We’ve lived in the Cape May County, New Jersey area for a few years and there are still many museums and tours we haven’t yet experienced. Some we purposely saved for later, thinking that our visitors would enjoy them, but friends and family who visit us mostly want to hang out at the beach, take the kids to the zoo, see live music at the many parks and outdoor venues, visit the numerous wineries, breweries, and distilleries, and eat and imbibe at our renowned restaurant and bar scene. This fall before the cold weather set in and some attractions close for winter, we played the tourist at three of Cape May’s popular museums.
Historic Cold Spring Village is only open from June through mid-September, so we were lucky to squeeze in our visit on the last weekend that it was open. They closed the season with a bang with Revolutionary and Civil War encampments and reenactments of canon and musket loading and firing. The many original 19th century buildings have been moved here from various locations around southern New Jersey. They feature a blacksmith, potter, schoolhouse, printers, a country store, an inn, and many more. A map in the visitor center shows where each of the re-located buildings originally stood.
From their website, “Historic Cold Spring Village brings to life the day-to-day activities of villagers living in South Jersey during the “age of homespun.” (1789-1840). Visitors can make a personal connection between the past and present through the interactive, educational, and hands-on family activities.”
The restaurant on site, Cold Spring Grange, was constructed in 1912 and served as a meeting hall for political, business, educational, and social groups. Also on site is the Cold Spring Brewery, an 1804 English-style barn that was moved from the northern end of Cape May County and reconstructed. They brew a wide variety of beers including IPAs, stout, porter, lager, ale, and wheat, as well as one or two non-alcoholic offerings. The restaurant and brewery are available outside the Village’s admission area and are easily accessible from the Cold Spring Bike Trail.
Second on our hometown hitlist is the Naval Air Station in Wildwood, located at the Cape May Airport in a real WWII hangar. The US Navy assembled the hangar from a kit shipped by railroad in 1942. In 1943, the NAS Wildwood was commissioned as a training facility for dive bomber squadrons that served in the Pacific. The collection includes a wide-ranging assortment of aircraft, as well as lots of cool 1940s memorabilia. You are permitted to climb up and look inside several of the aircraft and the air traffic control tower.
Also on site at the airport is the Cape May Brewing company. While they do offer tours, crowds are usually exploring the beer samplers in the indoor/outdoor tasting room or imbibing in the beer garden. Their award-winning beers are often found on tap at our local bars and restaurants and as six-packs at our local liquor stores. Flagship beers such as Cape May IPA are generally available but if you fall in love with one of their seasonal beers like Mop Water 5-Spiced Ale, get it while you can as it won’t last long.
We wrap up this fall tour of Cape May with the Emlen Physick Estate. Built in 1879, the 18-room mansion is an architectural masterpiece built by famed American architect Frank Furness and one of the best examples of Victorian Stick Style architecture in the country. The means for building and maintaining the estate came from Emlen Physick’s grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, a renowned physician who is regarded as the father of American surgery. It contains many of the original furnishings and, being a keyboard player, I was particularly interested their Mason Hamlin organ, the table grand piano built in Philadelphia, and an antique mechanical roller organ. Tour guides play the part of various family members who lived in the home and remain in character throughout.
The original carriage house, which later housed automobiles like the Ford Model T, is converted to a gift shop and houses the Carriage House Carroll Gallery Exhibit. It features “An Old-fashioned Christmas” with an elaborate Dickens village and Christmas displays. This nostalgic exhibit, with its scenes from A Christmas Carol and old-time photos of Christmases past, is a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.
We leave the Physick estate as dusk is falling and stroll downtown Cape May where Victorian Christmas is in full swing. Authentic Victorian homes are all decked out with Christmas lights and the Grand Lawn at Congress Hall showcases its 35-foot-tall Norway spruce in Christmas splendor. When it’s time to warm up, we find a spot at the bar at Delaney’s Irish Pub with plenty of beers on tap including some from local breweries, and a seasonal cocktail menu as well.
This fall turned out to be an opportune time to play the tourist at our local museums. After the summer rush of concerts, festivals, and outdoor activities came to an end, we enjoyed taking time to learn about our local cultural heritage and experience our new hometown like a tourist.