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Month: August 2000

For the love of the game

regatta2The sport of fishing is one that includes both luck and talent. Fate plays a big hand, as does Mother Nature. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to hook the “big one” – well, that’s what it’s all about.

As the daughter of a sport fisherman, I watched from afar, and learned to respect the ocean early in life. I saw the passion and enthusiasm this powerful body of water put into my father’s eyes.

The month of August is inarguably one of boating’s busiest. Be it the party boats, filled with first-timers heading out to the bay; 55-foot sport fishers, filled with tanned fisherman with stars in their eyes hoping to catch that big one in the canyon and winning a tournament’s big purse; or sailors, spinnakers flying, all vying for first place rounding the mark.

Purposeful Sailing

The Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May hosts its seventh annual Volvo Leukemia Cup Sailing Regatta from August 11 to 13. Sailors compete in two days of sailboat racing raising funds for the Leukemia Society’s research grants and patient service programs. The Leukemia Society sponsors some twenty regattas around the nation including Annapolis, Maryland and San Diego, California.

Ralph De Simone, Leukemia Society public relations manager, told CapeMay.com that in the past six years the regatta held in Cape May has raised at total of $235,000 for the Leukemia Society – one of the most successful in the country.

Regatta“Every year it’s built upon itself,” added regatta chairman David Schultz.

“The Leukemia Society does an outstanding job organizing the races. Their full-time staff does all of the leg-work and logistics of the event,” Schultz continued. “They organize the parties, dinners, and awards.”

Schultz, who has played an active role in organizing the regatta for the past seven years told CapeMay.com volunteer efforts from the Corinthian Yacht Club members also make the event possible. He said he has six to eight committees with more than one hundred people working to make the weekend a success.

“There’s something for everyone to participate in,” Schultz added, “It’s a family event.

A new addition this year is a Junior Sail-A-Thon. On August 11, young sailors, ages eight to 16, will participate in a sailing parade and help raise further funds for the society.

Raising money for to help those with cancer is the Leukemia Cup’s main objective. Being able to sail for such a worthwhile cause has made it one of the most popular events the yacht club sponsors. For all of their hard work and dedication, regatta participants receive awards and incentive prizes such as gift certificates and entrance into a nationwide drawing for a Volvo car and a $5,000 West Marine shopping spree.

All the incentive prizes are donated by national corporations and local businesses, and volunteers, like Lisa Thorndike, work throughout the year to collect them

Thorndike told CapeMay.com an auction open to the public is held the last night of the regatta with one of the prizes being auctioned off a one-night stay at the The Southern Mansion in Cape May.

Thorndike, who was the top fundraiser in last year’s regatta, has also placed collection boxes throughout Cape May in the following locations: WaWa, Swain’s True Value Hardware, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, Dry Dock, Whiskers, McDowell’s Gallery, Carney’s and Mother Grimm’s Bears.

Direct donations can be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Southern New Jersey Chapter, 216 Hadden Ave. Suite 328, Westmont, NJ 08108.

“The Richest Marlin & Tuna Tournament in the World”

FishSToryPrizedWFishSToryLaiWThe Mid-Atlantic $500,000 Tournament, scheduled to begin August 20, is advertised by its sponsor, South Jersey Marina, as “the richest marlin and tuna tournament in the world.” This is indisputable, with $1,290,500.00 in prize money paid out last year alone. One hundred and fifty boats from California to Texas to New York travel annually to Cape May to participate in this tournament. The pressure is high, as are the expectations, while the captains and crew prepare for three days of competitive fishing.

The rules are simple and limited: five days are allotted for the tournament, each boat fishes only three of those days – the captain’s choice, and all-tackle International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules must be followed.

Sport fishing, specifically off-shore tournament fishing, is truly the rich man’s sport. The entry fee alone is $6,000. This does not include money for calcuttas (side wagers), which are optional and cost an additional $10,000. Add on bait, tackle, food, drink, lodging, the captain’s wages, the mate’s wages, wear and tear on a boat, approximately $2,500 in fuel, you’ll find – excuse the pun – the tournament awash in money.

With over 2,000 people to accommodate during the week of August 20, assistant tournament director Rob Starr is a busy man. He did take a minute to talk to CapeMay.com. Starr told this magazine that fishermen participate in the tournament for the money but added that the other important aspect of the tournament is the friendly competition among the fishermen.

“The initial attraction to the tournament is the money,” Starr said. “But it’s just as much about the camaraderie.”
Starr said the Mid-Atlantic $500,000, now in its eighth year, was the first million-dollar tournament of its kind in the United States. It has started a trend of big money tournaments spreading from its origins in Cape May all the way to California.

Another Special Cause

The month of August comes to an end with a third boating event on August 30 in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape May. The Special Kids Fishing Tournament, begun in 1987, has become a favorite of local party, charter, and private boat owners and captains. These men and women forfeit a day’s revenue to treat the Association of Retarded Citizens’ members and coaches to a day of fishing.

Approximately 100 area boats participate in the tournament, the sole purpose being to show the more than 300 athletes and coaches a good time.

There’s no money involved — the owners, captains, and crews of the boats volunteer their time in exchange for the smiles and celebrations that follow the catch of a flounder, weakfish or even a pesky stingray.

The event is sponsored by the Cape May Marlin and Tuna Club, the Cape May County Party and Charter Boat Association and the Elks Lodge of Somers Point, New Jersey.

