This post contains affiliate links. We earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase.
Congress Hall is one of the most recognizable buildings in Cape May City. You’ve probably seen tons of pictures of this massive and prominent historical hotel during your research of Cape May NJ, and may even wonder if this is the perfect accommodation for you.
And I don’t blame you if you book a stay here.
Without question, Congress Hall is a Cape May icon. This popular and historically significant seaside resort hosts tons of fabulous events throughout the year, especially at Christmas with an open air market that fills even the Grinch’s heart with happiness.
Not to mention, Congress Hall is more than just a place to rest your head and sleep. Congress Hall also has a wide variety of shopping and dining options even for people who aren’t staying on the property. I’ve visited multiple times over the course of my life, but never actually stayed on the property.
What is Congress Hall?
Congress Hall is an award-winning boutique hotel that’s known as the oldest seaside resort in the United States (more on that later!).
Like I said, even tourists not staying at Congress Hall still love coming to the property for a visit. I know that I have hung out at Congress Hall – checking out the shops and reading about the history – even on just a day trip to Cape May.
History buffs, in particular, will love spending time in Congress Hall. I enjoy thinking about the travelers of the past who sought an escape from what must have been a pretty challenging life.
What to Do at Congress Hall
So, ultimately, Congress Hall is unique as a hotel, because it’s also an attraction in its own right with plenty to see and do and eat.
Congress Hall Activities
- Eat at Blue Pig Tavern: Warm and cozy dining room in Congress Hall known for filling breakfasts. Yum!
- Sip a Cocktail in the Brown Room: Classic cocktails served in an elegant bar near a warm fireplace. Recommended in the winter months!
- Sit on the Sweeping Lawn: Want to relax after walking around Cape May all day? Chill in the lawn chairs and do some quality “people watching.”
- Tommy’s Folly — Several Stores in One: Buy some trinkets at the general store, boutique, and coffee shop! The perfect place for souvenirs.
Staying at Congress Hall
Congress Hall is a very popular place for tourists to stay on their trip to Cape May. Understandably so, right?
Of course, Congress Hall’s popularity also means that it’s not the cheapest place to stay. Even if you want to splurge, you want to make sure you’re paying a reasonable price for your room.
You may also try and stay at Congress Hall mid-week, or visit Cape May in winter to find cheaper rates. Weekends in July and August are a fortune.
7 Cool Facts Congress Hall Cape May History
Okay, so let’s talk about all the cool facts of Congress Hall Cape May history!
Congress Hall Was Once Called “Tommy’s Folly”
Thomas Hughes, who was a representative in Congress, built Congress Hall waaaaay back in 1816. As you can imagine, Congress Hall’s sheer size was shocking to a lot of the population.
Seriously, Congress Hall was a massive damn property for the time period, but additionally, the interior of the hotel left a lot lacking, especially by modern day standards. Did you know the walls originally had no paint?! Shocking!
The local population seriously doubted that Congress Hall would ever been filled to capacity. Hence the name “Tommy’s Folly.” Hard to believe now.
Presidents Vacationed at Congress Hall
Unsurprisingly, many presidents enjoyed their seaside vacations at Congress Hall. Actually, a total of five US presidents walked the property’s enormous grounds and roamed the extensive halls.
These US five presidents include: Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison.
If you visit Congress Hall, you can read all about the presidential stays in this magnificent resort.
Congress Hall Burnt to the Ground in Cape May’s Great Fire
Ugh, I can’t imagine Congress Hall catching on fire, but I guess a lot of historical significant buildings burned down at least once, thanks to lackluster building codes and safety regulations. Congress Hall was not exempt from this unfortunate trend.
The fire took place in November of 1878 in the early morning hours. However, the fire didn’t start at Congress Hall, but nearby Ocean House. Sadly, the winds made it easy for the flames to spread far and wide.
By the time the fire was contained, over 40 acres of property was burned to the ground. The worst part? Arson was suspected. Furthermore, Congress Hall sustained $100,000 in damages.
Ghosts Allegedly Reside in Congress Hall
Okay, full disclaimer. I’m absolutely freakin’ fascinated by ghosts. I love ghost stories and tours, and whenever I travel, I like reading about the most haunted places in any given destination. And Congress Hall? Supposedly has ghosts!
Rumor has it that many of the spirits lingered after the Great Fire of 1878 and stayed on the property after it was rebuilt in 1879.
Several local authors have written about ghosts in Cape May, but even if you’re not a believer, it’s still fun to read these creepy stories on the beach!
Congress Hall Was the Oldest Seaside Hotel in America
Like I said, Congress Hall is known as the Oldest Seaside Hotel in America. In 2016, Congress Hall actually turned two-hundred years old.
As a result, Congress Hall attracted tons of tourists from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York, Delaware, and Maryland. In the early 1800s, the heat in the cities was even worse than it is today (thank god for air conditioning), so people with the means to do so were more than willing to indulge in a seaside escape!
Renovations Cost an Impressive $22 Million
During the Depression, Congress Hall fell into disrepair, and the building wasn’t used as a hotel again until 2002.
As you can imagine, the hotel’s past glory was shabby and in need of a major facelift. The $22 million renovation project restored this seaside resort to transform it into the Cape May icon that visitors love today!
The Sprawling Lawn has History Too
Last but not least, don’t forget that the ginormous lawn also has a rich history! And just how big is the grand lawn? A whopping three acres. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
This lawn has historically hosted baseball games (to satisfy the new sport’s growing popularity), as well as many concerts.
Visitors are welcome to explore the lawn. Even now, the lawn is home to many events, particularly at Christmas time.
I hope you had a wonderful time reading all about the cool historical facts surrounding Congress Hall — one of Cape May’s most iconic properties. Whether you stay at Congress Hall or pay a visit, you’re promised to have a great time! Don’t forget to add Congress Hall to your historic Cape May walk either.