316 Jefferson Street
Word of Cape May’s cool breezes and sandy stretches was spreading north and south by the late 1800s, reaching the ears of visitors and attracting them to escape the city heat of the North and the summer sweltering to the South.
And as people built homes, the story of the Cape May front porch took hold. Porches became a common feature of Cape May houses as a place to relax and see friends. They became an additional living space designed to capture the breeze and manage the sun – outside, but still under cover – providing a vista of the street and a place to socialize.
The “Sip ‘n Chat Cottage” at 316 Jefferson Street is named for the front porch (the name is a bit of an inside joke), but you’re the better for it if you find yourself on this front porch, sipping and chatting.
“We were having drinks with (previous owners) Marth and Cal on the porch and they had these beautiful cocktail napkins that read ‘sip ‘n chat with Martha and Cal’ and I knew then if we were ever able to buy this place, we had a name for it,” said Donna Bell.
Donna and Rick Bell, along with partners Kelli and Rob Choffe, purchased and named the property in May 2023. “We bought the property from friends of ours – friends for 20 years who introduced us to Cape May. They lived in this house for 40 years – they bought it in 1982,” said Rick. “Donna and I always loved the house and told Martha and Cal that we wanted to buy it when they were ready to sell. So we did, and now we offer it as a rental property.”
The Sip ‘n Chat Cottage has four large bedrooms, three full baths, and sleeps 10. The home has a modern kitchen next to a large dining room if you would like to have a big family meal on vacation. It has that cool Victorian Cape May feel, with coastal colors and a simple design scheme that reflects the house’s simple architecture.
“This is really a Cape May house. It’s a beautiful home, and for me the front porch is my favorite spot,” said Donna. “It’s a Craftsman style home.”
The Arts and Crafts movement was a turn-of the-century one against mass production and the stylistic excesses of the Victorian era in favor of local materials and traditional craftsmanship. The movement is more of a philosophy than a style, and in it are Craftsman style homes, an American style popular from 1900 to 1930 or so. These homes were the opposite of the ornate Victorian style of the 19th century. Americans were moving away from the elaborate gingerbread of Victoriana toward simpler designs. The low-pitched gabled roofs and thick tapered columns, like those at 316 Jefferson Street, were common elements around this time.
And in the last 80 years or so, the house has only changed hands three times.
“Martha’s family had a cottage on Maryland Avenue,” said Cal Stafford of his wife. Cal is a retired neurologist originally from Philadelphia and the previous owner who had the property for over 40 years. “We had established ourselves and we saw property values going up, so I thought let’s look and see what’s available. We liked 316 Jefferson Street and bought it in 1982 from the estate of the Wilsons, and they had it for 40 years before us, so the property had only changed hands twice in the last 80 years.”
The house also has a private back porch if you need to recharge away from people.
“We believe construction was finished sometime between 1926 and 1928,” said Cal. “We went to Cape May Court House and looked at the lot history and at the beginning it changed hands several times, I assume from lot owner to developer to buyer and then it changed hands a few times before the Wilsons bought it. Then us.”
Jefferson Street is a picturesque road within the historic district, just east of the downtown and within walking distance of everything in Cape May, including the famous Chalfonte Hotel and its King Edward Bar.
“Mr. Wilson converted the house to a duplex—he divided it into two one-floor apartments with an addition on the back. So, they put a kitchen on the second floor and so on. When we bought it, we converted it back into a single-family dwelling—had the kitchen taken out and changed the entrances. Then we used it as a vacation property until I retired in 2015. Then we figured we had more fun in Cape May than Delaware County, so we moved to Cape May.”
Cal and Martha knew it was time to move on from the home and found willing buyers in the Bells and Choffes.
“This was a great opportunity to get into a property in Cape May,” said Rob. “Rick and I both love the shore and have an appreciation for real estate. We’ve been looking for a few years. Sadly, Cal and Martha needed to move, and it just worked out that we bought it. This is a nice layout here—there’s a small park in the back and the views from the porch are awesome. We’re close to the Chalfonte too. I just love this property,” said Rob.
The story of the name comes from a housewarming gift given to Marth and Cal when they first bought the house.
“When we were still renting in Cape May, my wife’s aunt, whose name was Edna, but everybody called her Sis, bought us cocktail napkins that have on them ‘Sip and Chat with Marth and Cal’, along with a small image of a pot belly stove and two rockers,” said Cal. “And they’ve always been a hit with our guests so we showed them to the Bells while we were having cocktails on the porch, and that’s where the name comes from. So that’s the inside joke and how the place got its name.”