What is now Cape May was originally formed as the borough of Cape Island by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 8, 1848, from portions of Lower Township. It was reincorporated as Cape Island city on March 10, 1851, and finally became Cape May city as of March 9, 1869.
It is part of the Ocean City Metropolitan Statistical Area. It has a population of 4,034 year-round residents (as of the United States 2000 Census). Cape May is also home to approximately 100,000 seasonal residents. The town's history dates back to its founding in 1620 by a Dutch captain named Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, though the area was first charted by Henry Hudson 50 years earlier.
Due in part to its award-winning beaches (Cape May was recognized as one of America's top 10 beaches by the Travel Channel), designation as the top birding location on the East Coast, Cape May's many Victorian structures and the island's rich history, Cape May is a seaside resort that draws visitors from all over the world. It was ranked the fifth best beach in New Jersey in the 2008 Top 10 Beaches Contest sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.
Cape May began hosting vacationers from Philadelphia in the mid 1700s and is recognized by the United States government as the country's oldest seaside resort. Cape May became increasingly popular in the 18th century and was considered one of the finest resorts in America by the 19th century. It is noted for its large number of well-maintained Victorian houses — the second largest collection of Victorian-era homes in the nation after San Francisco. In 1976, the entire city of Cape May was officially designated a National Historic Landmark. It is the only city in the United States wholly designated as such. That designation is intended to ensure the architectural preservation of these buildings.
The Cape May area is also a world-famous location for the observation of migrating birds, especially in fall. With over 400 bird species having been recorded in this area and hundreds of local birders, Cape May is arguably the top bird-watching area in the entire Northeastern United States. The Cape May Bird Observatory is based nearby at Cape May Point.
Cape May is located at (38.936814, -74.911094).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.8 square miles (7.3 km²), of which, 2.5 square miles (6.4 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km²) of it (11.43%) is water. Cape May is generally low-lying and its highest point is at 14 feet above sea level, at Washington and Jackson Streets.
Cape May is the southernmost point in New Jersey.
There were 1,821 households out of which 18.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.6% were married couples living together, 7.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.2% were non-families. 39.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 24.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.02 and the average family size was 2.69.
In the city the population was spread out with 16.3% under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 19.8% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 28.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 47 years. For every 100 females there were 97.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,462, and the median income for a family was $46,250. Males had a median income of $29,194 versus $25,842 for females. The per capita income for the city was $29,902. About 7.7% of families and 9.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.0% of those under age 18 and 10.9% of those age 65 or over.
Under the council-manager plan, Cape May is governed by a municipal council which is elected at large and chaired by the mayor, with the Council performing the city's legislative functions. The mayor is a member of the council , presides over the council and has a vote, but no administrative authority. After the 2004 elections, the members of the initial council drew lots to determine who would serve a four year term, with the other three serving two-year terms. Subsequently, all councilmen elected serve for four years.
The city manager exercises all the executive power of the municipality. It is the duty of the manager to see that all laws and ordinances, in effect in the municipality, are observed. The council appoints the municipal clerk, the municipal attorney, the tax assessor, the tax collector, the treasurer, and such other boards and commissions as may be provided by the administrative code. The manager appoints all other officers and employees of the municipality, and all other employees if no other method of appointment is provided in the code, or by general law.
Members of the Cape May City Council are Mayor Edward J. Mahaney (term expires June 30, 2012), Deputy Mayor Niels S. Favre (2010), David S. Craig (2008), David C. Kurkowski (2010), Linda Aldridge Steenrod (2010).
Cape May is in the Second Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 1st Legislative District.
The Cape May City Elementary School serves 193 public school students in Prekindergarten through sixth grade. Students from Cape May Point attend the school as part of a sending/receiving relationship.
For grades 7 - 12, public school students attend the schools of the Lower Cape May Regional School District, which serves students from Cape May City, Lower Township and West Cape May, along with students from Cape May Point. Schools in the district (with 2005-06 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics) are Richard M. Teitelman School (grades 7 and 8; 647 students) and Lower Cape May Regional High School (grades 9-12; 1,195).
The Cape May Branch of the Cape May County Public Library is located in Cape May City.
Tourism is the dominant industry, while commercial and sport fishing are also important to Cape May's economy. Marine mammal watching, bird watching, and other forms of Eco-tourism have become equally important in Cape May. A small wine growing area is adjacent to Cape May, and tourists to Cape May visit local wineries. Cape May's various shops draw many foreign university students during the summer to seek work for the season.
Cape May has become known both for its Victorian gingerbread homes and its cultural offerings. The town hosts the Cape May Jazz Festival, the Cape May Music Festival and the Cape May, New Jersey Film Festival. Cape May is also home for the Center for Community Arts, which offers year-round arts classes, African American history tours, WCFA-LP 101.5 FM (commercial-free jazz and community programming) and is transforming the historic Franklin Street School into a Community Cultural Center.
As is the case in many other resort towns on the shore, there is a noticeable presence of beach bum culture during the summer.
Cape May is known traditionally as the home of the so-called 'Cape May Diamonds'. They show up at Sunset Beach and other beaches in the area. These are in fact clear quartz pebbles that wash down from the Delaware River. They begin as prismatic quartz (including the color sub-varieties such as 'Smoky Quartz' and 'Amethyst') in the quartz veins alongside the Delaware River that get eroded out of the host rock and wash down 200 miles to the shore. Collecting Cape May diamonds is a popular pastime and many tourist shops sell them polished or even as faceted stones.
In 1948, all entry level training on the east coast was moved to the U.S. Coast Guard Recruit Receiving Station in Cape May. The Coast Guard consolidated all recruit training functions in Cape May in 1982. Currently over 350 military and civilian personnel and their dependents are attached to Training Center Cape May.