A weekly historical column by Ben Miller, author of the best-selling “The First Resort”
The Lobster House was started in the early 1950s by the Laudeman family, who continue to operate it today. The landscape of Schellenger’s Landing, the Lobster House location’s formal name, has changed quite a bit over the years. In the early days of the Cape May harbor there was little more in the area than boat houses, railroad tracks and a small restaurant known as Bateman’s.
This photo from the early 1900s shows boaters exploring the Cape May Harbor in an area where
The Lobster House stands today. Greater Cape May County Historical Society
The docks along the new harbor were owned by the Reading Railroad, allowing fishermen to unload their fresh fish directly into rail cars that shipped them all over the northeast US. The patriarch of the Laudeman family, Jesse, owned a local seafood wholesale business in the late 1920s.
In 1939 Laudeman purchased the docks from the Reading Railroad in an effort to expand his wholesale company. He also became the owner of Bateman’s, but since he was focused on his seafood business, he leased it out to others. It wasn’t until 1953 that Laudeman and his wife decided to try to run the restaurant themselves.
They brought in their 21-year-old son, Wallace, to help with the restaurant, changed the name to The Lobster House and opened for business. In the early 1960s the family purchased the schooner American and moored her to the docks outside the restaurant. Business continued to boom, and over the years the eatery was greatly expanded from the original 60-seat cafe to the nearly 700-seat restaurant and banquet facility that we know today.
Along with the dining facilities, the Laudeman family also continued to upgrade and improve upon the wholesale fish operation. It is in large part because of the Laudeman family that Cape May is recognized as the second-largest fishing port on the Eastern Coast. Fisherman’s Wharf, a name unofficially bestowed on the Laudeman docks, is one of three commercial docks in the Cape May area that combine to form what is considered the Port of Cape May.
Over the years the Lobster House has tackled some pretty tough obstacles, mainly in the form of two especially powerful fires that nearly leveled the restaurant. On May 19, 1966 the Trenton Evening Times reported, “A spectacular general alarm fire roared through the fashionable Lobster House restaurant… Some 200 firemen from the surrounding area and all available fire equipment was rushed to the scene.” The restaurant was rebuilt within a year, but almost lost again in May of 1967 when the pier around it lit on fire. Luckily, firefighters were able to protect the restaurant from the flames.
In 2005 fireman battled for three hours against a fire that consumed much of the kitchen and
restaurant of The Lobster House. Cape May Fire Department
They weren’t so lucky when another fire hit around 3am on September 26, 2005. It took firemen about three hours to contain the flames and by that point the kitchen was destroyed and the restaurant was damaged. The restaurant was renovated and reopened on April 11, 2006.