Did you ever pass something on the road and think to yourself,”Hey, that looks cool. I should check it out.” And drive right past. And then drive by it again and say,”Hmm. Oh, right! I meant to check that place out! Looks cool!” And then drive right past again. And do it again… and again… and again? Well, I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. A month ago, I finally toured the USS Olympia and the USS Becuna at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia after years of seeing them from the highway. Today, I ventured to a really cool, little-known location in Cape May, New Jersey that I have lost track of the number of times I have driven by: the WWII Lookout Tower.
Friday after work, I yet again headed down to the southern Jersey shore, taking Route 55 to Route 47. Once I was away from the Philadelphia rush hour, the traffic was surprisingly light- I barely touched the brake pedal, which is saying something for a Friday evening. Saturday morning I went for an early run on the beach. During the off-season, the Jersey Shore is inhabited only by locals, as all the tourists stay far away. Running on the beach in the summer involve dodging people like you are an NFL wide receiver trying to evade tacklers. During the off-season, you will more likely than not have the entire beach to yourself, as I did this morning. For all 3 miles of my run, I did not see another soul.
Around noon, I headed to Cape May Point, an independent municipality on the most southwestern tip of the Cape May peninsula. Here sits the WWII Lookout Tower, which is operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, an organization that also runs the Cape May Lighthouse and the Emlen Physick Estate. Formally known as Fire Control Tower Number 23, the building was built to help aim the coastal defense artillery that was placed along both the New Jersey and Delaware beaches during the Second World War. Designed to protect shipping from German attacks as vessels entered and exited the Delaware Bay, the tower operated from 1942 until 1945.
Visits cost $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-12, and $3 for active service personnel and veterans, and the tour is self-guided. You climb a steel staircase to the top (there is no provision for an elevator). The steel staircase is a nod to modern convenience- the original path to the top was a ladder. At the top, Dave, a retired WWII veteran who is now a guide for the tower, gave me a detailed explanation of the site’s design and function. He answered all of my questions, and even showed me a few neat things that most visitors tend to overlook.
After the visit, I drove over to Cape May Point State Park, the location of the Cape May lighthouse. Nearby on the beach sits a large, concrete bunker. There are no signs on the beach to explain the structure, but with the help of Dave from the Lookout Tower, I learned quite a bit about it. It was actually a gun emplacement, built during the Second World War to rain fire upon any advancing enemy ships. Equipped with two 6″ guns (since removed), the large bunker was for ammunition storage. Too large to easily demolish (the walls are 7 feet thick), and too unstable to allow visitors, the building sits unused, an interesting location to visit.
Before heading home, I made one last stop: the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, which is detailed in this post. The ticket I purchased today at the WWII Lookout Tower also included a visit to the museum (a special for today only, apparently). The exhibits change at the aviation museum every few months, so I stopped by to quickly check it out.
On this Veterans’ Day weekend, I hope you enjoyed this tour of several historical military sites at the Jersey Shore. I am constantly amazed by the amount of new locations you can find at the shore, a place I have been visiting since I was a child. Thanks for coming along on another journey, and I hope to have some more interesting spots to share in the coming months.
‘Til next time.