The Lower Township Chamber of Commerce knows this township is the best place to reside, start a career, play and visit. Lower Township is consumed by its history and varying geography and ecology. We are so pleased to share our knowledge about this wonderful Township with you.
At the southernmost tip of New Jersey, tucked between Cape May and Middle Township, Lower Township stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Delaware Bay. Lower Township happens to be the smallest township in Cape May County, with only 30 square miles, it is home to nearly 23,000 people; therefore it is the largest municipality in the whole county.
A Short but Important History of the Township
A few stories will recognize that Dutch sea captain Henry Hudson discovered the Jersey Cape. In 1609, Hudson and his crew aboard the ship, the Half Mon, sighted the Cape looking for the fabled Northwest Passage. Just 11 years later Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, another Dutch captain, sailed into the bay and named the Eastern side of the bay Cape Mey (it was later Anglicized to May) and the Western side Cape Cornelius (later changed to Henlopen). Mey, Hudson and both of their crews never actually reached land.
The Kechemeche Indians, a branch of the Lenni Lenape tribe, were the first known residents of Lower Township. In 1630, explorers for the Dutch West Indies Company purchased land from the Natives. The land patent was filed on June 3, 1631 and covers four miles along the Delaware Bay in what is current Lower Township. Just four years later Town Bank was established, making it the oldest community in South Jersey. The Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society preserves that deed, which is the earliest recorded in Cape May County.
By the 1680s, Town Bank (sometimes called Cape May Town, New England Town, and Portsmouth) had become an established settlement. Whalers from Cape Cod and Long Island settled here to take advantage of the abundance of whales and the ease of fishing them in the Delaware Bay. Luckily for the whalers, it was easy to launch their 30-foot boats from shore once a whale was spotted. Using harpoons, six men could bring in a 250-ton whale. In 1688, Dr. Daniel Coxe, doctor to King Charles 11, spent 3,000 pounds to acquire rights to 95,000 acres in Cape May County. Coxe saw the potential for wealth in the whaling industry and founded his own company. In 1691, he built Coxe Hall on the banks of the Bay, which became the seat of the first county court. As the bay eroded the building was moved to Historic Cold Spring Village, where it will be preserved.
The whaling industry was eroding away with the Bay as did the importance of Town Bank. The original settlement washed away more than 200 years ago but the memory remains in the names of its early settlers: Gorham, Whillden, Leaming, Hughes, Schellinger, Hand and Eldridge – which can still be found as street names throughout the Township.
In 1723, Cape May County was divided up into three precincts: Upper, Middle and Lower. Eventually, the communities of Cape May, West Cape May, Cape May Point, and the Wildwoods were carved out of the Lower Precinct. In 1789, the Township was officially incorporated by state law and the form of government was established.
Lower Township is now a community of communities. Cold Spring, which has been around since the 1600s, was named for the fresh water that bubbled up through the salt marsh. By the 1700s people began to visit for the waters and a hotel was built there in the 1820s. As early as the 1700s little bits of road were developed. Richard Swain founded the community that is known today as Erma. It was named Erma in 1893, in honor of Erma Bennett on her marriage to Swain Ludlam. The first school opened here with a tuition of 3 dollars.
Schellenger’s Landing, today is the third busiest East Coast port for sport and commercial fishing boats. The Landing welcomed shops that sailed around the tip of Cape May and entered Cold Spring Inlet, bringing visitors to the area early on. When whaling declined, people moved offshore and agriculture became the dominant industry.
Fishing Creek welcomed the whalers as they moved more inland. The first post office opened here in 1919, and in the 1920s, one of the Fishing Creek farms became a development of modest bungalows. Joseph Millman originally called this area the Wildwood Villas, to capitalize on the fame of the nearby resort. It became simply the Villas in 1931 when the Post Office opened here and dropped the first part of the name. In between the Villas and North Cape May you will find Cape May Beach and modern Town Bank, both smaller residential communities on the Bay.
The final whaler’s plantation became North Cape May after World War 11. Once owned by whalers, Ebenezer and john Newton, this large plot of land was purchased by Cape May’s Dr. Emlen Physick in the late 19th century. A planned residential development in the 1930s failed due to the Depression but a post-war boom occurred along the shore North of the canal and by 1956, there would be 1,000 houses in North Cape May.
Lower Township has much to offer the residents and visitors of this community. There is much thanks to the Lower Township Police Department for keeping this family and community orientated area safe. The Volunteer Fire Companies in Erma, Town Bank and Villas protect the homes and businesses of this community.
The Lower Township School District accommodates students from pre-school through the sixth grade at four locations throughout the Township. The David C. Douglas Memorial School serves students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. From there students move on the Carl T. Mitnick School serving children in the first and second grades. Maud Abrams School is for the children in third and fourth grade and Sandman Consolidated School has students in the fifth and sixth grades. The district has been selected for the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program and its students have demonstrated levels of performance of statewide tests that equal or surpass the results of districts statewide. The district aims to have a seamless infrastructure that will support and enhance the sharing of resources within and outside of the school community. Technology and distance learning access is readily available to all students, staff and community members, thus enhancing the school to home and community network. Educational technology is blended with core curriculum to support goals and objectives.
