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Cape May, New Jersey
—  City (New Jersey)  —
Welcome sign
Cape May City highlighted in Cape May County. Inset map: Cape May County highlighted in the State of New Jersey.
Census Bureau map of Cape May, New Jersey
Coordinates: 38°56′24″N 74°54′19″W / 38.94°N 74.90528°W / 38.94; -74.90528Coordinates: 38°56′24″N 74°54′19″W / 38.94°N 74.90528°W / 38.94; -74.90528
Country United States
State New Jersey
County Cape May
Incorporated March 8, 1848
 - Type Faulkner Act (Council-Manager)
 - Mayor Edward J. Mahaney Jr.
 - Total 2.8 sq mi (7.3 km2)
 - Land 2.5 sq mi (6.4 km2)
 - Water 0.3 sq mi (0.8 km2)
Elevation [1] 10 ft (3 m)
Population (2006)[2]
 - Total 3,809
 Density 1,623.7/sq mi (626.9/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 08204
Area code(s) 609
FIPS code 34-10270[3][4]
GNIS feature ID 0885178[5]

Cape May is a city at the southern tip of Cape May Peninsula in Cape May County, New Jersey, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the Ocean City Metropolitan Statistical Area. It has a population of 4,034 year-round residents (as of the United States 2000 Census). In the summer, Cape May's population swells to over 40,000.[6]

With a rich history, award-winning beaches, designation as a top birding location, and many Victorian structures, Cape May is a seaside resort drawing visitors from around the world. Cape May was recognized as one of America's top 10 beaches by the Travel Channel and its beach was ranked fifth in New Jersey in the 2008 Top 10 Beaches Contest sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.[7]



The town is named for 1620 Dutch captain named Cornelius Jacobsen Mey who explored and charted the area between 1611-1614, and established a claim for the province of New Netherland. It was later settled by New Englanders from the New Haven Colony. What is now Cape May was originally formed as the borough of Cape Island by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 8, 1848, from portions of Lower Township. It was reincorporated as Cape Island city on March 10, 1851, and finally became Cape May city as of March 9, 1869.[8]

Cape May began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia in the mid 1700s and is recognized by the United States government as the country's oldest seaside resort. It became increasingly popular in the 18th century and was considered one of the finest resorts in America by the 19th century. In 1876 a five-day-long fire destroyed thirty acres of the town center. Replacement homes were almost uniformly of Victorian style. As a result of this and of more recent preservation efforts, Cape May is noted for its large number of well-maintained Victorian houses — the second largest collection of such homes in the nation after San Francisco. In 1976, the entire city of Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark (Cape May Historic District). It is the only city in the United States wholly designated as such. That designation is intended to ensure the architectural preservation of these buildings.

The Cape May area is also world-famous for the observation of migrating birds, especially in the fall. With over 400 bird species having been recorded in this area and hundreds of local birders, Cape May is arguably the top bird-watching area in the entire Northeastern United States. The Cape May Bird Observatory is based nearby at Cape May Point.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2), of which 2.5 square miles (6.5 km2) is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) is water. Cape May is generally low-lying; its highest point, at the intersection of Washington and Jackson Streets, is a mere 14 feet above sea level.[citation needed]

Cape May Harbor as seen from Devil's Reach.

Cape May borders West Cape May Borough, Lower Township, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Delaware Bay. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry provides transportation across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Delaware.

Cape May Harbor, which borders Lower Township and nearby Wildwood Crest allows fishing vessels to enter from the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape May is the southernmost point in New Jersey.

A panorama of Cape May Harbor.

Cape May is located at 38°56′13″N 74°54′40″W / 38.936814°N 74.911094°W / 38.936814; -74.911094 (38.936814, -74.911094).[9]


According to the Köppen climate classification system, Cape May has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) typical of New Jersey with warm summers and cool winters. Precipitation is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. Being the southernmost point in New Jersey, Cape May has fairly mild wintertime temperatures. Contrary to that, the summertime has lower temperatures than most places in the state, making the town a popular place to escape the heat. It is in zone 7a/7b which is the same as parts of Coastal Virginia, therefore being Humid/Temperate.It is a perfect location to grow traditional Northeastern Plants including English Yew, Boxwoods,and Sugar Maples. Because of the warmer wintertime temperatures, Hardy Palms including Trachycarpus Fortunei (Chinese Windmill Palm) and Needle Palms would work quite well in the landscape,these plants having survived for many years also in other parts of coastal ,NJ also zones 7a/7b from sandy Hook to Cape May. Wine grapes also do particularly well, given the long growing season.

