Cape May County, New Jersey

The Making of an American Resort Community

Cape May County, New Jersey

New settlements appeared in the pine wilderness of the mainland and on the uninhabited Atlantic Ocean barrier islands. These changes caused social and political conflicts, and new development assaulted the fragile seashore environment. Fishing and shipbuilding were key industries throughout the early history of Cape May County. In addition, familiar industries such as cranberry harvesting and nearly forgotten endeavors such as goldbeating, sugar refining, and cedar shingle mining played vital roles in the county's economic development. Dorwart also traces the origins of the seashore resort industry through the history of the city of Cape May, with its unique architectural styles and heritage, as well as the founding of Wildwood, Ocean City, and the newer resort towns.

Cape May County

Cape May County

New Jersey’s historic Cape May County, on a peninsula situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay, was named for Cornelis Mey (later May), a Dutch captain who sailed past her shores in the early 1600s. English-speaking whalers and farmers from New England settled here in the late 1600s, buying large tracts they called plantations. Shipbuilding became an important industry in the 19th century, employing hundreds who crafted sloops and schooners used for coastal trading. Although Cape Island (now Cape May City) was advertised in the late 1700s as a popular, healthy place for sea bathing, the barrier islands remained largely uninhabited until train service from Philadelphia was established in 1863. With thousands of visitors arriving daily by rail during the summer season, the seaside resorts of Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Strathmere, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and the Wildwoods blossomed. Today, tourism is the county’s largest industry, as vacationers enjoy both its 30 miles of beaches and the mainland’s quaint historic villages.

Flood Insurance Study

Township of Upper Cape May County, New Jersey

Flood Insurance Study


Prohibition in Cape May County

Wetter than the Atlantic

Prohibition in Cape May County

With its proximity to Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore, Cape May County was a perfect location for lawbreakers during Prohibition. Rumrunners operating along the Atlantic Seaboard and Delaware Bay teamed up with backwoods bootleggers to make Cape May County a bustling center of the era's illegal liquor business. It seemed as if every house around Otten's Harbor in Wildwood was a speakeasy. Bill McCoy would sail from the Caribbean to Jersey with undiluted rum, gaining praise as the "real McCoy." When authorities eventually shut down Cape May's Rum Row, the production of Jersey Lightning just moved to the Pine Barrens. Local historian Raymond Rebmann reveals how Cape May County turned from a sleepy beach community to a smuggler's paradise in the 1920s.