Richard M. Teitelman Junior High and Lower Cape May Regional High School serve students in the seventh to twelfth grades. Richard M. Teitelman Junior High is only for those students in the seventh and eighth grades. This school takes students from Lower Township, Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point. Lower Cape May Regional High School serves students from the ninth to twelfth grades. Members of the Lower Township, Cape May, West Cape May, and Cape May Point community attend this high school. Lower Cape May Regional is the home of the Caper Tigers who compete in various athletic events such as football, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field, wrestling and much more. The Paul Schmidtchen Auditorium, located in the high school, is a state of the art facility. These schools are committed to academic excellence, mental, emotional, physical, and social development of all learners so they may realize their full potential.
The Lower Township Department of Parks and Recreation ((609)-886-7880) provides a comprehensive park system, recreation program and events for the entire community. The Paul R. Will Recreation Complex is completely free and open to the people of Lower Township and their guests. The Recreation Center has a full court gymnasium, a weight room with free weights, dumb bells, treadmill and benches, and a well-stocked game room. There are seven parks and one public swimming pool owned and operated by the Township. The parks are open at no cost but there is a minimal fee for pool usage. The Department of Parks and Recreation oversees the Millman Center as well, which has two meeting rooms and a full kitchen. There are currently 20 non-profit organizations and groups that meet at the Millman center.
The township is home to the Cape May County Airport, a 1,000 acre general aviation airport located on Breakwater Road. It has two runways, six taxiways, and three aircraft parking ramps. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry docks in Lower Township. The Ferry is one of the most memorable ways to travel between New Jersey and Delaware. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs 17-miles and 80 minutes cutting time off one’s travel up the East Coast.
There are countless historic sites to visit here in Lower Township as well. Sunset Beach is famous for various reasons. It is not only famous as being the resting place of the Atlantus but for the surplus of Cape May Diamonds found there. The Kechemeche Indians were the first ones to discover the beautiful gem now known as the “Cape May Diamond.” The Kechemeche believed that these stones had supernatural power bringing success and great fortune. The “Cape May Diamond” is actually pure quartz crystals and can be found in a variety of sizes and colors. The source of these gems is in the upper reaches of the Delaware River. Pieces of quartz crystals are eroded and broken off from veins and pockets by the swift running waters. Then a 200 mile journey, that takes thousands of years, begins. The strong tide against the hulk of the sunken concrete ship, the Atlantus, causes them to wash ashore here in such abundance.
The Atlantus has stayed in the waters by Sunset Beach for over 75 years. Due to a mass shortage of steel during World War 1, the government turned to experimental concrete ships. Only one of the 12 of the ships were serviced. It was commissioned June 1, 1919 and served for a year as a government owned privately-operated commercial coal steamer in New England. The “Concrete Fleet” was de-commissioned when steel was more readily available after the war. In 1926 the Atlantus was towed to Cape May, NJ by a Baltimore firm, that attempted to create a ferry service. The Atlantus broke loose of her moorings on June 8, 1926 and went aground. There were many unsuccessful attempts to free the Atlantus. Thousands of visitors come annually to see the cracked and sunken ship and to collect “Cape May Diamonds” in Sunset Beach.
World War 11 Lookout Tower Museum and Memorial is located on Sunset Boulevard. It is the only surviving remnant of New Jersey’s World War 11 homeland defense system. It was built to protect the waterborne transportation of the Delaware River and Bay. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts restored the tower to its former glory and have opened it to the public as of 2009. This tower offers a rare opportunity to teach an important but forgotten story about how our nation safeguarded vital waterfront targets (oil refineries, munitions plants, naval bases) and the shopping that connect them, from attacks by German battleships and submarines. This site is bountiful as a cultural, historical, ecological and recreational site providing year-round heritage tourism.
Another World War 11 historic site is the Cape May Bunker located in the Cape May Point State Park. This bunker served was also part of the defense for the coast. The eroded coastline and the bunker ended up in the surf. A beach replenishment project in 2005 put the bunker back on the coastline. One can check out the bunker 7 days a week from dawn to dusk.
Cape May Point State Park is another gem here. It is open from dawn to dusk daily. The park is consistently changing due to the tidal changes, dunes, freshwater coastal marsh and ponds, forested islands and varied uplands. This makes the park ideal for bird watching. The park has numerous nature trails and they lead visitors to various areas including: ponds, marshes, forest habitats, thus making it the perfect spot to see wildlife in its natural state. This natural area is significant along the East Coast for its residents and migratory birds and it includes habitat for northern and southern species of fauna and flora. (Information at (609) 884-2159)
In 1888 (nearly a century after New Jersey State Legislature formed Upper, Middle, and Lower Township), the Fishing Creek School was built on farm land donated by the Matthews family. Many of those who helped with the construction of the one room school house were veterans of the Civil War. This was the only school in the area until 1921 when some students were sent to the Cold Spring Academy. In the 1920s , there were eight one room school houses in the Lower Cape May region. With the advent of the motorized school buses, the one-room school houses became obsolete, and schools were “consolidated” into buildings with multiple classrooms. In early 2010 Mayor Michael Beck established a non-profit organization, the Friends of the Fishing Creek School, to lead the effort to restore and maintain the site for the benefit of the community.
