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Cape May Landmarks:
Congress Hall

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."

Annie Knight 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 for bathrooms.       

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.

The dowager 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 era.

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.

The interior 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. 

Fragments of 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.

Visitors 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.

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