The recorded history of The Duke of Windsor, one of Cape May's iconic Victorian mansions in the Queen Anne style, dates back to 1842.
This article originally appeared in Cape May Magazine's October 2021 edition. Written by Bill Godfrey.
The Duke of Windsor Inn, at 817 Washington Street, has an air befitting its royal name. With an elegant Victorian facade, roofs sloping at every angle and grounds reminiscent of an English manor, this grand yet quaint cottage nods to Victorian formality, but retains the comfort of a beachside home.
"We just fell in love with the Duke of Windsor," said Clara Ziman, who along with her husband Jeremy purchased the house in May 2021. "At the end of the day we knew that was the property we wanted. We're in the hotel industry in Ocean City, Maryland and we were looking for a property along the East Coast. We've been coming to Cape May for the past nine years and it's a town we really enjoy."
Between Clara and me, we could not pinpoint when or why the home became known as the Duke of Windsor. The Duke of Windsor was the title King Edward VIII received when he abdicated the throne after less than a year of being the head of the British monarchy. His abdication, while messy for the Brits, garnered the Duke a following in the states for his dedication to true love.
One interesting item that came with the purchase of the house was a loose leaf, hand-drawn, hand-lettered timeline documenting the home's owners from 1842 to 1982.
"A Chronology of the Lands and Premises Now Known as the Duke of Windsor Inn," is a noteworthy four page document with neatly printed letters, two hand-drawn illustrations of houses and neatly connected blocks detailing who owned the property when, and in what record book the information was found.
"Part of the grounds of the WIlliam Corgie Plantation, 1842" reads the first block. To the left is a hand-drawn illustration of what I assume is the original Corgie Plantation house, although the image is not identified.
The Corgie Plantation comprised much of the land south of Washington Street during the mid-19th century. Corgie began selling off plots and, according to the chronology, the property was "Conveyed to David and Hanna Pierson February 12, 1842, for $7500," with a reference to "Book S- Pgs 489-490 Cape May Book of Deeds."
It seems a hotel known as the Indian Queen once stood on the property. In 1855 "Several Lots and the Indian Queen Hotel, Outbuilding & Cottage were conveyed to Joph and Lydia Ware."
The City of Cape Island purchased the property in 1860 and turned it into "A Public School House." The property continued to be referred to as the Indian Queen Hotel and was sold back to a private buyer in 1868. In 1927 Florence Hazelhurst purchased the property and was the owner during King Edward VIII's short and tumultuous reign.
In 1936, Edward the VIII became King of the United Kingdom, but his unyielding desire to marry an American divorcee led him to abdicate the throne. Edward was a romantic and well-dressed figure who served in World War I and was known for his fashion sense.
The 1930s were no kinder to Cape May than to Edward VIII. The once-stylish Victorian homes were seen as outdated and old-fashioned. Many homeowners took to removing the ornate gingerbread to give their homes a more modern look. The vibrant Victorian hues that lined the streets were considered passe, and a whitewashed look soon took over the town. To the eternal thanks of a great many people, that ornate gingerbread that never fully disappeared came back into fashion and started attracting visitors once again.
"Cape May's ability to retain its historical integrity is everything, and unfortunately a lot of other towns didn't have the foresight to put those historic protections in place," said Clara. "And when you walk into this house, you're captured by the original woodwork, the ceiling design, the original flooring and stairwells, as well as the exterior aesthetic -- the Duke of Windsor has everything, including a central location and historic value."
The house was seized by City of Cape May for Taxes in December 1938 ($3,031.57 worth of unpaid taxes). A new owner does not appear on the timeline until 1946, which leaves me wondering if the home sat vacant those eight years.
The final entry on the map shows Bruce and Frances Prichard became the owners of February 15, 1982, leading me to assume one of the Prichards had created this documented. The Zimans purchased the home from David and Roseanne Hague.
"Being in the hotel industry, we knew what the current traveler is looking for," Clara said. "So, this house has all the modern amenities, and it has all the historic beauty as well. It's been newly remodeled and updated. Couple that with Cape May's ability to maintain its historic beauty -- which is one of the reasons we love Cape May -- and we knew it would be a great property."
This Queen Anne style Victorian is thought to have been built around 1896. The asymmetrical exterior features a 45-foot-tall turret as well as a new mahogany front porch with classical columns. Inside are historic stained-glass windows, and the three-story oak staircase is a showstopper.
The house was recently renovated from the studs out and has seven bedrooms and seven and a half baths and sleeps 25. The renovation included a new cedar shake roof and siding, antique gas lamps and copper cutters. There is a grand foyer as you enter with a gas fireplace and a sitting area in the turret. The high-end kitchen includes marble counters, six-burner gas stove, two refrigerators, and two dishwashers. The renovations also added an elevator that runs from the basement through the third level, and there's parking for 11 vehicles on the oversized lot.
"The stairwell is original to the house and is really beautiful - it's one of my favorite parts of the house. We've had friends to the house and their favorite spot is the front porch. We haven't really had the chance to relax at the house yet, but it seems to me the front porch is going to be my favorite spot."