Bob Rasmussen, a member of the Cape May Marlin and Tuna Club, owns a 53-foot Ocean Yacht sport fishing boat and has volunteered his time and boat, Razzy’s Raft, in the Special Kids Tournament for more than ten years.

“It’s a great thing to do,” Rasmussen said. “It’s my best day on the water.”


The Road Not Taken: An Excerpt from “The Summer City by the Sea”

Chapter 11 from The Summer City By The Sea, Cape May, New Jersey by Emil R. Salvini

SCBTSopener

A contemporary description of the 1878 pre-fire Cape May skyline, observed from the deck of a passing sailboat, spoke of the “flashing lines of festival lights connecting the continuous row of monstrous four-floored buildings, seeming to touch each other…”

These lights were anchored on each end by railroad properties, the Sea Breeze Excursion House on the western end of the city and the great Stockton on the east. Although both of these hotels survived the inferno, the “continuous row of monstrous buildings” between them was now reduced to ashes.

The impact of this fire differed significantly from the 1869 blaze in two ways. The first was its size; the 1878 fire destroyed a much greater area — over 35 acres.

The second major difference was that the earlier blaze occurred in the midst of the railroad economic boom. Plenty of investors were eager to rebuild before the arrival of the next summer season.

The 1878 fire took place at the end of a boom period; the resort and nation were still emerging from the 1873 depression. To make matters worse, Cape May’s competitors had grown in number and success, and the Queen of the Seaside Resorts’ crown was tarnished.

Popular architect Stephen Decatur Button designed the Senator John B. McCreary summer cottage which was constructed in 1869/70.  The building still stands today on Gurney Street at Columbia Avenue. (Historical American Buildings Survey)

Popular architect Stephen Decatur Button designed the Senator John B. McCreary summer cottage which was constructed in 1869/70. The building still stands today on Gurney Street at Columbia Avenue. (Historical American Buildings Survey)

A rather disingenuous article appeared in an Atlantic City paper immediately after the fire that claimed to sympathize with its neighbor to the south. The reporter said that while many believed that “Cape May cannot recover,” he was confident that out of the ruins “will arise a handsomer and more modern city” (like Atlantic City), and “will have the attraction of being new and clean.”

The writing was on the wall; Cape May was losing the war for Philadelphia dollars with Atlantic City. A sweltering day in the Quaker City caused so many Philadelphians to seek the relief of Atlantic City that the railroads, in an effort to accommodate the masses, would press into service boxcars with makeshift benches.

Stockton House, Mr. J.B. McCreary’s cottage, Mrs. Hallenback’s villa, and others of our most beautiful buildings, paid us a visit, displaying some superb drawings of hotels which may yet adorn the places made waste by fire. We gladly welcome this ardent friend of Cape May among us once more. His visits have not been frequent of late.”

Stephen Decatur Button was sixty-five years old in 1878. He had established himself as a leading architect in the decade preceding the Civil War, and had spent several years designing homes for the wealthy in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Button had won the commission to design the Alabama Capitol building in 1847 and produced a building typical of the early American Greek revival style. He later moved to Philadelphia, where his contacts with the railroad eventually led him to Cape May. Button first commission in Cape May was to modernize the Columbia House in 1863 for West Jersey Railroad executive John C. Bullitt. During the next decade he designed numerous cottages and hotels in Cape May and the wooden summer city by the sea fell in love with his classical style.

Amusement rides such as the Epicycloidal Swing (1879) and later the Ferris Wheel (1892) attracted the young in droves. The first Easter Parade was held in Atlantic City on April 16, 1876 and proved an immense success. Though it had been so earlier, Cape May was no longer considered a serious contender of Newport, Rhode Island for the nation’s leisure class trade. By 1874 there were over 500 cottages and villas in the New England resort. In 1878, the year of the fire, there were as many Philadelphians summering in Newport as in Cape May.The writing was on the wall; Cape May was losing the war for Philadelphia dollars with Atlantic City. A sweltering day in the Quaker City caused so many Philadelphians to seek the relief of Atlantic City that the railroads, in an effort to accommodate the masses, would press into service boxcars with makeshift benches.

(Left to right) E. C. Knight House (1881/82), 203 Congress Place; J. R. Evans House (1881/82), 207 Congress Place; and Dr. Henry F. Hunt House (1881), 209 Congress Place. All three were constructed after the fire of 1878 when Congress Place was cut through the rear of the Congress Hall property. (Historical American Buildings Survey)

A short article in the Cape May Wave on December 7, 1878 gave a clue to the direction Cape May was to take after the fire.

“Mr. S.D. Button, the able architect of the Stockton House, Mr. J.B. McCreary’s cottage, Mrs. Hallenback’s villa, and others of our most beautiful buildings, paid us a visit, displaying some superb drawings of hotels which may yet adorn the places made waste by fire. We gladly welcome this ardent friend of Cape May among us once more. His visits have not been frequent of late.”

Stephen Decatur Button was sixty-five years old in 1878. He had established himself as a leading architect in the decade preceding the Civil War, and had spent several years designing homes for the wealthy in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Button had won the commission to design the Alabama Capitol building in 1847 and produced a building typical of the early American Greek revival style. He later moved to Philadelphia, where his contacts with the railroad eventually led him to Cape May. Button first commission in Cape May was to modernize the Columbia House in 1863 for West Jersey Railroad executive John C. Bullitt. During the next decade he designed numerous cottages and hotels in Cape May and the wooden summer city by the sea fell in love with his classical style.

