House Tours let you step inside, see Cape May’s architectural interiors
There are a variety of Cape May private homes and one house museum just waiting to be explored (with tickets, of course)
CAPE MAY — What is it about stepping across the threshold of someone’s home that is so intriguing? When the home is in Cape May, N.J., a National Historic Landmark City, what adds to the intrigue is that they have had long, interesting lives.
With the highest concentration of Victorian-style, seaside, wood-frame homes in the country — over 600 — Cape May attracts visitors who appreciate Cape May’s preservation success story, and relish the experience of stepping inside meticulously preserved homes, sometimes seeing a living, breathing family home, other times imagining what life during Victorian times might have been like. Since 1970, Cape May MAC (Museums+Arts+Culture) has satisfied this curiosity by offering a variety of house tours throughout the year.
Cape May MAC’s flagship historic site is the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, once home to the Physick family, and is perhaps Cape May’s most profound historic preservation success story. It is one of Cape May’s main attractions not just for house tour enthusiasts but for visitors to Cape May, generally. Knowledgeable guides lead daily tours from February to December through two floors of the 18-room mansion, and teach visitors about the unusual Stick Style architecture, the renowned architect Frank Furness who designed it, the history of the Physick family who lived there, their concerns and activities, and what life was generally like in the late 1800s in Cape May.
Cape May MAC offers tours of houses that are private homes to the families who own them. In spring and fall, for example, Cape May Designer House Tours take the stage, and each year a new experience takes shape. In past years, four magnificent Cape May area private homes with unique interior design features opened to the public for one day. In 2020, one home will take center stage on three days this fall: Sept. 18, 19 and 20, and for good reason. The 2020 Designer House Tour, George W. Kates’ “The Avalon House,” is a modern day historic preservation success story, which story includes moving a historic home in pieces on a flatbed from Avalon, down the Garden State Parkway to a new site in Cape May, where it is currently being meticulously reconstructed. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting fall tour.
With the COVID-19 mandates forcing cancellation of Cape May MAC tours and events this spring, sadly, a new private home tour for Easter had to be cancelled. Spring Into the Cherry House promised to be an explosion of Easter bunnies and baskets at The Cherry House, a Federal style home built in 1849. Owners Frank and Beth Acker open their home at other times of the year for tours, however. During the Cherry House Haunting Tales & Investigations Tour, Beth and Frank relate stories of supernatural happenings witnessed in the house. Tourgoers will hear EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) captured by paranormal investigators, as well as the findings of psychic medium Craig McManus. Halloween Happenings in October features a variety of additional house tours celebrating the haunted side of Cape May.
During the Christmas holidays, The Cherry House opens again for tourgoers to experience the delights of the holiday during the Cheery Cherry House Christmas Tour. The house decorated for Christmas is a must-see.
The highlight of the Christmas season is three nights in December — the annual Cape May Christmas Candlelight House Tours. This year, on Dec. 5, 12 & 19, once again, well over a dozen homes, inns, churches, hotels and B&Bs throughout Historic Cape May, meticulously decorated for the holidays, open their doors and welcome visitors with refreshments along the way. Revel in one of Cape May’s most popular traditions for nearly half a century during these self-guided walking tours.
The Christmas holidays are one of the best times to experience a Cape May MAC house tour — there are so many from which to choose! Explore the possibilities now; you can purchase your tickets in advance. Plan to peek inside some true architectural gems in Cape May this year, when you can safely explore and enjoy the city again.