Saturday, February 20, 2010
In the early twentieth century there was an attempt to turn the undeveloped area of east Cape May into the Newport RI of NJ.
It was an overly ambitious effort and eventually went bust.
The plan involved dredging the harbor so larger ships could travel to Cape May, build mansions ( a few still exist like the Peter Shields Inn ) and the jewel in the crown was the Hotel Cape May.
As early as 1901 the local newspapers began mentioning the project but work did not begin until the Cape May Real Estate Company was formed in 1903 and Peter Shields was the director.
While Cape May development in the past had been driven by Philadelphia investors this time around major money came in from Pittsburgh and the papers quickly referred to the new group as the "Pittsburgh Syndicate."
The promoters envisioned a modern city with connections to the major railroads and a new harbor that would rival the ports of Philadelphia and New York.
The million dollar Cape May Hotel along with the harbor with a water area of 500 acres and a depth of forty feet ( the promoters promised it was deep enough to accommodate the largest ocean steamships ever built) were the 2 centerpieces of the project.
The Hotel Cape May opened to great fanfare in 1908. The celebration included a visit from the governor of New Jersey and an automobile rally from Philadelphia to Cape May.
Unfortunately the new development plans were built on a poor foundation of insufficient funds and six months after the celebration the Hotel Cape May mysteriously closed for repairs. Directors resigned and new people stepped into to jump start the harbor East Cape May project. It was not to be.
The ill-fated Hotel Cape May never fulfilled its promise to restore Cape May to the throne of Queen of the Seaside Resorts.. It remained empty for years.
The hotel was later acquired by the Admiral Hotel Company which attempted to operate it as a hotel.
The effort failed and the city took the hotel - The Admiral -over for back taxes in 1940 and it was sold to a group of developers that intended to convert it into a senior citizens home. During World War two it served temporarily as a military hospital.
Fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntire purchased the hotel and saved it from the wrecker's ball in 1963.
He changed the name to the Christian Admiral but the hotel was doomed from day one.
It was razed in 1996 when a deal was cut between the city that was owed back taxes and the owners of the hotel that also owned Congress Hall. Seaside lots were sold for McMansions and the money was used to restore Congress Hall that was also in need of restoration. It was a good plan since both hotels were key landmarks in Cape May and the sacrifice of one saved the other.
Now you know the story.