Whether your interests lie in architecture, history, decorative arts, or the unique customs of the Victorian era, you will see the building come to life with a tour of the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, NJ. The estate is important, not only because of its artifacts and historical significance. The loving care that brought the home back from being a decrepit ghost house in the 1960s created the architectural centerpiece of today. The restoration of the Emlen Physick Estate galvanized the beginnings of the historic preservation movement in Cape May. This recognition and restoration of Cape May’s Victorian gems has given Cape May the unique and upscale atmosphere that sets it apart from other Jersey shore cities.
Join us in exploring the architecture and history, and then choose your tour!
Background of the Emlen Physick Estate
The Emlen Physick Estate was built in 1879, and with 18 rooms and 14 acres of property, it was one of the largest mansions in Cape May. The famous Philadelphia Architect Frank Furness built it. The Estate remains one of the country’s finest examples of Victorian Stick Style Architecture with 4 acres remaining attached to the property.
Dr. Physick had the house built as a country home for himself, his mother, and her two maiden sisters. Although he graduated from medical school, Dr. Physick never practiced medicine but mentored other physicians and played a leading role in the Cape May Medical Society. He loved animals and led the life of a gentleman farmer. After his death, the property changed hands several times and fell into disrepair.
Volunteers who formed the Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts (now Cape May MAC) had the political will to save the building from certain demolition by maneuvering for the city to purchase it then lease it back to the organization, which spearheaded its repair and reconstruction.
The Emlen Physick Estate Today
Cape May MAC has lovingly restored the property, and now the first and second floors can be toured. Every year, the Cape May MAC, which maintains the estate, offers a new guided tour of the Estate. The 2023 tour, for example, is “The Doctor is In,” which examines the effect Dr. Physick had on health practices in the Cape May area.
You can choose guided tours, tours combined with trolley tours, and specialty tours based on the season. The Estate during the holiday season is a thrilling sight to see! There is an extensive Dept. 56 Village set up underneath a large Christmas tree and a working train set.
Make sure that you spend some time around the grounds! If you aren’t interested in a guided tour, you can enjoy a scavenger hunt and story stops where you can listen to first-hand accounts of life during the heyday of its occupants. The Carroll Gallery always has interesting and informative exhibits.
Complete Your Visit to Cape May
You can plan an afternoon or a full day for your tour of the Emlen Physick Estate. Since the entire Cape May downtown historic district is a National Historic Landmark, wander around and gaze at the Painted Ladies, visit Historic Cold Spring if you are a history buff, or take a stroll on one of our many hiking trails. Cape May is more than beaches (although the beaches are amazing)!