CAPE MAY — The southern end of Cape May County has one of the nation’s largest fishing ports, featured a Revolutionary War naval battle, has a graveyard of famous shipwrecks offshore, once had a thriving boat-building industry, and figured prominently in the early years of the U.S. Lifesaving Service.
These are just a few of the reasons a group of organizers want to build a maritime museum and education center along Cape May Harbor.
The group approached City Council more than a year ago seeking the city-owned Solarium building that was slated for demolition to make way for the new convention center. They asked the city to fund moving the building to the harbor front. A deal could not be worked out, and the Solarium was demolished.
But the group is still meeting, working on a book about the region’s maritime history, and has not given up hopes to open a museum.
“The Solarium was really premature, and it was not to be. We’re all volunteers, and we don’t have any money,” said Kevin Maloney, president of the newly formed non-profit Cape May Maritime Museum.
There may be no money, but the group does have a business plan and has formed a 501 C-3 volunteer organization. The business plan envisions money coming in from memberships, grants, a gift shop, and classes on a number of marine topics. The group even had a logo created by West Cape May artist Janet Payne.
“We have support from the private sector in a significant way. There are people who believe in this vision,” Maloney said.
The goal is to present the maritime heritage not just in the city of Cape May but from the whole southern end of the county. The commercial fishing industry, one of the largest on the East Coast, is actually in Lower Township. The Revolutionary War naval battle was fought off present-day Wildwood Crest. Much of the boat-building industry was at Schellenger’s Landing, which is also in Lower Township.
The idea with the Solarium was to move it by barge to a city-owned lot next to The Nature Center of Cape May. Maloney said a new idea is to build a replica of a 19th century U.S. Lifesaving Station and put it on the harbor at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May near the Corinthian Yacht Club. The group has old black-and-white pictures of one that used to be at Cape May Point before it was destroyed in a winter storm.
The group also has a mission statement that shows education would be a big part of the effort.
“The mission of the Cape May Maritime Museum and Education Center is to create a greater appreciation and preservation of our maritime heritage through interpretive centers and education programs in collaboration with local mariners, historians and marine scientists.”
The education mission could begin with a book being published by Arcadia Publishing about the area’s maritime heritage. The first draft of the book should be completed by the end of October, Maloney said. The group has also gone to coastal festivals including Harborfest and the Hereford Lighthouse Festival to talk up the proposal.
The group plans to develop education programs working with Rutgers University, Kiwanis Club of Cape May, Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 82, and both the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Organizers envision a lecture series from maritime scholars and classes, which could range from boat building for adults to youth programs on the water. Boat restoration projects are possible as are demonstrations of early lifesaving techniques. A museum could include artifacts from local shipwrecks along with a maritime library.
The board set up to oversee the project includes Maloney and his wife, Sandy; Harry Bellangy; Glenn Callahan; George Loos; Brian Sullivan; and former City Councilwoman Linda Steenrod.
Contact Richard Degener: