The Emlen Physick Estate is said to be the only museum of Victorian living around. It's a magnificent example of what Cape May has to offer!
Dr. Emlen Physick came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, Philip Syng Physick, known as the American Father of Surgery (1768-1837) was the inventor of the stomach pump. Two of his famous patients being Justice John Marshall and Presidential wife,Dolly Madison.
His great, great grandfather, Philip Syng, was a silversmith who created the inkwell used for the Declaration of Independence.
Emlen Physick never married, instead sharing his comfortable household with his widowed mother, Mrs. Ralston, and maiden Aunt Emilie. We were informed that although he was a medical doctor, he did not practice medicine when he was living in Cape May. Characters portraying Mrs. Ralston and Aunt Emilie made our tour such fun!
The eighteen room mansion was designed by reknown architect, Frank Furness, in the stick style and sits majestically on four acres. There are daily tours (hours vary)--$8 for adults; $4 for children.
Stop at Twining's Tearoom while you're here! See my TIPS on this.
The Emlen Physick Estate is a grandios mansion built in the Victorian "Stick Style" of architecture. Built in 1879 and attributed to the noted architect, Frank Furness, this jewel was saved from the wrecker's ball, and now has been fully restored and is home to The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts. This Center for the Arts was formed for the specific purpose of saving the Physick Estate.
This estate on 4 acres of grounds was built for Dr. Emlen Physick. The never-married Dr. Physick was descended from a wealthy Philadelphia family, and was the grandson of the noted, Dr. Philip S. Physick, known as the Father of American Surgery (1768-1837). The younger Physick lived on the estate with his widowed mother and his aunt. On a tour there several years ago, we found the mansion and outbuildings to be a treasure trove of antiques and stories of Physick and his family. It is an entry to the world of the wealthy Victorian and the way of life in Cape May during that time period.
Be sure to call for admission times and prices and other special events which are scheduled there throughout the year. Also visit their Twinings Tea Room.
This, one of the grandest of Cape May’s Victorian homes, has been restored to its original style and is open for guided tours, offering a great opportunity to get a sense of how the wealthier inhabitants of the town lived during its heyday.
Entry is by guided tour only, which cost $10 for adults when we were there in September 2008. The tour is pretty comprehensive – rooms visited include the formal parlour, family room, servants’ quarters, kitchen, billiard room, library, a couple of bedrooms and the bathroom, which was very modern for its time. The guide we had was a little eccentric in manner, but imparted lots of detailed information not only about the rooms and furnishings but also about Emlen Physick himself and the family members who loved here with him. Physick was the grandson of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, who is considered the father of American surgery and invented numerous surgical procedures and medical instruments that are still in use today. Young Emlen also qualified as a doctor but inherited a fortune and never actually practiced medicine. Instead he had this house built for him and lived here with his widowed mother, Frances Ralston, and his maiden aunt Emilie Parmentier.
The house was very modern in its day, being constructed in the avant garde Stick Style when most cottages in town were still being built in the more conservative Italianate, Gothic and Mansard styles. It is considered one of the best examples of this style, which is as the name suggests rather angular, with geometric detailing rather than the ornate gingerbread trim of many of the other houses in the town. The house was designed by Frank Furness, one of the foremost architects of his day, and has several distinctive features such as the unusual chimneys in photo 2. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside, by the way, so I can’t share with you all the ornate details and interesting furnishings. But if you’d like to see these have a look at the Cape May Times page about the house.
After our tour we visited an interesting exhibition about Victorian Spiritualism in the Carriage House. This small building also houses the ticket office and gift shop, as well as a tea shop which has a good reputation. So we were a bit disappointed to discover that it only serves full meals and we couldn’t go there for the coffee and a little treat that we really wanted (even though it was only about 11.30 AM so a bit early for a “lunches only” restriction in our view!)
Tours last about 45 minutes, and can be combined with one of the street trolley tours which will bring you right onto the estate.
One constant in Cape May is the Emlen Physick Estate. No matter what time of year it is, you can take a tour of this 18 room mansion designed by renowned architect Frank Furness. Built in 1879, it's considered by some to be one of the finest examples of Victorian “Stick Style” architecture in America.
Back in its heyday, the Physick Estate housed a rather unusual household: Dr. Emlen Physick, who never married; his widowed mother, Mrs. Ralston; and his Maiden Aunt Emilie.
Dr. Physick's grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) was known as the Father of American Surgery. Emlen Physick followed family tradition by completing medical training, but he never practiced. He lived the life of a country gentleman and animal breeder. He is remembered for having the first automobile in Cape May.
In the 1970's, after decades of decline, the Physick Estate and the nine outbuildings on the four-acre Cape May estate on Washington Ave. were saved and restored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC)
Dating back to 1879, this estate was home to the well-heeled Emlen Physick family and offers perhaps the finest glimpse into the lifestyle of the wealthy inhabitants of Victorian age of Cape May.
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