Stephen Decatur Button designed the Layfayette Hotel for Victor Denizot in the traditional L-shape Cape May style, allowing for the maximum amount of rooms with an ocean view.  The hotel stood ay Ocean Street and Beach Drive (Library of Congress)

Stephen Decatur Button designed the Layfayette Hotel for Victor Denizot in the traditional L-shape Cape May style, allowing for the maximum amount of rooms with an ocean view. The hotel stood ay Ocean Street and Beach Drive (Library of Congress)

By 1878, Stephen Button was no longer in demand by a fashion-conscious leisure class that preferred younger, more progressive architects like Richard Morris Hunt, a favorite of the Vanderbilt family. The fire represented an opportunity for the aging architect.

The famous Cape May strand proved to be the savior of the troubled resort after the 1878 fire.  None of Cape May's competitors could offer the public the gentle sloping floor of beautiful white sand that has made Cape May famous. (Cape May County Historical Society) Click for larger

The famous Cape May strand proved to be the savior of the troubled resort after the 1878 fire. None of Cape May's competitors could offer the public the gentle sloping floor of beautiful white sand that has made Cape May famous. (Cape May County Historical Society) Click for larger

It became immediately clear, with few exceptions, Cape May would rebuild itself as a smaller, scaled-down version of its pre-fire era.

The northern end of the Congress Hall property was subdivided. A new street, Congress Place, was cut through the property and cottage lots were sold. Congress Hall was rebuilt as a smaller version of the great hotel. Brick was used in its construction to advertise that it was modern and fireproof but the hotel was constructed in the traditional L-shaped style, that provided an ocean view for the maximum number of rooms. Although Button was not the architect for the new Congress Hall, he was later hired in 1880 to make improvements to the structure. Button designed the Joseph Evans cottage on one of the new Congress Place lots (205 Congress Place) in his classical style. He received two commissions; the first to design a new oceanfront hotel, the Windsor, and the second, a commission for Victor Denizot’s Lafayette Hotel, located at Ocean Street and Beach Drive.

Photo courtesy H. Gerald MacDonald. Click for larger

Photo courtesy H. Gerald MacDonald. Click for larger

The two new hotels that Button designed mimicked the traditional seaside hotel popular thirty years earlier.

Because the majority of the cottages built after the fire were constructed without architectural plans, it was common for carpenters to follow the lines of existing cottages or lift designs from the popular pattern books, collections of Victorian homes of varying costs and styles. In the case of Cape May, most were styled after the simply-ornamented Italianate “Button” style that the resort had fallen in love with decades before the fire.

The property owners of Cape May were presented with a blank canvas after the rubble of the 1878 fire was carted away. Their decision not to compete with the more popular resorts limited the town’s growth but it fortunately preserved the intimate character of the town that so many value today.

The city was rebuilt as a smaller, scaled-down version of itself after the 1878 fire.  This decision preserved the intimate scale of the resort that is so valued today. (above) Turn-of-the-century view of Perry Street taken from the boardwalk. (Author's collection) Click for larger

The city was rebuilt as a smaller, scaled-down version of itself after the 1878 fire. This decision preserved the intimate scale of the resort that is so valued today. (above) Turn-of-the-century view of Perry Street taken from the boardwalk. (Author's collection) Click for larger

A popular nineteenth century poem titled The Humors of Cape May spoke of frolicking in the famous Cape May strand, the gently sloping floor of beautiful white sand where the surf breaks. Cape May had been blessed with a strand that was superior to any of its competitors. (It was not until after the turn of the century that man would tamper with nature and unwittingly damage forever the resource around which the city was created.)

Vacationers seeking excitement chose Atlantic City. Those wishing to demonstrate to the world that they had “arrived” traveled to Newport, but the nineteenth century sojourner in search of a “health-giving” seabath still preferred Cape May.

Cape Island had, according to an 1881 Cape May directory, “a rolling surf, safe at all times, and within easy access from the shore and boardinghouses” with numerous piers that afforded a “delightful view of bathers during bathing hours.”

This directory also described the impact that tourism had on the city’s population. “The season for bathing commences about the 20th of June, and closes the 1st of September. A very small number of visitors is found there at either of those times; but in the course of the season, it is estimated that as many as seventy-five thousand persons visit the place; and during a portion of the time, there are as many as ten thousand at once, or, including children and servants, twelve thousand.”

During the summer season, even government offices modified their schedules to suit vacationers. The directory noted that the post office’s “summer arrangement” was “open for general business from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., except Sundays and while sorting mail.”

The beach became the engine that would drive the growth of the area destroyed by the fire. The “burned area” was too close to the Atlantic to remain undeveloped for long.

Congress Hall was rebuilt after the 1878 fire as a traditional L-shaped Cape May beachfront hotel.  Brick was used in the construction of this smaller version of the grand old hotel in the hopes of fireproofing the building. (Author's collection)

Congress Hall was rebuilt after the 1878 fire as a traditional L-shaped Cape May beachfront hotel. Brick was used in the construction of this smaller version of the grand old hotel in the hopes of fireproofing the building. (Author's collection)

The boardwalk was repaired to extend from Broadway to Madison Avenue. By 1880, Beach Drive and the Boardwalk were illuminated with gas lamps purchased by the city from the Pennsylvania Globe Gas Light Company. The lights were placed at equal distances, seventy paces, along the entire length of the boardwalk.

