From the time the current lighthouse was built in 1859 to the time it was electrified around 1933, four keepers, their assistants, and their families lived and worked on this landscape by the sea.
The keepers and their periods of service were: Downes Foster, 1861-1879;
Samuel Stillwell, 1877-1903;
Caleb Woolson, 1903-1924; and Harry Palmer, 1924-1933.
For most of these years, the site included not only the lighthouse and oil house, but dwelling houses, a barn and stable, a storehouse, vegetable and flower gardens, privies, and a water works.
Two identical keepers' houses were built within a year after the present lighthouse was completed in 1859.
Each one-and-a-half-story house featured three rooms on the first floor, front and back porches, and a stairway to four second floor bedrooms.
Small wooden "privies," or outhouses, were located to the rear of the property, about 30 feet behind the lighthouse.
Out front, lawn and gardens stretched more than 50 feet south toward the sea. (photo #1)
The 1860 keepers' houses proved to be inadequate for the three keepers (head and two assistants) needed at the Cape May lighthouse station.
The two assistants and their families were forced to squeeze into one house, creating, a situation deemed "thoroughly unsatisfactory, and detrimental to the
discipline and efficiency of the service" by the lighthouse Board.
As early as 1880, annual inspection reports made the request for an additional keeper's house to be built.
An awkwardly styled two-story addition to the east side of the assistant keepers' house was finally completed in 1901. (photo #2)
The assistant keepers' house was enlarged and remodeled again around 1920. (photo #3)
An unknown arsonist reduced the house to ashes in September 1967.
The remaining keepers' house, beyond the fence to your right, now serves as a private home for state park employees.
Harry Palmer, the last keeper at Cape May, was also an avid gardener. In 1931, his well-kept lawn and garden received second place award from the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.
Palmer topped that in 1933 with a first place award and a blue ribbon in the same category.
Palmer was said to have been very proud of his pole beans, tomatoes, and corn produced from his vegetable garden, not to mention the numerous hydrangeas on the property that flourished under his green thumb.