Climate data for Cape May
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 42
Average low °F (°C) 27
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.68
Source: [10]


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1930 2,637
1940 2,583 −2.0%
1950 3,607 39.6%
1960 4,477 24.1%
1970 4,392 −1.9%
1980 4,853 10.5%
1990 4,668 −3.8%
2000 4,034 −13.6%
Est. 2006 3,809 [2] −5.6%
Population 1930 - 1990[11]

As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 4,034 people, 1,821 households, and 1,034 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,623.7 people per square mile (628.0/km2). There were 4,064 housing units at an average density of 1,635.7/sq mi (632.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.32% White, 5.26% African American, 0.20% Native American, 0.40% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.26% from other races, and 1.51% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.79% of the population.

There were 1,821 households out of which 18.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.6% were married couples living together, 7.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.2% were non-families. 39.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 24.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.02 and the average family size was 2.69.

In the city the population was spread out with 16.3% under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 19.8% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 28.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 47 years. For every 100 females there were 97.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $33,462, and the median income for a family was $46,250. Males had a median income of $29,194 versus $25,842 for females. The per capita income for the city was $29,902. About 7.7% of families and 9.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.0% of those under age 18 and 10.9% of those age 65 or over.


Cape May Municipal Office, formerly the Cape May High School
Cape May Housing Authority

Local government

Effective July 1, 2004, the City of Cape May switched to a Council-Manager form of government under the Faulkner Act. The government consists of a Mayor and a Borough Council comprising four council members, with all positions elected at large in partisan elections. A Mayor is elected directly by the voters to a four-year term of office. The Borough Council is elected to serve four-year terms on a staggered basis, with three seats coming up for election and then the mayor and the fours seat two years later.[12]

Under the council-manager plan, Cape May is governed by a municipal council which is elected at large and chaired by the mayor, with the Council performing the city's legislative functions. The mayor is a member of the council , presides over the council and has a vote, but no administrative authority. After the 2004 elections, the members of the initial council drew lots to determine who would serve a four year term, with the other three serving two-year terms. Subsequently, all councilmen elected serve for four years.

The city manager exercises all the executive power of the municipality. It is the duty of the manager to see that all laws and ordinances, in effect in the municipality, are observed. The council appoints the municipal clerk, the municipal attorney, the tax assessor, the tax collector, the treasurer, and such other boards and commissions as may be provided by the administrative code. The manager appoints all other officers and employees of the municipality, and all other employees if no other method of appointment is provided in the code, or by general law.[13]

Members of the Cape May City Council are Mayor Edward J. Mahaney (term expires June 30, 2012), Deputy Mayor Linda Steenrod (2010), Terri Swain (2012), David C. Kurkowski (2010), Neils Favre (2010).[14]

Federal, state and county representation

Cape May Post Office

Cape May is in the Second Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 1st Legislative District.[15]

New Jersey's Second Congressional District, covering all of Atlantic County, Cape May County, Cumberland County and Salem County and portions of Burlington County, Camden County and Gloucester County, is represented by Frank LoBiondo (R, Ventnor City). New Jersey is represented in the Senate by Frank Lautenberg (D, Cliffside Park) and Bob Menendez (D, Hoboken).

For the 2010-2011 Legislative Session, the 1st legislative district of the New Jersey Legislature is represented in the State Senate by Jeff Van Drew (D, Dennis Township) and in the Assembly by Nelson Albano (D, Vineland) and Matthew W. Milam (D, Vineland).[16] The Governor of New Jersey is Chris Christie (R, Mendham).[17] The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey is Kim Guadagno (R, Monmouth Beach).[18]

Cape May County is governed by a Board of Chosen Freeholders consisting of five members, elected at large in partisan elections to serve staggered three-year terms in office. Cape May County's Freeholders are Freeholder Director Daniel Beyel (Upper Township, term expires December 31, 2008), Freeholder Vice-Director Ralph E. Sheets, Jr. (2008), Ralph E. Bakley, Sr. (2010), Leonard C. Desiderio (Sea Isle City, 2009) and Gerald M. Thornton (2010).[19]


The Cape May City Elementary School serves 193 public school students in Prekindergarten through sixth grade. Students from Cape May Point attend the school as part of a sending/receiving relationship.[20]

For grades 7 - 12, public school students attend the schools of the Lower Cape May Regional School District, which serves students from Cape May City, Lower Township and West Cape May, along with students from Cape May Point.[21] Schools in the district (with 2005-06 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics[22]) are Richard M. Teitelman School (grades 7 and 8; 647 students) and Lower Cape May Regional High School (grades 9-12; 1,195). The private schools are Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School(Prekindergarden - 8) and Wildwood Catholic High School. They serve all students from Cape May County.