The Cape May Wave reported that “the effect thus produced being exceedingly brilliant and attractive…”, and all agreed that the city be congratulated for this attempt to “beautify and improve this, the grandest of nature’s gifts to us as a watering-place.”

As competition with Atlantic City intensified, The Cape May Wave stated that that while over seventy Atlantic City hotels advertised in local Atlantic City newspapers, clearly understanding the value of printer’s ink, Cape May’s lack of advertising caused the publisher to wonder if his paper was a breeder of “some dire pestilence.”


The Summer City by the Sea, Cape May, New Jersey: An Illustrated History
by Emil R. Salvini
11″ x 8.5″. 150pp
158 B&W illustrations
Hardcover: $27.95

Available at bookstores everywhere or can be ordered directly by calling Rutgers University Press at 1-800-446-9323. Please mention you found it on CapeMay.com


Farming’s Roots in West Cape May

wcm fa3It’s a question most rural America is being forced to examine. How do we economically preserve our farmlands? Even on this tiny peninsula of Cape May the question looms large, especially in the Borough of West Cape May — a place where old versus the new and farmland vies to maintain a place alongside “vacation-land.”

People have been vacationing on Cape Island for more than 200 years and residents have been farming the acreage here for much longer than that. In fact it was the availability of fresh food that was imperative to Cape May’s growth as a resort community.

A significant portion of the old farming acreage here has been, and continues to be, developed for private homes but most of the area still carries its old rural flavor. There are horses, cows, and acres upon acres of planted and fallow fields. The tiny Borough of West Cape May, incorporated in 1884, was home to many a dairy farmer until the early part of the twentieth-century when pasteurization became law — the mechanics of converting were too costly and farmers turned from cattle to crop.

Times haven’t changed much in West Cape May. Today, a good walk, a short bike ride or a five-minute car trip brings Cape May visitors into rural farmland — a certain suprise after spending time amid Cape May’s Victoriana, her beach and the boardwalk.

wcm fa4The 95-acres owned by Les and Diane Rea is largest of the active farms on Cape Island. They grow gladiolas, pumpkins, sunflowers, watermelon, cantaloupe and have about five acres of lima beans planted. The Reas run a vegetable stand and the farm is home to a flock of sheep, a couple of pigs and a duck. Over the 75 years the Rea family has been farming, they have also grown crops on land owned by others. The compensation received by these often non-resident landowners was a property classification that allowed low farmland tax rates.

Today, however, the Reas have had to cut back on the number of acres planted.

For decades, they had a contract with Hanover Foods to grow Fordhook lima beans and during that time there were as many as 1,000 acres planted with that vegetable alone. But when the corporation pulled out five years ago, the Reas gave up all large-scale commercial farming.

Now they’ve downsized to approximately 40 acres of maturing crops including tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for their farm stand, created as a necessary income supplement.

Many residents have been fighting hard over the past 10 years to control and slow borough development in order to maintain the community’s rural serenity and historic integrity. The new owners of Steven’s Street Willow Creek Farm are currently seeking borough approval to build 21 houses. Willow Creek is directly next door to the Reas. And while those fighting development have generally failed to get local zoning changes enacted, they do have several allies.

Cape Island is one of the world’s most important stopovers in the annual bird migration. Because of this, environmental groups as well as the state and county governments have been working to keep as much land as possible either in its natural state or to be forever deeded as farmland.

The Reas became the first Cape Island property owners to deed-restrict their development rights to a large chunk of land. They gave up development rights to about 86 acres for which they were paid about $1.2 million, according to Diane Rea.

They closed on the deal last month under the Cape May County Development Easement Plan so the acreage will forever be farmland. The Reas still own the property and they can pass it on to their heirs, but it can never be used for anything except farming.

In another ecological advance, the Nature Conservancy recently purchased about 180 acres of Cape Island property east of Seashore Road that was primed for more than 20 new homes. Developers Jon Sachar and Greg Whissell received almost $1.9 million for the property.

Les Rea is also planting 30-foot wide strips of shrubbery along sections of his property under an arrangement with New Jersey Audubon. This is strictly for the birds.

wcm fa5The farm stand — strictly for people — is now in its fifth season and has something new each summer. Now there are homemade fruit pies to go along with an array of flowers, jellies, spaghetti sauce, plants, vegetables and herbs. The stand is located at the intersection of Bayshore Road and Stevens Street in West Cape May.

There are also several smaller farms in the area which specialize in vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The Sea Dragon Herbery, specializing in dried flowers, is owned by Karl and Jany Baymor, and located on tiny a Stevens Street farm just west of Bayshore Road near the Rea farm.

The couple took a second place ribbon for their dried flower display at the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show, earlier this year. Last year, their first at the show, they won a third place ribbon.

The Baymors partnered with the Reas in a crop of larkspur planted last fall. The crop was hand-harvested this spring and the fresh flowers were sold both on the wholesale market and at the Rea stand. Some were kept for drying.

Cape May Cut Flowers, owned by Patricia Bowman, is another Cape Island flower farm. Located south of the canal on Seashore Road in Lower Township, for the past six years the farm has offered live flowers for sale to individuals and for weddings and parties. Bowman has also been a beekeeper for 20 years and sells honey locally from her four hives.

