Two Towns – Cape May, NJ and Key West, FL Each Completely Unique, Yet Sharing Commonalities

Southernmost Point Landmark in Key West

Cape May, NJ and Key West, FL, both at Mile Marker 0 (Cape May at Exit 0 off the NJ State Parkway and Key West at Exit 0 off U.S. Route 1) are towns truly unique in their own right and worthy of exploration.  While getting to each of these towns involves a certain determination, after all, they are technically both at the end of the line; people still come year after year.  There is a real love here, something that can’t be explained by words, it is something that you have to experience and then “you get it”!

If you are from the New Jersey/Philadelphia area, then you most likely have heard of or have been to Cape May, NJ – the great little seaside town at the southernmost tip of Cape May Peninsula where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.  Cape May is a town known for its beautiful beaches, charming shops, great restaurants and bars and the Victorian homes and bed and breakfasts that dot the landscape.   The entire city of Cape May is designated a National Historic Landmark, due to the high concentration of Victorian buildings, dating back to the 1800’s.

While I am sure there are people who haven’t heard of Cape May, NJ, I think you’d be hard pressed to find one who has not heard of Key West, Florida.   Key West, located at the southernmost point in the continental US, signifies good times, can anyone say Fantasy Fest?   The area in Key West known as Old Town is also a National Historic District with houses and buildings dating back to the 1800’s.  Many of the homes were brought over from the Bahamas, which is where the term Conch Style house comes from.

The Mason Cottage in Cape May, NJ

Businesses and homes located within these nationally historically registered areas in Cape May and Key West are required to maintain the original integrity of the property set up by historical preservation groups, such as the Greater Cape May Historical Society and the Historic Florida Keys Foundation.  Personally, I am very thankful that these groups exist, if not for them, you can be sure the old saying “out with the old, in with the new” would lead to towns full of modern day high rises, thus completely destroying the integrity of these historic gems.

From devastating fires to new beginnings, these towns have risen from complete

An Old Postcard of the Ocean House Hotel in Cape May

destruction to become great destinations, seamlessly blending their past and present.  How many times in history have we heard of a town succumbing to a Great Fire?  Well, both Cape May and Key West are no exceptions and both are said to have been started by foul play.  On November 9th, 1878 in the early hours of the morning, a fire was observed by a workman at the Ocean Hotel.  It did not take long before thirty-five acres were in devastation and ruins – seven major hotels and thirty cottages and bathhouses were lost.  It was speculated that arson was the cause of the fire – what better way to rid yourself of a hotel in need of expensive repairs.  Samuel Ludlam, owner of the hotel, was seen leaving on an early morning train for Philadelphia on the same day of the fire.  Ludlam was brought before court, but was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.

Old Cigar Box Label

Eight years later, on April 1, 1886, the Great Fire of Key West ripped through the city.  The fire ignited in a coffee shop next to the San Carlos Institute, a club erected by the cigar manufacturers and the focal point of the Cuban society in Key West.  The fire was said to have been started by the Spanish Empire as a means to financially cripple the Cuban people.   At the time, the cigar industry was the economic driving force in the town and the Cubans were dependent on Key West for this financial support.  For Spain, the slap in the face was the fact they sold Key West much of the tobacco that was inevitably the financial means for the Cuban revolutionaries to continue the fight with the Spanish.  It was a vicious cycle, to which the Spanish were suspected of setting the fire to destroy the Key West cigar industry, thereby destroying the financial support to the Cubans.   In the end, 18 cigar factories, 614 houses and government buildings were destroyed in the blaze.

Today, tourism is the dominant industry in both of these coastal towns.  The economy is dependent upon the thousands of tourists who come visit the many shops, restaurants/bars, lodgings and tourist attractions each year.  Commercial and sport fishing are also important in both economies, while eco-tourism, such as marine mammal watching and bird watching have become equally important.

Both towns host an array of events throughout the year for its visitors.  For instance, the annual Singer/Songwriter Competition celebrates up and coming talent and gives visitors a chance to unwind and listen to artists performances at local venues (occurs in March in Cape May and April/May in Key West).   There is also the annual Taste of Key West (in April) and the Cape May Food and Wine Festival (in September); both showcase the flavors of the area with events held at local food and wine venues through the towns.

Visitors will also enjoy the many annual themed festivals that have become part of these towns culture.  While Key West hosts the annual Fantasy Fest and Conch Republic Days, Cape May has their Victorian Week, Spring Festival and Christmas Candlelight House Tours.  Please know that I am in NO way comparing these events (as there is no comparison), I am only showcasing these towns as a destination – a place where visitors can immerse themselves in the culture and participate in events that are unique to these towns alone.

For accommodation in Cape May, please visit the Mason Cottage, a Cape May Bed and Breakfast, at  www.themasoncottage.com or for upcoming events, please visit Cape May Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts or the Cape May Chamber

For accommodations in Key West, please visit Key West Oasis a 2 BR/2 Bath Key West Rental House with pool.  For events in Key West, please visit the Key West Chamber of Commerce

Join the Mile Marker 0 Club – Past guests of the Mason Cottage,Cape May Bed and Breakfast are entitled to $100 off any 5+ night stay at Key West Oasis.  Please visit our Key West Oasis site for more information.

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 Author:  Kimberly Kaufell Gilbert

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