The Shore Blog

All about the South Jersey Shore from Ocean City to Cape May

History and Museums

The South Jersey shore is rich in history. Therefore, it should be no surprise there are many opportunities to learn about the history of this region. Exploring and discovering the history and museums of the South Jersey shore will help you understand how this area become such a popular vacation destination.

History in Avalon

Avalon History Center

The Avalon History Center is operated by the Avalon Historical Society. This museum is located in the Avalon Free Public Library at 215 39th Street. The History Center’s collection includes thousands of photographs, objects, and memorabilia that tell the story of Avalon’s residents, places, and events. Displays also include a 1925 Avalon Lifeboat where visitors can get in and take photos. The Center plays an active role in promoting knowledge about Avalon’s history. There are many events to connect visitors to Avalon’s past, including a meeting every 3rd Thursday at 11:00 am for tea, cookies & a stroll down Avalon’s memory lanes. The History Center is open every day except Sunday, year-round.

History in Cape May

Cape May Fireman’s Museum

This unique museum documents the history of the Cape May Fire Department. It is free and open to the public year-round. Displays include an antique 1928 American La France Fire Engine. The museum is located on the corner of Washington and Franklin Streets.

Cape May Historical Museum

The Cape May Historical Museum is located at 504 North Route 9 in Cape May Court House. This county museum was founded in 1927. It consists of three different buildings. Each building is home to artifacts and exhibits documenting Cape May County’s history from Native American times to the 21st Century. They offer a fascinating look at how life in the county has evolved. Visitors will also find a Genealogy Museum and a Museum Store to purchase memorabilia of your visit. The museum is only open from May to September.

Cape May Lighthouse

This historic lighthouse was built in 1859. The lighthouse was restored in the 1980s by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC). Since it reopened in 1988, millions of visitors have climbed its 199 steps to enjoy a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The CM lighthouse includes a Visitor’s Orientation Center, gift shop and museum. The museum features live reptiles and nature displays. The State Park grounds offer opportunities for nature lovers, including the Hawk Watch platform and nature trails. Events at the lighthouse include Family Fun days in summer, guided nature walks, full moon lighthouse climbs and holiday events.

MAC Historical Tours

Take a trolley tour through the streets of Cape May to learn all about the history of this town. Do a walking tour with a MAC volunteer to learn about Cape May’s past residents. Or visit a Victorian house for a tour of the architecture and customs of Cape May’s Victorian era. MAC sponsors trolley, house and walking tours all year.

The Colonial House

The Colonial House was originally a tavern and the family home of Revolutionary War patriot Memucan Hughes. The house is considered to be one of the oldest surviving houses on Cape Island. The Colonial House is also the headquarters of the Greater Cape May Historical Society. It is open to the public at no charge from June 15th to September 15. The house is also open during Victorian Weekend in October, and for the December Candlelight House tour in the National Historic Landmark city of Cape May, New Jersey.

Emlen Physick Estate

The Emlen Physick Estate is an 18 room Victorian mansion located at 1048 Washington Street in Cape May. The estate was built in 1879 and was home to Emlen Physick, Jr., his widowed mother and maiden aunt. Emlen is the descendent of a well-known Philadelphia family. His grandfather is considered to be the father of American surgery after having developed several surgical instruments. Emlen completed medical school but never practiced medicine. Instead, he was a gentleman farmer. Today, the Estate is a great opportunity for visitors to witness the architecture, decorative arts and customs of Victorian Cape May.  

World War II Lookout Tower

The World War II Lookout Tower, also known as “Fire Control Tower No. 23” was build in 1942. It was one of 15 towers built between and North Wildwood and Bethany Beach, Delaware. The purpose of the towers was to house artillery to protect the coast and bay from attack. The tower was restored by MAC in 2008-2009. It was listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on May 29, 2003 and on the National Register on Nov. 17, 2003. Information panels line the boardwalk leading to the tower. Visitors can learn about Cape May’s role in World War II and climb the tower. 

Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC)

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, or “MAC”, plays an important role in the history of Cape May. This non-profit organization promotes “the preservation, interpretation and cultural enrichment of the Cape May region for its residents and visitors.” MAC began in 1970 with a group of volunteers who worked tirelessly to save the Emlen Physick Estate from demoliltion. Their future endeavors included restoration of the Cape May Lighthouse and the World War II Lookout Tower, among other projects.