The only things missing from this rural scene are hills — there are none on Cape Island. It is the country, rich at the roots, existing side-by-side with America’s oldest seaside resort.


The Restoration of Congress Hall: History’s Contemporary Challenge

She was just one of many large hotels in the late 1800s that catered to the elite. Massive hotels they were, with broad verandahs and sweeping lawns that faced the ocean.

John Philip Sousa wrote two songs for Congress Hall. In fact, he introduced them on her lawn. For she was well-known across the nation — presidents set up summer white houses in her halls, and the rich and famous mingled on her porches. These were the days of glory — times of wine and roses.

Now she sits staring vacantly at the ocean. Empty save for a few offices on the second floor, her yellow paint peeling, and windows broken like jagged teeth. She holds her breath as the battle over her destiny rages. What will become of her?

CongressHall4002

“The devil is in the details, but God is too,” said Department of the Interior National Historic Landmarks Manager Bill Bolger during a November, 1998 visit to Cape May.

When it comes to restoration in this National Historic Landmark town of Cape May, these “details” can be complicated and perplexing. And when it comes to Congress Hall, emotion complicates detail even further.

Bill Bolger was in Cape May City at the request of city officials and worried residents. Cape May was on the “endangered” landmark list. Priority One. It’s “entire town” historical designation was in jeopardy — some said the situation was indeed “perilous.”

The historic Christian Admiral Hotel had recently been torn down in the city’s east side. The east side — already home to 1960s and 70s urban renewal houses, and an area fast gaining a reputation for its new “Palm Springs-style” homes springing up along the beach front. This lack of “Victoriana” in this very Victorian village and seeming dearth of concern for the preservation of an historic hotel like the Christian Admiral whispered ominous messages into the ears of the federal government. Perhaps Cape May didn’t really care about its status. And maybe the entire town itself didn’t deserve the designation — the boundaries could be redrawn.

But the people of Cape May do care. Passionately, as Bolger found out — especially about Congress Hall. Never again did Cape May want to see a death like that of the Christian Admiral. That Congress Hall was owned by Curtis Bashaw, the very man who owned the Admiral too, sent warning signals to the public. The building was deteriorating much as the Admiral had before demolition. Could this happen again?

ConHall40eastSi

Bashaw, along with Congress Hall Partners LLC, however, has applied for federal and state funding to rehabilitate the building. With this funding come strict guidelines regarding historical integrity. Bolger himself called Congress Hall an “anchor” building in the town’s National Historic Landmark status. And he cited its current state of disrepair as a factor in Cape May’s endangered status.

“The building is in desperate need of repair,” he said. “It has to be saved. It’s a very important part of the town. I want the building preserved.”

As does Bashaw. But financing such a large project is onerous.

“When we first looked for financing, the banks didn’t want to underwrite it as an entire hotel because there couldn’t be enough money made. They wanted to ‘condominiumize’ the fourth floor leaving 70 rooms instead of 102 as a hotel,” Bashaw says. “I didn’t want to do that. I felt nostalgic and wanted to keep the whole thing a hotel so we looked at other avenues through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority which led us to the Housing and Urban Development fund. The whole reason we shifted to preservation was not to have to ‘condominiumize’ and destroy the building’s historical integrity.”

Both state and federal funding has been approved, however restoration work has not begun. There are still more details to work out. And a lawsuit.

Bashaw’s concern now is blending the old with the new and meeting Department of Interior guidelines. He states quite matter-of-factly that in order for the building to thrive, it must become successful financially. And that’s tough in today’s energetic world of competition. To become viable, in addition to restoration of the 102 guest rooms, Bashaw plans to add a conference center, reinstall a swimming pool complete with changing-room cabanas, rehabilitate the “annex” — a separate building used primarily through the decades as employee quarters — for shops and a below-street-level restaurant. He also wants to provide 202 parking spaces on the hotel’s front lawn.

The addition was the first to spur public complaint. Bashaw’s designs called for a stained-glass domed walkway leading into a new area designed similarly to that of Congress Hall. How could that meld with the existing building?

Department of Interior guidelines are very specific regarding additions. “New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size and scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment. New additions shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.”

ConHall40westSi

Bashaw says his conference center plans conform to these guidelines. The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office agrees. So does the Department of the Interior. But there are those who disagree. Those, in fact, who take umbrage with the entire project and have taken that umbrage to court with the intent of suing Congress Hall Partners LLC, the city and mayor of Cape May and various state historical preservation agencies.

As the lawsuit is pending, details are sketchy, but the plaintiffs have been vocal in the past finding the project too contemporary, the parking plans creating too severe of an impact, and the project itself not adhering to federal guidelines.

“There is no reason new construction, additions and restoration cannot become an intricate part of Cape May for years to come,” says Bill Bolger. “They can become, in their own time, contributing parts of the town.”

He admitted setting new construction guidelines is extremely difficult. “The worst building I’ve found is the one designed by a committee,” he says, adding that basic regulations should “prohibit the building of Victorian imitations.”

Bolger says Cape May is leading the nation in the field of preservation in many ways. Other towns will look to Cape May as an example.

“The most damaging thing is for a town to be frozen in time,” Bolger continues. “We should preserve the town and add to it.” New Jersey State Historic Preservation Specialist Daniel Saunders calls this a “new design challenge area” and says the field of preservation is “very young.”

