Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Doctor Who Wasn't at the Emlen Physick Estate

The Doctor Who Wasn't at the Emlen Physick Estate

Cape May is known for its Victorian architecture and plethora of beautifully restored homes, many of which function as bed and breakfasts. But unlike these B&Bs and private homes, exists Cape May's only Victorian house museum, just a few blocks in from the beach. The Emlen Physick Estate was built in 1879 for Dr. Emlen Physick, Jr.


Emlen Physick, Jr. was born June 5, 1855 in Philadelphia. Emlen's grandfather, Philip Syng Physick, was a prominent surgeon in Philadelphia. He followed in his footsteps by going to medical school, but he never practiced medicine. Emlen's father (also named Emlen) died April 24, 1859, leaving young Emlen as an heir to his estate. Emlen arrived in Cape May in 1876 at the age of twenty and purchased eleven acres of property along Washington Street. He first built the carriage house, where he lived until the main house was finished in 1879. In the eighteen room mansion, he lived with his mother, Frances Ralston, and her two maiden sisters Emilie and Isabelle Parmentier. Emlen never married. He was a gentleman farmer, owning two tenant farms and keeping livestock on the estate. He also dabbled in real estate, buying and selling many properties within Cape May. Locally, he was a backer for the Cape May golf club, was president of the Cape May Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and for a short time was president of the First National Bank of Cape May.

The parlor at the Physick Estate.
The design of the mansion is attributed to well-known architect Frank Furness, who designed more than 600 buildings in the greater Philadelphia area in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. No documents have been found definitively proving that Furness designed the home, but there are many architectural features found on the exterior of the home that were trademarks of his style. The home is an example of “Stick Style” architecture. It is constructed of wood and has oversized features, including large upside-down corbelled chimneys, hooded “jerkin-head” dormers, and the huge stick-like brackets on the porch.


Frances passed away in 1915, and Dr. Physick a year later on March 21, 1916 at the age of 58. Aunt Emilie lived in the house until May 20, 1935. All three are buried at Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery in Cape May. After her death, the house was willed to a neighbor, Frances Brooks, who had been taking care of Emilie in her later years. Between 1935 and the late 1960s, the estate was owned by a number of individuals and it fell into disrepair. In the 1960s, it was purchased by developers who had plans to tear down the house and build tract housing. In 1970, the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) was formed in 1970 to save the Physick Estate from demolition. This group of concerned citizens were successful and the City of Cape May purchased the estate. The home was leased to MAC, which has restored, maintains and operates the estate as a Victorian historic house museum. The grounds include the original carriage house, eight smaller outbuildings, and landscape features such as gardens. Inside the home, some of the original family furnishings are on display and the interior moldings, doors, and wallpapers have been painstakingly restored to reflect the period.

The Physick Estate has also appeared in at least once movie. In 1981, it was used as a location in the slasher film The Prowler.


Additional photos of my trip to the Emlen Physick Estate on Pinterest


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