Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Chalfonte's Historic Preservation Weekend 5/2: Cape May, NJ

It had been several years since I'd been to Cape May and to The Chalfonte for one of their preservation weekends. This program is wonderful. For $35.00 and 8 hours of a work assignment), you have room and board in the oldest hotel in Cape May, NJ. Since these work weekends are well before regular season opening, the room part of this arrangement is a wee bit less than luxury; but, it is comfortable. The "board" portion is over-the-top. The ladies in the kitchen make everything from scratch and memorized recipes. Bisquits, potato salad, fried/baked chicken, apple pie, you name it, none of it comes from a cardboard or plastic container. It is the heaviest dose of comfort food one can imagine. As difficult as it is to believe, there is one element that casts a shadow on the food and that is the people who are there. Two of my absolute favorites are Greg (left) and Richard (right) in the photo of us ready for action on the porch. We had a ball being dive-bombed by carpenter bees. After all, this place has been there since 1876 and it is totally wooden, unless you count the multiple layers of paint used through the years to hold it all together. Greg, Richard, and I were smart enough to give the bees their right-of-way and head for lemon aid refills on a regular basis.

Two cars headed up there: Wendy and Jasmine in one; Rosa, Olga, and I were in the other. The way the hotel rooms fell, it was slightly different. Wendy, Olga, and I ended up in a room overlooking Howard Street frontage while Rosa and Jasmine were down the hallway closer to one of the "resident ghost" suites.

It was hard work for us all. Rosa and Olga had requested to work on the cleaning crew while the balance all scraped latex paint off the largest wooden porch in Cape May. Board by board, we worked our way around the veranda and added a lovely coat of light gray paint once the surface was prepped.

The weekend is great with friends, but it is also one you can go on alone. Why? You meet nothing but wonderful people. Greg and Richard are two cases in point. These two made me laugh every minute in their company. Greg lives in Ocean City, NJ while Richard is a pharmacist in New York City. Both wonderful guys. I can only hope for another weekend in their company.

Cape May can be reached from Washington, DC by driving up I-95 just shy of Philadelphia and making a right hand turn, then heading toward the Garden State Parkway South. OR you can go the easy way: drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, take Route 404 to Lewes, Delaware and taking the Cape May - Lewes Ferry. Thank God the weather was with us when we crossed as being a candidate for the next SS Minnow doesn't do much for me.

The actual drive there could have benefitted from remedial map reading, but that is the fun of a trip. I returned home exhausted and well fed. This trip I finally figured out why I love attending these preservation weekends: I become totally disengaged from my daily life here in Alexandria. Add to that the bonus of up-lifting an historic property, well, it doesn't get much better than this.

On Sunday afternoon we nearly missed making the 2:30 ferry trying to gather all the workers for a group photo on the porch. The hotel's restoration architect had some of us hold signs reading "THIS PLACE MATTERS" for a photo essay on the National Trust for Historic Preservation
May is Historic Preservation Month. For all the hard work everyone volunteered, I hope the photo makes the web site. Now, perhaps it is your turn to celebrate.

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