And indeed it is, for it’s really only today that we are acutely aware and appreciative of the past, our young past. The question now is how to preserve this antiquity properly and make it economically viable — existent for generations to come.

While the question remains to be answered, Congress Hall sits empty, waiting, caught between today and tomorrow — an illustration of our times.

Illustration from the past (circa 1911): Original B/W from the collection of Emil Salvini.

Illustration from the past (circa 1911): Original B/W from the collection of Emil Salvini.


The Chalfonte Saga Continues

“The ravages of fire can scarcely be appreciated from a pen description. Where on Saturday morning stood thirty-five acres covered with magnificent hotels, gems of cottages and thousands of bath houses is now a blackened waste, swept by the besom of destruction, leaving nothing in its wake but spectre chimneys and smouldering ruins.”
Star of the Cape Newspaper, November 14, 1878

chalfo1What began as a simple boarding house soon grew into a reputable hotel under the direction of Colonel Henry Sawyer. He was a local hero — it was said that every man, woman and child in Cape May could recite Sawyer’s “Lottery of Death” story by heart.

Sawyer served as member of city council for nine years and was superintendent of the United States Life Serving Service — the forerunner of the United Sates Coast Guard — and a member of the New Jersey State Sinking Fund Commission.

By 1878, the boarding house had more than doubled in size and Sawyer had added a belvedere, or cupola, to its roof.

On the morning of November 9, 1878, as was his morning habit, Sawyer climbed the belvedere’s steps to take in the rooftop view of the small city.

It was from here, history has it, that Sawyer noticed smoke pouring from the roof of the Washington Street’s Ocean House. Sawyer sounded the fire alarm, but the damage was done.

It was Cape May City’s most disastrous fire — burning a total of 35 acres.

The Satterfields of Richmond

Southern visitors continued to enjoy the resort. Cape May’s location — just south of the Mason-Dixon line — made it an obvious choice for the wealthy vacationers of states like Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. And Henry Sawyer catered to them all.

In 1888, Sawyer sold the hotel. Five years later, he was dead.

Henry Sawyer

Henry Sawyer

“Colonel Henry W. Sawyer, for many years proprietor of the “Chalfonte” hotel at Cape May City, dropped dead in Marcy & Mecray’s drugstore at Cape May on Monday afternoon last.

Col. Sawyer was prominent in Grand Army circles, not only in South and West Jersey, but in the State Department as well. Colonel Sawyer fought in the war of the rebellion, and was recognized as one of the bravest soldiers that ever entered a battle. One of the most stirring incident of his life, and one which the Colonel loved to talk about, was his capture and confinement in Libby Prison, and his subsequent sentence to be shot to death, he having been the unfortunate victim of the drawing in the ‘Lottery of Death.’

The funeral took place yesterday afternoon with Masonic honors.

The late Colonel H.W. Sawyer was buried on Thursday of last week with civic and military honors, at Cold Spring Cemetery, Cape May. The funeral procession, which was a mile long, was the largest ever known at this end of the State. Rev. J.M. Cockins, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, made an address on the public services of Colonel Sawyer. Masons and war veterans escorted his remains to the cemetery, where the impressive service ended with a volley of musketry, the roll of muffled drums and the bugle call ‘taps.’”

— Henry Washington Sawyer’s obituary, Ocean Wave Newspaper, October, 1893

By 1900, the hotel was one of Cape May’s most prosperous. A menu found hanging inside a fire wall reads: “H. Cresse, Proprietor Tonight’s Menu:
Oyster Soup, Cream of Pea Soup, Prime Ribs of Beef, Boiled Ham, Baked Stuffed Veal, Boiled Cabbage, Baked Tomatoes, Pickles and Peach Cake. Tickets available for the evening’s Cake Walk.”
Hannah Cresse ran the hotel until 1911 when she sold it to Rose Satterfield. Mrs. Satterfield was from Richmond — the very town that sent Sawyer home a hero.

It was tragedy that brought Rose Satterfield to Cape May. Her daughter had drowned in the James River. The same river that ran right behind Libby Prison. Fleeing Richmond memories, she came to Cape May.

She worked at the Baltimore House — one of the four to survive the 1878 fire. When the Chalfonte came up for sale in 1911, Rose decided to buy it. According to family history, Rose “liked” to work. She didn’t have to — the Satterfield family was one of Richmond’s most affluent.

The hotel stayed in the Satterfield family until 1978. Even today, the Satterfield clan gathers annually at the hotel for a reunion. In fact, many families returned year after year making the hotel a familial gathering place. Known for its southern hospitality and graciousness, the Chalfonte was home away from home, a place to relax, for many generations.

Hotel employees were blacks from Virginia and North Carolina. Entire families worked in the hotel, and they too, in a sense, became extended family.
Clementine Young worked at the hotel for 60 years as head chambermaid. Her daughter, Helen Dickerson, ran the kitchen. And Helen’s children — Dorothy Burton and Lucille Thompson — are there today, working in the kitchen as their now deceased mother had for more than 40 years.

Mariah and Calvin Satterfield, III

Mariah and Calvin Satterfield, III

Happy memories touched by a hint of sadness and humored exasperation radiate from the eyes of Mrs. Calvin Satterfield.

“Those were the best picnics evah,” Mrs. Satterfield tells CapeMay.com from a porch overlooking the Chalfonte. “And we were evah so careful about the fire and cleaning up. But the city made us stop because of new rules and regulations. It was so sad.”