The Cape May Branch of the Cape May County Public Library is located in Cape May City.


Washington Street Mall

Tourism is the dominant industry. Cape May's economy runs on shops, restaurants, lodgings and tourist attractions on Washington Street Mall, along the boardwalk and elsewhere throughout town. Commercial and sport fishing are also important to Cape May's economy. Marine mammal watching, bird watching, and other forms of eco-tourism have become equally important in Cape May. A small wine growing area is adjacent to Cape May, and tourists to Cape May visit the four local wineries: Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery, Turdo Vineyards, Natali Vineyards and Cape May Winery [23][24].


Beach tags are required in order to use Cape May beaches.
A Victorian house in Cape May.

Cape May has become known both for its Victorian gingerbread homes and its cultural offerings. The town hosts the Cape May Jazz Festival, the Cape May Music Festival and the Cape May, New Jersey Film Festival. East Lynne Theater Company, an Equity professional company specializing in American classics and world premieres, has its mainstage season from June-December and March, with school residencies throughout the year. Cape May is also home for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, which offers year-round arts classes, African American history tours, WCFA-LP 101.5 FM (commercial-free jazz and community programming) and is transforming the historic Franklin Street School into a Community Cultural Center.

As is the case in many other resort towns on the shore, there is a noticeable presence of beach bum culture during the summer.

Cape May is the home of the so-called 'Cape May Diamonds'. They show up at Sunset Beach and other beaches in the area. These are in fact clear quartz pebbles that wash down from the Delaware River. They begin as prismatic quartz (including the color sub-varieties such as 'Smoky Quartz' and 'Amethyst') in the quartz veins alongside the Delaware River that get eroded out of the host rock and wash down 200 miles to the shore. Collecting Cape May diamonds is a popular pastime and many tourist shops sell them polished or even as faceted stones.

Coast Guard Training Center Cape May

The United States Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey is the nation's only Coast Guard Recruit Training Center. In 1924, the U.S. Coast Guard occupied the base and established air facilities for planes used in support of United States Customs Service efforts. During the Prohibition era, several cutters were assigned to Cape May to foil rumrunners operating off the New Jersey coast. After Prohibition, the Coast Guard all but abandoned Cape May leaving a small air/sea rescue contingent. For a short period of time (1929-1934), part of the base was used as a civilian airport. With the advent of World War II, a larger airstrip was constructed and the United States Navy returned to train aircraft carrier pilots. The over the water approach simulated carrier landings at sea. The Coast Guard also increased its Cape May forces for coastal patrol, anti-submarine warfare, air/sea rescue and buoy service. In 1946, the Navy relinquished the base to the Coast Guard.

In 1948, all entry level training on the east coast was moved to the U.S. Coast Guard Recruit Receiving Station in Cape May. The Coast Guard consolidated all recruit training functions in Cape May in 1982. Currently over 350 military and civilian personnel and their dependents are attached to Training Center Cape May.

U.S. Navy support during World War II

Because of the World War II submarine threat off the U.S. East Coast, especially off shore Cape May and at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, numerous U.S. Navy facilities were located here in order to protect American coastal shipping. Cape May Naval facilities, listed below, provided significant help in reducing the number of ships and crew members lost at sea.[25]

  • Naval Air Station, Cape May
  • Naval Base, Cape May
  • Inshore Patrol, Cape May
  • Naval Annex, Inshore Patrol, Cape May
  • Joint Operations Office, Naval Base, Cape May
  • Welfare and Recreation Office, Cape May
  • Dispensary, Naval Air Station, Cape May
  • Naval Frontier Base, Cape May
  • Degaussing Range (Cold Spring Inlet), Naval Base, Cape May
  • Joint Operations Office, Commander Delaware Group, ESF, Cape May
  • Anti-Submarine Attack Teacher Training Unit, U.S. Naval Base, Cape May
  • Naval Annex, Admiral Hotel, Cape May


Cape May is home to a memorial to fisherman who died at sea. The memorial is known as the Cape May Fisherman's Memorial, erected over the harbor in 1988. It is dedicated to fishermen lost at sea. It is maintained by the City of Cape May but administered by the Friends of the Cape May Fisherman’s Memorial. There is a statue and memorial stones holding the names of local fishermen who died at sea. The memorial has 75 names, starting with Andrew Jeffers, who died in 1893, and includes the 6 people who died in March 2009 with the sinking of the scalloping boat, the Lady Mary.

