Cape May Landmarks:
The two centuries
of history that surround Congress Hall, from its earliest days when Elias
Hughes operated the town's first tavern on the site for local whalers,
are as fascinating as the massive two-year restoration project the hotel's
been going through.
The current Congress
Hall was built in 1879 - with bricks rather than wood -after the Great Fire
of 1878 destroyed the original hotel. The first structure, built in 1816 by
Thomas Hughes and one of the town's first big hotels, opened as a three-story
boarding house called The Big House and nicknamed "Tommy's Folly"
by local residents who were convinced the hotel
would never succeed.
When Hughes was
elected to Congress in 1828 the name changed to Congress Hall. The hotel has
hosted more than its share of the rich and
famous - Presidents Grant, Pierce and Buchanan visited. President Harrison
made it his Summer White House and during the summer of 1882 John Phillips
Sousa and his Marine Corps Band played on the lawn of the hotel. Sousa later
composed the "Congress Hall March."
purchased the property in the 1920s and introduced plumbing, reducing the
number of rooms by about half from the original 350 to provide the space needed
The hotel closed
during the Depression and didn't reopen until after World War II. From 1968
to 1995, the Rev. Carl McIntire and the Christian
Beacon Press operated the hotel as part of his Cape May Bible Conference.
In 1995 a
group of investors including Curtis Bashaw, McIntire's grandson, purchased
the property with the goal of returning Congress Hall to the grandeur
and glory of its heyday.
queen of Cape May's historic hotels, has had a facelift to end all facelifts:
structural improvements to cure ceilings that sagged and floors that sloped,
gallons of paint to hide minor imperfections and attention to detail that
rivals the best work of any talented plastic surgeon.
Today, the 107
guest rooms have been refurbished with an ambiance reminiscent of Annie Knight's
The top to bottom
make over - from a new roof with more than 18,000 slate shingles to 11 miles
of plumbing - cost a staggering $22 million,
funded by a combination of public and private sources.
of the hotel has been refurbished in an elegant 1920s era. The exterior, with
its magnificent 55 white columns, is painted the familiar yellow, the color
always associated with the historic oceanfront hotel.
the original rag rugs have been used to recreate appropriate color schemes.
Wide hallways have curved plaster walls, wooden floors with carpeted runners
and milk glass globes casting soft shadows along the spacious corridors.
The back of the
four-story, Federal-style hotel is toward the ocean with its sweeping verandah,
lawn, pool and ocean views.
enter through the original 12-foot doors facing Congress
Place into the marbled-floor foyer where ocean breezes, mirrors, palms,
fans and wicker furniture retain the treasured seashore atmosphere of
a classic hotel in America's oldest seaside resort.