Cape May as I remember It: Part 1
The serialized recollections of a Cape May lifer.
From Washington Street where it ends at Ocean Street and the mall all the way to the other end has also changed over the years. At the corner of Ocean and Washington Street, where Victorian Towers now stands was Mecray’s Market, eventually changing ownership to Konowitch’s Market and then E-Z Market. Next to the market was Dickinson’s Restaurant, Terminal Taxi, and Knopp’s bicycle shop. The Focer McCray Building was next. As I understand it, Mr. Focer was friendly with Henry Ford and he was awarded a Ford automobile agency. The Ford agency eventually closed, and Acme opened the first self-serve grocery store in Cape May. Further down the street was Youngberg’s restaurant, Konowitch’s automobile agency, both now gone, taken up by Victorian Towers.
Across from Victorian Towers and next to the Methodist Church was a gasoline station. City Hall was the high school, which had 195 students when I was there. There were two elementary schools behind the high school: the Lafayette Street School, which was only for white students, and the Franklin Street School was for African-American students. Students from both elementary schools and the West Cape May and Lower Township schools merged when they entered the high school. Lower didn’t have a high school then. That was the way it was at that time.
Between the firehouse and the present-day Blue Rose Inn was Hickey’s Chevrolet agency and garage and a Victorian house owned by the Fendersons; all are now gone, demolished by urban renewal. The previous firehouse dated back to the 1800s, had wood floors in the engine bays, and the firemen on duty occupied the second floor. There was a jail in back of the firehouse—I would imagine a temporary holding cell, as it certainly did not meet today’s standards. It was the days of white horses and steam engines. The firemen used to tell me that every night they would ring the fire bell, and the horses, who were in their stalls in the rear of the building, would automatically walk to the front of the engines and back into their harnesses. It sounds like the old horse-drawn milk wagon, where the horse would move the wagon to the next stop for milk delivery.
There is now a Fire Department Museum located at the corner of Washington and Franklin Streets. Inside is 1928 LaFrance fire apparatus and memorabilia from days gone by.
On the opposite corner where the post office is now located were two buildings. They were moved to the corner of Ocean Street and Beach Drive and named the Ocean View. Eventually they were moved again by Dr. Carl McIntire to Trenton Avenue, and are now part of Angel of the Sea Bed and Breakfast.
An addition to the post office was completed over 30 years ago and a new cellar was also planned. When the contractor dug the ground for the cellar, a wealth of old bottles was unearthed. Many of them were collected by some of the postal employees. What is a puzzle to me is how did the bottles get there in the first place? Was there a cellar in the old buildings that was moved, and if so what was there originally? There must have been something for them to be located so far in the ground. Across the street from the post office there was a gasoline station once owned by Dick O’Neill and later by Bob Anger Sr. and then by Bob McManus. It was demolished and Sturdy Bank is now located here.
Continuing on Washington Street, at the corner of Queen and Washington was a small convenience store operated by Mr. Chambers and eventually by Otto Sokol. It is now a private residence. The public works of the City of Cape May was located in this block. It went from Washington to Lafayette. The public works moved to the water works, and apartments were constructed on this land. The next corner, Washington and Madison, is a bank now, but previously Kabalan’s garage and a Chrysler agency were located there for many years. Bernie Berk and his brother purchased the agency and operated it for quite a while. Bernie was a city councilman at one time. A beauty parlor operated at this corner before it was changed to a bed and breakfast inn. The Lamplighter Apartments, located on the other corner, replaced a triplex home that was demolished for this purpose.
The Physick Estate is next, but I am not going to go into that as it would encompass an entire page. I will tell you there was a picket fence the entire length of the estate. There were two maintenance men who took care of the entire property, Stanford Vanaman and Ottier Howard. They kept the property in excellent condition. There was a Model T Ford on the property that was kept in the carriage house.
At 1021 Washington Street, next to Golf Lane, there was a florist named J.C. Gallagher. I remember he grew flowers at this location. I don’t remember whether there was a greenhouse there or where he sold his flowers.
At the corner of Washington and Union Streets was Zimmerman’s grocery store. There was a large wooden canopy that covered the sidewalk, and a coal bin in which the coal for heating the store was kept. All of the kids in the neighborhood hung out at the store, and the Zimmermans never complained about the noise. Next to the real estate office that is now located on this site (Editor’s note: Chris Clemans Sotheby’s International) there is a concrete slab. There was a building located on that slab that was used for baking. “Pop” Zimmerman was the baker. I remember him punching down the dough in the mixing container, and afterward having a cold beer. The building was eventually sold. Leroy (Stringy) Church ran the store for many years—great memories for me, as I was born and raised in this area of town.