The statue is of a fisherman's wife and her two children looking out onto the sheltering waters of Cape May harbor. The statue is located inside a giant compass. An inscription on the base of the statue states: "He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze and the billows of the sea were stalled."

The design is the creation, in granite, of Heather Baird, with Jerry Lynch; Gary Sassi, Celestial Memorial Sculpting Studio, Barre, VT led the project sculptors; and, Douglass Monuments, Cape May Courthouse, NJ, coordinated the project. The monument occupies a dedicated site at the juncture of Baltimore and Missouri Avenues at Harbor Cove, Cape May, NJ.38°56′42″N 74°54′14″W / 38.945°N 74.904°W / 38.945; -74.904

Cultural references

Notable residents

Notable current and former residents of Cape may include:


Old map of Cape May, dated to 1886.

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographical Names Information System: City of Cape May, Geographic Names Information System. Accessed January 4, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Census data for Cape May city, United States Census Bureau. Accessed August 16, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ A Cure for the Common Codes: New Jersey, Missouri Census Data Center. Accessed July 14, 2008.
  5. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  6. ^ Claire Lowe, The cost of ensuring public safety, Jul 24, 2009
  7. ^ Urgo, Jacqueline L. (May 23, 2008). "Triumph for South Jersey". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  8. ^ "The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries: 1606-1968", John P. Snyder, Bureau of Geology and Topography; Trenton, New Jersey; 1969. p. 113.
  9. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  10. ^ "Average weather for Cape May, New Jersey". Retrieved December 20 2008. 
  11. ^ Jersey Resident Population by Municipality: 1930 - 1990, Workforce New Jersey Public Information Network. Accessed March 1, 2007.
  12. ^ 2005 New Jersey Legislative District Data Book, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, April 2005, p. 8.
  13. ^ Form of Government - Council/Manager, City of Cape May. Accessed June 1, 2008.
  14. ^ City of Cape May Elected Officials, City of Cape May. Accessed June 1, 2008.
  15. ^ 2008 New Jersey Citizen's Guide to Government, New Jersey League of Women Voters, p. 55. Accessed September 30, 2009.
  16. ^ "Legislative Roster: 2010-2011 Session". New Jersey Legislature. Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  17. ^ "About the Governor". New Jersey. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  18. ^ "About the Lieutenant Governor". New Jersey. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  19. ^ Freeholders Home Page, Cape May County, New Jersey. Accessed January 30, 2008.
  20. ^ "A Preliminary Study To Determine The Feasibility Of Cape May City's Withdrawal From, Or Dissolution Of, The Lower Cape May Regional School District", Cape May City School District, December 2005. Accessed November 28, 2009. "Students from Cape May Point attend on a sending-receiving basis."
  21. ^ Lower Cape May Regional - High School. Accessed April 16, 2008. "Lower Cape May Regional High School is a four year public school that serves students from four communities including Cape May, Lower Township, West Cape May and Cape May Point."
  22. ^ Data for the Lower Cape May Regional High School District, National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed July 27, 2008.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ U.S. Naval Activities, World War II
  26. ^ "Catarcio, Maurice A.". Northeast Obits. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  27. ^ Distinguished Alumni: Eugene Grace ‘99, Lehigh University. Accessed September 3, 2007. "Born in Cape May, New Jersey on August 27, 1876, Grace was the son of a sea captain."
  28. ^ Thomas Millet Hand, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed August 16, 2007.
  29. ^ Litsky, Frank. "GOODWILL GAMES; Popov Defeats U.S. Rival, and It Isn't Even Close", The New York Times, August 3, 1998. Accessed November 17, 2007. "Pilczuk, from Cape May, N.J., was six inches behind Yegorov, a disappointment for someone who upset Popov at this distance in last January's world championships."

External links

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