Today, this dedicated group has grown to more than 3500 members. They work together to interpret 200 years of Cape May history and architecture. They do this through an extensive offering of trolley tours, walking and historic house tours. MAC hosts year-round events to pay tribute to Cape May’s history and its rich arts culture.

History in Ocean City

Ocean City Historical Museum

The Ocean City Historical Museum is located in the Ocean City Community Center, at 1735 Simpson Avenue. The museum features relics from before Ocean City’s founding in 1879. In addition to these artifacts, the museum features books, photographs, exhibits and maps that document Ocean City’s unique history. Learn all about how Ocean City was formed and discover the historical events and people who made Ocean City what it is today. The museum also offers seasonal exhibits and rotating exhibits. It is open year-round, Monday – Saturday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

History in Sea Isle City

Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum
Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum

The Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum was created in 1982 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the founding of Sea Isle City. The museum is located in the Sea Isle City Library at 4800 Central Avenue. It features articles, books and photographs that capture the history of Sea Isle. It also features a unique bridal gown display, more than 200 family albums generated by Sea Isle City families and artifacts. Many events are held during summer. The museum is handicap accessible and child friendly, open year-round and is free.

History in Stone Harbor

Stone Harbor Museum

The Stone Harbor Museum is housed in its new location at 9410 Second Avenue. The museum features 50,000 artifacts, photos and displays depicting Stone Harbor’s rich history. A summer series of educational programming is held each year and presentations on specific historical events are given throughout the year. A fall and winter schedule of events is also available. The museum is free and open to the public.

History in Wildwood

doo wop museum
The Doo Wop Experience Museum

The Doo Wop Experience Museum and Neon Sign Garden celebrates the architecture, design, music, pop culture and all that made Wildwood famous in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Learn about the music of the 50’s and 60’s, and the artists who helped put Wildwood on the musical history map. You can view the period pieces from Wildwood’s famous motels and take a tour to view the historical hot spots including the neon signs of the doo-wop times. All of this is the result of the hard restorative work of the The Doo Wop Preservation League, a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster awareness, appreciation and preservation of the popular culture and imagery of the 1950s and 1960s in Wildwood.

George F. Boyer Wildwood Historical Museum
George F. Boyer Wildwood Historical Museum

Wildwood’s Historical Museum opened in 1963 as the result of the efforts of George F. Boyer to gather and preserve Wildwood’s history. Boyer was an enthusiastic collector of Wildwood historical artifacts and information. He was appointed to Wildwood’s first historical commission and became the first president of the Wildwood Historical Society. Today, the museum is housed at 3907 Pacific Avenue and holds the many artifacts, maps, documents and other memorabilia collected by Boyer and beyond. The museum highlights Wildwood’s unique history with the doo wop musical scene of the 50s and 60s. It is free and open to the public between May and October but is closed in winter.

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum

Naval Air Station Wildwood (NASW) Aviation Museum is a non-profit museum located at the Cape May Airport. The Naval Air Station was commissioned in April 1943 to serve as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility during World War II. Today, Hangar #1 has been restored and transformed into an Aviation Museum containing aircraft, engines, special exhibits, and educational interactive displays.

Forgotten Warriers Vietnam Museum
Forgotten Warriors Vietnam Museum

The Forgotten Warriors Vietnam Museum is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting memorabilia from Vietnam War veterans. Therefore, it allows people to reflect on the cultural and military importance of the war. The museum collection began by Tom Collins, who was working at the Naval Air Station Wildwood. Collins was looking for a way to showcase his personal memorabilia from his time in Vietnam, serving as an 18-year-old helicopter door gunner from 1967 to 1968. As word about his collection spread, Vietnam veterans began donating items and the collection grew. Today, the collection includes over 1,000 artifacts, mementos and photographic material. The Museum is located at 500-598 Essex Rd, Rio Grande across from the Naval Air Station.

History Off-Island

Historic Cold Spring Village
Historic Cold Spring Village

Historic Cold Spring Village is a living history museum located in Cape May. The village consists of 18th and 19th century buildings assembled on 22 acres of land. As a result, the village provides visitors with a sense of stepping back in time to a South Jersey rural community of the 1800s. Some examples of the events held here are railroad days, Civil and Revolutionary Wars, and other important moments in history. The village includes exhibits, live presentations, interactive activities, tours, shops, a brewery and dining establishments. Historic Cold Spring Village is open between June and September each year.

We hope you enjoy exploring the history of the South Jersey shore. If you are a history and museums buff and know of any we missed here, please let us know in the comments below.