Washington Crossing and Cape May then the playgrounds of Wildwood and Atlantic City
30.05.2013 - 31.08.2013 29 °C
After experiencing the big city bustle of New York we drove south and passed over the Delaware River on a steel truss bridge (very common on the US East Coast) at Washington Crossing.
Washington's Crossing (or Taylorsville as it was called then) was the site on Christmas Day 1776 of George Washington's famed crossing of the ice flow laden Delaware River during the American War of Independence. The following morning he led his army on a successful attack on the Hessian garrison six miles to the south east at Trenton. Prior to this the American Continental Army had suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the British and there were serious doubts whether it would survive the winter as a fighting force.
New Jersey's Atlantic Coast is more commonly referred to as the Jersey Shore and is a popular 217 mile (349 kilometre) long holiday riviera, traditionally with New Yorkers to the north and Philadelphians to the south (for Brits think of somewhere like Blackpool and the Sussex Coast and you wont be far wrong!). The plan for the day was to visit the southern part often referred to as the Southern Shore and Atlantic City.
Founded in 1620, Cape May is at the southern tip of New Jersey where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and is the only place in the state where the sun both rises and sets over water. Famed for its historic Victorian houses, Philadelphians began holidaying at Cape May in the mid 18th century and it's recognized as the USA's oldest seaside resort.
The Cape May Fire Department built a cute colonial style museum to permanently house for its pride and joy a 1928 American Lafrance fire engine but unfortunately it wasn't there the day we visited.
Located at the tip of Cape May is the Lighthouse built in in 1859, it is 157 feet (48 metres) high with 217 steps to the top. On a clear day it has views to Wildwood to the north and Cape Henlopen a 17 mile (27 kilometre) ferry ride west across the bay in the US State of Delaware.
Cape May is also a well known bird migration spot and beside the car park by the Lighthouse there are a couple of class rooms and a row of five bright white bird houses perched about 15 feet above the ground and obviously very popular with the energetic Purple Martins that nest in them. On the beach near by is a World War II Bunker constructed in 1942 to house four 155mm coast artillery guns; when built it was on high ground 900 feet from the ocean covered in grass sod but since then coastal erosion has meant it is now on the beach and two 6" gun turrets a bit further out to sea have disappeared completely.
Carrying on with the World War II theme, close by there is Fire Control Tower No. 23; built in 1942 it was one of 15 lookout towers constructed as part of the coastal defence of Delaware Bay known as Fort Miles. The fort was never completed as by 1943 advances in amphibious warfare had made them obsolete. From the top of the tower looking west across Delaware Bay can be seen the wreck of SS Atlantus, the most famous of a dozen concrete liberty ships built in 1918 at the end of World War I. She was used to bring back American soldiers from France and then to transport coal in New England. The intention had been to use the SS Atlantus and a couple of sister ships as a dock for the Delaware Bay Ferry but she ran aground during a storm in 1926 and nobody was able to free her.
Having done the history and wildlife at Cape May we then drove up the southern Jersey Shore to the coastal resort of Wildwood with its famous Boardwalk originally built in 1890 following the success of the original boardwalk built a few years earlier in Atlantic City just up the coast. A "boardwalk" is a raised wooden walkway running parallel to the beach originally conceived as a way of preventing sand being trampled through hotel lobbies but then became magnets for holiday goers and shops in their own right.
The Boardwalk at Wildwood is 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometres) long and lined with amusement arcades, food outlets and gift shops with 1950s neon light lit "Doo-Wop" style motels just behind (several of which are now heritage-listed). There was also a classic style roller coaster on the beach at Wildwood called "The Great White" although at the time of our visit it was closed for refurbishment.
The big pull however are the three large amusement piers along the Boardwalk owned by the Morley family. These are incredibly popular, especially with teenagers who can buy day long passes giving them unlimited access to the amusement park rides and the two waterparks with their large water slides.
About an hour north along the coast is Atlantic City, the US East Coast's answer to Las Vegas. The city boomed as a holiday and gambling resort in the early 1900s because of its excellent rail links to Philadelphia along with some innovative marketing ploys from its hotel entrepreneurs.
Atlantic City declined after WWII with the advent of cheap jet flights to places such as Miami and the Bahamas but then attempted to revitalise itself by legalising casino gambling. Although on an overall smaller scale to Las Vegas, Atlantic City now has about a dozen mega large combined casino, entertainment and hotel themed 'resorts'.
In addition to having the first seaside boardwalk in 1870, Atlantic City has been the home (apart from 2006-2012 in Las Vegas) of the Miss America beauty pageant since it was founded in 1920 and was the inspiration for the original Monopoly Board Game in 1935 (the London version popular in the Commonwealth appeared slightly later).