessels foundered. And the 105-foot Cape Fear went down off New Bedford, Massachusetts, with two men lost and three survivors. A fishermen’s memorial dedicated to those lost at sea stands at the end of Missouri Avenue in Cape May. A stone statue of a woman with two children gaze across the harbor towards the sea. Often, it is found surrounded by fresh flowers put there by friends and relatives.

WFishingBoatsDespite the danger, the industry continues to thrive. Seafood is caught, processed and distributed so that people can enjoy a fine meal on any given day of the year.

The Cold Spring Fish and Supply Company and its associated Lobster House operation are among the most frequented sites for visitors to Cape Island. This enterprise, owned by the Laudeman family, encompasses all aspects of the seafood industry from fishing to the dinner plate. The company owns three commercial fishing vessels and about 20 independent boats.

From humble beginnings as a one-man operation, the business now employs about 500 people at the height of the season. Its goes back about some 75 years.

Jesse Laudeman, born in the late 1890s, moved from Philadelphia to Wildwood in 1926 and started a wholesale fish business which he operated from Otten’s Harbor. He moved to the Two Mile Dock on Ocean Drive several years later.

In 1939, he purchased the Cape May dock (known today as Fisherman’s Wharf) from the Reading Railroad. The property contained Bateman’s Restaurant and a marine bar, which Laudeman leased out while running his wholesale fish operation. Jesse, his wife Veaud and his 21-year-old son Wally took over the 60-seat restaurant in 1953 and renamed it The Lobster House. Over the years the family expanded the restaurant to the 650-seat facility it is today.

WSeafoodThe Grand Bank Schooner American was acquired and moored to Fisherman’s Wharf in 1965, a seafood take-out was added in 1970, the Raw Bar becoming part of the operation in 1985.
Approximately 11-million pounds of seafood are off-loaded annually at Fisherman’s Wharf for distribution to points throughout the globe. 600,000 pounds of flounder, 120,000 pounds of lobster, and 1.5 million pounds of sea scallops as well as numerous quantities of at least 18 other seafood varieties pass through the plant on its way to stores throughout the world. A good portion ends up in markets within a 300 to 400-mile radius of Cape May.

The processing, distribution and supply operation consists of a packing house, an ice-making plant, a cutting room, and conveyer belts to move the fish from point to point within the facility.

The Lobster House Restaurant and its Fish Market also purchase a great deal of seafood to supply its large operation. Most visitors to Cape May don’t leave the island without dining at the Lobster House, or stopping for a plate of clams-on-the-half-shell at the scenic raw bar, or without a “goodie” bag from the fish market or take-out counter.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), well-known for its various tours of historic Cape May, also provides tours of the Laudeman operation. They are scheduled at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from June 20 through the end of summer.


Another Mansion House…143 Years Later

MansionLeadart

It was to the Mansion House that U.S. statesman Henry Clay came for recuperation after the death of his son during the Mexican War in 1847.

Built in 1832, it was the second grand hotel built on the island. Built on four acres of land, it was the first lathed and plastered hotel — its predecessor, Congress Hall, simply weather-boarded and sheathed.

Clay’s visit caused quite a stir in Cape May. Unfortunate for Mr. Clay who wanted nothing more than to be left alone.

“I must tell you the motives which brought me to the shores of the Atlantic,” Clay told a crowd ofMansionSign admirers. “Finding myself in a theatre of sadness, I thought I would fly to the mountain top and descend to the waves of the ocean, and by meeting with the sympathy of friends, obtain some relief to the sadness which encompasses me. I came for private purposes, and for private purposes alone.”

His reference to the ocean he made quite literally. It is said Clay was an avid swimmer and would visit the beach twice daily. “It was while enjoying it (the ocean) that Mr. Clay lost a great deal of hair,” reads an 1897 account of Clay’s respite. “The ladies would catch him and with a pair of scissors carried just for that purpose, clip locks from his head to remember him by. When he returned to Washington his hair was very short, indeed.”

Five years later, Henry Clay died. And five years after that, the Mansion House burned to the ground

“The old, two-story house on Mansion Street has been here longer than anyone can remember,” the brief history on the back of the menu reads. “When my wife and I bought the house, eight years ago, we wanted to know exactly how old it was. After tracking the house back through old deeds, we discovered that the house was built in 1860.”

Just three years after the fatal fire.

Owners Perry and Susan Collier were surprised to find the original 1860 deed describing the plotMansionOutWeb as “the Mansion House property.”

“I had never really heard of the Mansion House or knew anything of its history,” Perry Collier told CapeMay.com. “I couldn’t find any photographs of it, but I did find some old etchings and drawings. And at the county museum housed a copy of a guest register and an actual sign from the hotel.”
Collier’s initial intent was not to turn the building into a restaurant, but simply save the old house and land from being condemned by the city.

“There was concern the City of Cape May would tear down the house and turn the property into a parking lot,” he said.

With parking at a premium within the confines of this small city, Collier’s concern was real. He also owns Collier’s Liquor Store adjacent to the Mansion House, and in fact, he later found out, the very spot on which the original Mansion House stood. The store is already surrounded by a parking lot easily paving the way for more.

Mansion Street has long been home to the Collier family business. Perry’s uncle, Charles Collier ran a speakeasy there during Prohibition. After the Volstead Act was repealed in 1934, he built a nightclub — the same building now housing Collier’s Liquor Store. Perry’s father Harry, went into the business after being discharged from the Navy in 1945, eventually buying out Charles. In 1963, he turned the club into a liquor store. Perry has been in the business since he left the Army in 1963.

