Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mt Vernon Beach and Hotel - Cape May NJ

In 1856 the world's largest hotel, the Mount Vernon Hotel, burned to the ground before construction was completed. It was built to accommodate 2,100 guests and its dining hall contained more than forty gas-burning chandeliers. Sadly the partially completed mammoth hotel had opened for the 1856 season to bring in some needed cash and just as it was closing in Sept - mercifully the summer crowds were gone - fire consumed the Mount Vernon. A co-owner, his four children and a housekeeper were lost in the conflagration.

The footprint of the doomed hotel was developed by a variety of firms - most failed - and building lots were eventually sold and cottages erected. I believe the hotel was located in present day Cape May from Broadway west along the beach where 2nd Avenue now ends. ( The Light of Asia - a giant wooden elephant related to Lucy in Margate was used as a gimmick to sell lots in the area but that is another story.)

The Mount Vernon Beach company produced a brochure and sold lots on a plot that began " 700 yards west of the West Jersey Railroad Station on Beach Avenue" ( current day Grant Street in Cape May.)

The development included what consists today of the western end of Cape May and the now deserted town of South Cape May. The resort currently ends on the western end of the beach and boardwalk which is today 2nd Avenue. Based on their brochure the Mount Vernon Beach company plotted streets that actually ran to 21 Avenue.

Building so close to the sea can be a gamble and most of the homes that extended t0 21st Avenue in South Cape May were eventually lost due to erosion and hurricanes. Many were saved and moved east. The streets in Cape May that extend west from and include Broadway - Patterson, First and Second Avenues- contain a number of the Mt Vernon Beach homes. The Thomas Weinman Cottage that once stood on a Mt Vernon Beach lot at Beach and Sixteenth ( see the image from the brochure) was moved to First Avenue ( see the new photo taken by me in 2009 .)
I often write that in an era when labor was less expensive than lumber homes were moved when the sea encroached. It was said that the movers were so skilled the cottage owners often left their china in their wall cabinets, and the cottage and plates came to rest on the new lot in one piece :)


  1. wow, this is amazing. I love the old photos! I am so glad I joined this site..

  2. Hello People, I was on a holiday for a month just passing by read this interesting post its great to see that every thing here is getting more lively...thanks a lot for these keep them coming....

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  3. My Civil War brass band ( portrays a band that used to perform on Cape Island, as Cape May used to be called, between 1850 and 1870. One of our pieces is the "Mount Vernon Polka", which sheet music has a litho of the Mount vernon Hotel on the cover. A couple of other pieces we play are "Cape May Polka" ca 1863) and "On the beach at Cape May" (1868)