The Queen Victoria on Ocean Street may well be the most authentic of the bed and breakfast inns in Cape May. Built in 1881 by Douglas Gregory, a river pilot, today it stands as a shining example of Victorian architecture.
Originally the Gregory home, the house was sold on May 26, 1913 to Dr. Franklin Hughes, father of Dr. Humphrey Hughes, both well-known in Cape May to this day. The family lived there and Dr. Franklin Hughes set up his first medical practice in the building. Dr. Humphrey Hughes was born in the house. The Hughes family eventually moved across the street and turned their home into a rooming house named “The Beverly.”
It remained an inn, the Hughes family the last to live there, and still is today. Owned by Doug and Anne Marie McMain since 2004, The Queen Victoria is comprised of four different buildings: The House of Royals, The Queen’s Cottage, Prince Albert Hall and of course, The Queen Victoria, open year-round. All four are a hop, skip and a jump between each other—the Queen’s Cottage and The House of Royals are across Ocean Street, and the Prince Albert is located directly behind The Queen Victoria.
As with many bed and breakfast owners, the McMains both worked in corporate fields before becoming innkeepers. Though Doug is originally from Reno, Nevada, Anne Marie is a South Jersey native who spent every summer on the beaches of Ventnor and Margate. She eventually “dragged” Doug back “home” to the Jersey shore. While traveling the country over the years, the couple fell in love with the special pleasures bed and breakfasts have to offer, and when they discovered The Queen Victoria they knew they had found a new future in Cape May.
What makes the McMains’ enterprise so unique today is the workshop which caters to all four buildings. As licensed contractors with the ability to work on their own place, the McMains and woodworker Paul Roy, who has worked with them for six years, do all work on the premises.
“We do everything in-house, and I think we’re the only inn in Cape May that does,” says Doug. “We do our own woodworking and painting. Paul Roy is great. He’s not afraid of tackling any project.”
And the projects can be elaborate. With ten rooms and suites all with private period baths at The House of Royals, four in the Queen’s Cottage, ten at the Queen Victoria and 11 at the Prince Albert Inn, Paul’s work seems never done. There are enough cabinets, moldings and gingerbread, doors, furniture repair and fireplaces to keep the workshop humming year-round.
There are many different saws used in the workshop but the scroll saw is the key to creating the gingerbread, railings and other woodworking projects which adorn their inns. In fact, Doug says, there have been through many a worn out scroll saw through the years and in fact he has just purchased a brand-new one.
Asked which kind of wood is preferable, Doug says, “We use mahogany, which lasts longer. It’s a harder wood which we buy on the island, and though it is tough on the saw, it lasts longer and is rot resistant. It’s more expensive, but it’s better than having to replace it more frequently.”
Of particular note is the mantle above the fireplace in the Empress Room in The Queen Victoria. This was one of Paul’s first endeavors, which he carved to coordinate with the headboard of the existing bed. It is almost an exact match, showcasing Paul’s expertise.
The Queen Victoria is also a family affair. Doug’s aunt, Nancy Hadfield, a professional interior designer and seamstress, designs and creates the sweeping curtains which adorn the windows. She was hard at work when Cape May Magazine visited.
All four buildings have undergone renovations throughout the years by previous owners. At one point an addition was built on the back of the Queen Victoria, including a fire escape which leads to the top of the building and provides a panoramic view of Cape May. Both cupolas at the Carroll Villa and Virginia Hotels can be seen, as well as a couple of local church spires. The McMains adapted the addition to include a porch, complete with Victorian molding and gingerbread trim. Because of the vegetation, says Doug, the porch is sheltered from the wind, providing guests with comfort as well as a glorious view.
The workshop is housed in the basement. It was originally a crawl space, but was converted to a full basement by former owners Dane and Joan Wells, who bought The Queen Victoria in 1980. Now, it’s the quintessential workshop. The McMains are intent on restoring all four buildings to their 19th century ambience, including period antiques, fine bedding, and an 1876 Victorian gambling parlor. Original to the Queen Victoria are the stairway banister and the moldings. The inn also uses the old-fashioned radiators for heat.
Because of its Victorian origin, most of the total 35 rooms are named for various places in England, such as Covent Garden and Regent’s Park. The McMains like to think of a stay here as “emancipation from present day distractions,” offering old-fashioned board games, card games, and picture puzzles, as well as 50 rocking chairs on their porches.
All of this is due, in no small part, to the workshop, which allows the Queen Victoria to maintain its roots, its heritage, and an atmosphere that can only be crafted by hands that care.
And speaking of old-fashioned and hands that cared, Doug was surprised to receive a phone call from a John Hughes living in Seattle, Washington. He told Doug he was the grandson of Dr. Franklin Hughes, and that he owned the desk his grandfather used when 102 Ocean Street was his home and office. According to John, it was specified in Franklin Hughes’ will that the desk be returned to his Cape May house, now The Queen Victoria. John also said he would ship it at no charge to the McMains, so it could rest in place at its original home.
Doug was taken aback and excited. What a piece of history to add to an already historic building!
When the desk arrived, the McMains placed it in Dr. Franklin Hughes original office, located at the right of the house with a separate doorway. The front of the office was used as a waiting room and the back as an examining room. Eyeballing the room, Doug estimated where the desk may have sat and placed it there where it sits today, its history unbeknownst to many a guest but certainly a true Cape May treasure.
That Dr. Hughes’ desk is comfortably back at his old home says a great deal. The love and labor of the McMains, a respect for history, and the expert craftsmanship of Paul Roy continue to make The Queen Victoria Bed and Breakfast and its three sisters an authentic Cape May Victorian experience.