MansionChef5“In order to improve the property’s value, we decided to open a restaurant. A seafood restaurant,” Collier said. “When it came to naming it, there was no question. It had to be the Mansion House. And when it came to hiring a chef, Joe Lotozo was the only one I considered.”
Chef Joe Lotozo is well-known in Cape May. His first independent restaurant was the much-celebrated Bayberry Inn at Congress Hall. When the Virginia Hotel on Jackson Street opened in the mid-1980s, Joe was hired to launch the highly-successful Ebbitt Room. Through the years, Joe’s wife, Susan — “we’re both married to Susans,” Collier said affectionately — worked side-by-side with Joe at both the Bayberry Inn and the Ebbitt Room until their first daughter was born. A second daughter was born and Susan, an artist, decided to go into business for herself. Joe took a parenting leave to help his wife.

It took a bit of coercing to convince Joe to take the job, but Perry persisted.

“I’ve known him and his work through the years and admired it. Coincidentally, my wife and I ran into Joe and Susan in Paris. We had many meals together. When we decided to open the Mansion House, Joe was the only one I would consider. I look at it all as karma,” Perry laughed.

Joe told CapeMay.com there hasn’t been a restaurant in Cape May devoted to seafood for a long time. “We wanted seafood but also wanted to make it contemporary, upscale. I call this seafood with a twist.”

In designing the menu, he revisited the culinary influence of his travels in Asia and the MAnsionHouseREcipe.jpgCaribbean. Appetizers like Go Ba, grilled rare beef filet with cellophane noodles and a Thai peanut sauce, and a seviche of scallops marinated in lime juice, coconut milk, chiles and cilantro illustrate both cultural influence and creativity.
Other appetizers such as chilled jumbo shrimp with a Bloody Mary Gazpaucho and fried calamari with aoili and a tomato-scallion relish reflect Cape May’s seafood industry and Joe’s desire to take advantage of the area’s bounty of seafood and produce.

CapeMay.com’s dinner at the Mansion House Seafood Restaurant sampling appetizers, entrees and desserts proved refreshing and invigorating. It was opening night — an evening which could have been fraught with disaster, and certainly one full of trepidation for all.

The grilled rare filet in the Go Ba appetizer was just that, cooked to perfection, the sauce rich and nutty with just the right amount of spice. The pan-fried oyster roast, oysters dusted with stone-ground cornmeal served with a Cajun remoulade and a pepper hash, was equally satisfying — the remoulade reigning supreme.

A calamari connoisseur ordered the dish. He was intrigued with the aoli sauce, tired of the typical marinara accompaniment so many restaurants offer. For those who don’t know, calamari is squid. It’s hard to cook properly — overcooking turns the squid quite literally to rubber — and the dish has to be served immediately or the crust gets soggy. The “squid specialist” declared the Mansion House fried calamari to be the best he’d ever eaten.

Though the Mansion House specializes in seafood, there is one beef entree and one duck entree available on the menu which will change seasonally. Cape May.com ordered two seafood entrees and the 21-day aged Black Angus filet for the token “landlubber.”

Destined to become a Lotozo “signature dish” is the Shellfish Pan Roast with Chorizo sausage, saffron rice and sofrito. Described as an “inside-out paella,” one of Spain’s national dishes, Joe’s twist on the dish bakes mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, lobster and the day’s fish selection in a pepper, tomato and saffron base — called sofrito — and mounds the rice in the middle. Traditionally, the sofrito is stirred into the rice at the end of preparation.

Though the menu is quite sophisticated — Asian Bouillabaisse with udon noodles and wasabi rouille, cod filet in Moroccan spices, oven-roasted Florida Grouper with tomatillo-cilantro salsa, deep sea scallops with red pepper coulis, grilled Muscovy duck breast with a rhubarb red wine jus — it must be noted that special attention was given the child at the table. The pan-seared salmon dusted in curry accompanied with red pepper, carrot, cumin slaw and fried basmati rice with almonds, currants and green onions was a bit intimidating. The request for a simple piece of grilled salmon with haricots vert on the side did nothing to deter the smile or demeanor of the waiter — and she declared her meal “delicious.”

MansiontablesWbThough the restaurant is small, just three separate dining rooms on the first floor of a house, seating is not cramped nor must one strain to talk over a din of activity. The view may leave a bit to be desired — a parking lot out one window and the back of the Washington Street Mall out another — lace curtains amply add to the tasteful, sophisticated and somewhat whimsical design of the rooms.

Of special note is a reproduction of the original Mansion House sign (see above). Meticulously copied from the museum-housed original, the sign states the regulations of the house a la 1850. “Breakfast at seven and one-half o’clock, ” it proclaims. ” At table guests will take their seats at the foot as they arrive and proceed to the head as others leave the house,” it advises. “In order to prevent intrusions, a white flag will be on the bath house during ladies hours and red flag on the gentlemens,” it warns.

The sign is a Perry Collier treasure. Honestly, the entire Mansion House is. One can read it in his eyes and see it on his face. “The sentimentality of re-opening the Mansion House restaurant after one-hundred and forty-three years means a lot to me. Henry Clay stayed here for two weeks and like so many other buildings in Cape May, fire was its demise. I think what goes around comes around. And a Cape May treasure is back.”