Mariah Satterfield is married to Calvin Satterfield — the third. His grandfather bought the hotel from Rose in 1921. Calvin the third and Mariah are at the hotel for the annual reunion.

Calvin spent his childhood summers in the hotel. Before World War I, his winters were spent in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where his father — Calvin, Junior — ran another establishment named the “Chalfonte” — in honor of his Cape May hotel.

“I went to school in Pinehurst during the winter. School would end in early May there. I’d come up heah and have to attend another month,” he laughs.

The Satterfields have four children and 12 grandchildren. Recently, two daughters bought nearby summer cottages so they could still eat and “participate in the life” of the old hotel.

And life is has today.

"My rites of passage were not when I turned seventeen or eighteen years. The thrill of my life was being let into the room where Calvin Satterfield told his jokes. I knew I had come of age."  — Anne LeDuc

"My rites of passage were not when I turned seventeen or eighteen years. The thrill of my life was being let into the room where Calvin Satterfield told his jokes. I knew I had come of age." — Anne LeDuc

It is Cape May’s oldest hotel of continuous operation. Anne LeDuc bought the hotel in 1978 from Mary “Mimi” Satterfield who ruled with an iron thumb.

“It was the 1960s and the hotel staff went on strike. Henry, the bellhop, had stahted it all. Ms. Satterfield was not to be outdone. She ignored the employees and set her family and the guests to work. I changed beds for half a day, and nearly broke my back.”
Anne’s mother was from Lexington, Virginia. Her family knew the Satterfields and would vacation at the Chalfonte. Anne told CapeMay.com she’s been coming to the Chalfonte since she was two years old.
“I remember running down the porch and hiding under it. And during college I worked here,” Anne said sitting on the very same porch during an interview. “In the early 1970s, when Mimi turned 80 years old she wanted to sell. The person interested in buying it wanted to turn it back into a boarding house. I was afraid that would ruin it, so I took that as a chance to manage the hotel for Mimi.”

At that time, Anne said, the rooms were painted an “institutional pea green” and there was only one double bed in the entire hotel.

By 1978, Mimi wanted to sell again. This time, Anne found a partner interested in preserving the Chalfonte.

“Judy Bartella is an artist from Lexington, Kentucky. She quickly fell in love with the place,” Anne said.
Together, they managed to purchase it. “My lawyer warned me I was buying the hotel for emotional reasons, and to take a long look at finances,” Anne said.

“Buying the hotel from Mimi was like buying something from your mother. She kept pushing the paper across the table at me. And the lawyer was right, by the way,” Anne laughed.

After mortgaging her own house, Anne set up “work weekends” offering volunteers a place to stay in exchange for manual labor and substantial improvements were made to the hotel. Anne and Judy also began preservation programs with the University of Maryland’s architectural department. Each spring and fall, students exchange 10 hours of work for a seashore retreat.

chalfontehallThe hotel’s cultural and historical integrity remain the heart and soul of the Chalfonte.

“In the 1940s and ’50s, the staff was all black. They were real gentle folk. The hotel was the epitome of graciousness. That’s what set its ‘tone,'” Anne said. “I try to talk to everyone who comes here, especially those from Richmond. How to keep up cordiality with hard-core business is our current challenge.”

The hotel is not heated, nor air-conditioned. There are no telephones or televisions in any of the rooms. There are, however, ceiling fans, marble-topped dressers and many original furnishings. The hotel offers cultural activities as well — theater, opera, concerts, classes and children’s events.

“We’ve upgraded rooms on the second floor,” Anne said. “And we’re looking at adding some private bathrooms. That’s our dilemma now. And we need to replace the roof. We have short-term goals and long-term goals. The important thing is to retain the ambiance. With the old and the new, it’s a pack of challenges today.”

As if on cue, a man approached Anne. “Are you Anne?” he asked a bit timidly. “I’m from Richmond,” he continued. “Yes,” said Anne enthusiastically. “I saw your name in the guest book. I’ve been meaning to meet you. The Satterfields are here, you know, for their reunion. So it’s been a bit hectic.”

The man is obviously taken with Anne, and the ambiance of the hotel. “Can I call you Anne?” he asked even more timidly. “My mother’s name was Anne.”

The Chalfonte Hotel today

The Chalfonte Hotel today

He has the same slow drawl of the Satterfields.

“Of course,” replied Anne.

“Can I take your picture?” he asked, a bit more encouraged.

“Why certainly,” said Anne.

“I just wanted to tell you how much I love this hotel,” he continued. “It’s history and its feel. It’s my first trip here.”

“How did you find us?” queried Anne.

“On the Internet,” he said.


Remembrances

“It was the one evening of the summer everyone looked forward to. The hotel staff, the guests, and the high-browed Richmond owners.

Theodore Jackson, the black bellhop, would lug pounds upon pounds of lobster, clams, corn, and hot dogs to the beach where they would be cooked over an open fire.

The children loved the hot dogs, of course. The adults would languish in the soft evening ocean breeze near tables laden with fine china, lace tablecloths and freshly roasted seafood. Cocktails were served and games played on the soft Cape May sands.

Away from the daily rigors of hotel life, it was the time all could enjoy.”

— Mingled Memories of Owners and Staff


Living on the Bird Way

“Pisscchhh! pssch, pssch, pssch.”

