A weekly historical column by Ben Miller, author of the best-selling “The First Resort”
When Thomas Whitney transformed his private oceanfront home into the Windsor Hotel in 1879, he did so with little fanfare, placing no ads in the Philadelphia or Baltimore papers. The first mention of the Windsor in print outside of Cape May came in July of 1879, when the Maryland Sun noted the names of ‘Baltimoreans’ staying at the hotel, as they also did with the Stockton Hotel, West End House, Arlington House (now Hotel Abbott) and Congress Hall.
Whitney hired architect Stephen Decatur Button to design two hotel wings that mimicked the style of his cottage and extended from it in the shape of an L. Located next to Congress Hall on the corner of Congress Street and Beach Avenue, the sight of today’s Regency Condominiums, Whitney’s hotel was named after the English royal family’s Windsor Castle.
Whitney didn’t retain his Windsor Hotel for long, according to an 1883 Maryland Sun article that mentioned the Windsor’s new proprietor, W. W. Green. Another Sun article noted that Green’s daughter, Anna, was the hotel’s cashier and bookkeeper. The report remarked that one of the hotel’s guests, Mr William Brown of Philadelphia, “Narrowly escaped drowning while bathing near Congress Hall pier. He became exhausted while swimming and was rescued barely in time by the men in the lifeboat.”
The full Victorian splendor of the Windsor is apparent in this early 1900s picture. National Archives
The Windsor was unlike most of its contemporaries in the early years because its heated rooms rendered it functional year-round. For instance, in late November of 1908, the Windsor hosted school administrators and principals from all over Cape May County. They met to discuss the creation of a uniform educational system throughout the county. At the Windsor they devised a plan to institute high school entrance exams.
Business at the Windsor was good for most of the 20th century, even as other hotels fell on hard times. In December of 1970, the Windsor was purchased by the 20th Century Reformation Hour, later changed to the Christian Beacon Press. The organization was headed by Reverend Dr Carl McIntire, a nationally-known, communist-hating radio evangelist. McIntire’s group also owned Congress Hall and the Christian Admiral Hotel, formerly the Hotel Cape May.
McIntire and the city of Cape May had an acrimonious relationship, with especially bitter public blowouts over taxes and the charging for beach tags in front of Congress Hall and the Windsor. McIntire fought both issues in court, winning a lawsuit against the city over the sale of beach tags on his beaches but losing the tax case after the US Supreme Court refused to hear his argument.
On May 18, 1979, the year that would have marked the Windsor’s 100th anniversary, an unknown arsonist set fire to the hotel and it was completely lost. The Windsor was boarded up at the time of the fire, ironically having been closed by the city over its noncompliance with fire codes. While there was no loss of life, the hotel was being used to store priceless antiques from the Hotel Cape May and Congress Hall, all of which were lost to the flames.