The Fishing Creek School is the only remaining one-room school in Lower Township. Friends of the Fishing Creek School, 2600 Bayshore Road, Lower Township, NJ 08251. http://www.fishiningcreekschool.org
Historic Cold Spring (720 Route 9) is an Early American open-air living history museum. Cold Spring Village brings life to the day-to-day lifestyle of those villagers living in South Jersey during the “age of homespun.” (1790-1840) Those visiting can make a rare connection between past and present through this interactive, educational and hands-on facility. Take a stroll along the 22 acres of shaded lanes, enjoy the gardens and observe the farm where heritage crops are grown, visit the twenty-six restored antique buildings housing historically-clothed interpreters. These interpreters educate and entertain visitors about the lifestyles, issues, trades and crafts of yesteryear. Children enjoy playing at the activity area where they take part in a variety of projects such as trying on costumers, participating in hands-on crafts, and playing games. (Information at (609) 898-2300)
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum (500 Forrestal Road, Cape May County Airport) is another non-profit organization. Their mission is to restore Hangar #1 at the Cape May County Airport, Lower Township, New Jersey, into an aircraft museum honoring the 42 Naval airmen who were lost while training there during World War 11. Hangar #1 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1997. The Museum features many exciting exhibits. Not only do they have aircraft, NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum boats about their large collection of aviation artifacts, military memorabilia, aircraft engines and more houses in a 92,000 square foot all-wooden hangar that is an exhibit in itself. The museum is open daily May to November and during the week December through April. (Information at (609) 886-8787)
Cold Spring Presbyterian Church (Seashore Road, just north of Town Bank Road), affectionately referred to as “Old Brick,” provides an accurate and intriguing glimpse of nearly 300 years of Cape May County History. The present church was built in 1923 but the congregation dates from 1781. The oldest marked grave is that of Sarah Eldridge Spicer who died in 1742, and more Mayflower descendants are buried in this cemetery.
The newest museum in Lower Township is the Forgotten Warriors Museum, honoring the memory of soldiers from the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Located at the Cape May County Airport (529 Forrestal Road) the museum is dedicated to preserving artifacts and memories of a largely forgotten era. (Information at (609) 374-2987)
Lower Township also is the site of two African-American cemeteries. Union Bethel Civil War Veterans has the gravesites of African-American men and women who served in the Civil War. It contains the names of some names of well-known Cape May County families such as Cox and Vance, two of the first families to settle in Lower Township. Mount Zion Cemetery is said to have graves of people involved in the Underground Railroad., which has been linked to Lower Township because Harriet Tubman worked for a time at a Cape Island hotel.
Birding is a draw for this area during the Spring and Autumn seasons. At one time more than 400 species of birds can be seen. Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area is a natural fo r birders. The 1,035 acre area offers a unique blend of several different habitats.
Opportunities for Outdoor Activity
The Cape May Winery and Vineyard (711 Town Bank Road) has been producing delectable wines for over ten years. The surrounding waters provide the perfect climate for growing grapes for this 15 acre winery. This winery’s products have won countless awards and state medals including the prestigious Governor’s Cup. The winery provides tours and tastings and is a great place for lunch or dinner. (Information at (609) 884-1169)
Turdo Vineyards (3911 Bayshore Road) is known for creating a variety of handcrafted premium wines from grapes carefully nurtured to their full bounty. Turdo Vineyards has been awarded the OWA (Quality Wine Alliance) designation, a program already in use in Italy and France. Their first vine was planted in 1999 and a year later over 5,000 vines were planted. Turdo Vineyard currently produces 12 wines. (Information at (609) 884-5591)
Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery (600 S. Railroad Avenue) is one of the newer wineries in Lower Township. With more than 100 acres, two lakes and ten acres of vines, this vineyard is picturesque and romantic.
Willow Creek Winery is the newest addition of wineries (160 Stevens Street). This vineyard is 50 acres with gardens and 40 of those acres are vines. Willow Creek Winery is the perfect spot to picnic or enjoy a relaxing dinner. Open daily Willow Creek does tours, private tours and other events. (Information at (609) 770-8782)
The Township also has acres of wetlands and natural beach areas that are great for outdoor activities including fishing, boating, sailing, biking and golfing. Farming is also a way of life with many fields covered with corn, lima beans, tomatoes, peppers, and other crops. Excellent camping facilities from tent to full-service RV and fully equipped cabins can be found throughout the Township. The Diamond beach section lies along the ocean and is a popular beach resort with fine motel accommodations, luxury condominiums, and excellent restaurants.
The quiet peaceful way of life that first attracted people to the area has been maintained throughout the years, making Lower Township a great place to live, work and play.