Cape May's Only Victorian House Museum
A Visit Back in Time to the Emlen Physick Estate
Cape May is known for many historic sites that you just can’t see anywhere else in the world, the Emlen Physick Estate being one of them. Now a Victorian house museum operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, the estate transports you through time to see how a wealthy Victorian household operated and what they would do for entertainment.
History of the Physick Family
Emlen Physick, Jr. (1855-1916) was a trained physician from a short, but successful line of physicians dating back to the 1700s. His Philadelphia-based grandfather Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) was considered the father of American surgery, working alongside Benjamin Rush and many other well-known American founders. The name Emlen stems from his grandmother, Elizabeth Emlen, who passed it down to her son as his first name and then the grandson for whom the estate is now named.
Unlike his forebears, Emlen, Jr. did not take to medicine. After his fathers death, Emlem Jr. came into an extremely large sum of money, completed his education in med school, then retired before his medical career ever began. With his new large estate built by Frank Furness, Emlen Jr. assumed the life of a gentleman farmer, meaning he spent many hours with his beloved dogs while the paid servants did the heavy lifting on the farm.
The estate is the reason for the formation of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, as the estate was about to be destroyed after years of neglect and graffiti. This was an eye-opener, and people in Cape May realized important pieces of history like this and the Cape May Lighthouse need to be preserved. It was then that the MAC was formed, renovating the estate with some TLC, and transforming it into a fun tour about the lives of the wealthy of the Victorian era.
Touring The Estate
On the tour, you’ll be transported back to the 1800s and stand in awe of the Francis Furness architecture (considered an inspiration to Frank Lloyd Wright), stunning wall papers, and overall room designs that more than stand the test of time. Modern day home owners would easily want the sculpted fire places, wood screenings, and large farmhouse doors in their homes today.
The engaging and passionate tour guides give you an insider’s view on the lifestyles of the Physicks, the importance of the African American population in maintaining much of the history that’s been restored to the estate, and the credence of local ghost stories. For more information, visit the Emlen Physick Estate web site. Of course, the best way to experience history is firsthand and touring the estate for yourself!
Getting There from The Ferry
Take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry over from Lewes, Delaware to North Cape May, NJ. Although the estate is only 10 minutes from the Ferry, if it’s the summer season, ask the Ferry booking team about trolley tours leaving directly from the Ferry terminal.
If you’re arriving any time of the year by car drive down Ferry Road, cross into Cape May following Rt. 109. Soon after you cross the bridge into Cape May, take a left on Sydney Ave. and then take a right on to Washington Ave. The estate is on your left with parking behind The Carriage House.