It woke me very early one morning when I was living on Seagrove Avenue, out by Cape May Point. It was a very strange sound.  I got out of bed and looked through the window to find what my sleepy eyes perceived as aliens. Two of them stood in my yard, looking to the sky, holding onto elongated black eyes, making this noise and looking up as if this is where the starship would land to collect them.
A few rubs of my morning eyes and a couple of blinks later proved to clear things up. They weren’t other-worldly after all; they were English birders.

I asked about the sound they made and one of them told me it was called “pisching” (spelled wrong I am sure I will need to look further in to this…). Pisching is like calling a cat but you’re calling a bird instead.

I tried it, no birds came to me. Then it crossed my mind that I might get both cats and birds. Bad idea. So I left the pisching to the experienced birders.

Since that day, I have been listening and learning more and more about birding in Cape May.

And I am certainly not alone. Thousands of people from all over the world  come to Cape May to bird for the simple reason that millions of birds stop here. Cape May has most likely been on the birding highway, the migratory track, long before humans inhabited this land.  Hand’s History of Cape May written in 1895, talks of a “surprising variety” of birds that inhabited what was then Cape Island.  It remains true today.

Variety is the spice of the birding life

All year long Cape May plays host to the broadest range of bird species in North America.  Least Terns, Purple Martins, Pied Billed Grebe, Wilson’s Phalarope… all grace the sky over welcoming wetlands and woods. And you can watch them too, even if you’re not yet a practiced “Birder.”

You can begin with birding classes held by the Cape May Bird Observatory.  The nature trails at the Cape May Point State Park and the Nature Conservancy’s Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge are excellent places to initiate a bird watching adventure. You can widen your birding experience with visits to Higbee’s beach and the Rea’s farm on Bayshore (near the silo, not on Stevens Street near the produce stand). If you have questions while exploring these locations, you are bound to run into experienced birders at some point.  They’re everywhere around Cape May, particularly in the Fall.

Beware the water birds

swan2

Mute Swan

While walking through the nature trails at the Cape May Point State Park or strolling along Lake Lily you will surely come across Mute Swans. These graceful aquatic birds are not native to North America. They were introduced in the 19th century by Europeans. Although the swans are very pretty to look at, my own personal experience suggests that you don’t get too close. They have no almost no fear of humans and can go after you if they are distressed.

Everyone’s favorite bird (or at least the most obvious) at the seashore seems to be the Laughing Gull.  You have to look out for these characters too. They’ll spot you from high above, and just as you start to put that French fry into your mouth one of them will swoop in your direction. Before you know it, you’re looking blankly at your fingers where your food used to be; in the distance you’ll hear that “laughing” sound.

Cape May County has one of the largest Laughing Gull colonies in the world. With so many people and so many different tasty foods to swipe, I’d probably hang around Cape May’s beaches too if I were a gull. And though some people think they’re pests, I think they’re quite beautiful, especially in flight when they seem to be painted right on the sky.

Endangered by man… and woman

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Several of the bird species in and around Cape May, including the Least Tern, the Pied Billed Grebe, the Piping Plover, are listed on the endangered or threatened list for birds in New Jersey.  The reason for the decline of the population of the Least Tern, and possibly the Piping Plover, is rooted in fashion. During the Victorian period, as many as 1,200 Least Terns were killed per day so that their skin and feathers could be used to fashion stylish hats.  Thankfully, soon after the plucking spree came the signing of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prohibited the sale, purchase, taking or possessing any wild migratory bird. The Least Terns and Piping Plovers began to reappear in large numbers, but were again knocked back by humans. This time it was land development along beaches where they nest that led to another rapid decline.

Today we’re going to great lengths to protect these and many other species of birds. From the cove beach at the end of the promenade in Cape May City to Cape May Point State Park, eight feet of the sand that lies between the dunes and the water is roped off to prevent humans and pets from approaching delicate nesting areas. Signs are posted explaining  to visitors and children why they cannot walk or play on this section of the beach. For the most part people obey these rules. But there are always a few who feel they are being kept from some big secret and step  over the ropes. They discover nothing except that their clumsy behavior  disrupts the habitat. And the nesting birds pay the price.

Not just birds either…

flutterbySeptember is the month that the Monarch Butterflies migrate. In mid-September the sky is alive with activity. Around every corner you can find a butterfly. The Monarchs too stop off in Cape May to rest up. Astoundingly, these delicate creatures attempt an annual journey of 2,000 miles to their winter home in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. If you are a Monarch enthusiast Cape May is the place to be this month.

As far as I know, however, no one is pssching in the yards of Cape May Point in search of Monarch butterflies.  Not yet, any way.

For more information on the importance of the Cape May “rest stop on the Birdway,” be sure to visit the Cape May Bird Observatory or the New Jersey Audubon Society website. You may even want to consider extended birding workshops offered by the staff of the CMBO.

To view a complete list of the endangered and threatened birds of New Jersey please visit http://www.njaudubon.org/NatureNotes/endanger.html.


Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America. Once coupled, Purple Martins are a monogamous pair. They work equally together building the nest and caring for their young. These birds are welcomed by the community.  People often supply the Martin’s with homes for the breeding season, which the Martins have become totally dependant upon. Some  people who have supplied the bird houses did so with the hope that Purple Martins will consume all the mosquitoes around their yards.  Although they do consume their fair share of flying insects,  mosquitoes are not among them.

NOTE:  Now don’t go evicting your Martins yet!  By supplying these birds with homes you are helping to ensure the survival of the species.