A Short History
Wildwood Crest Historical Society and Museum
by William Cloer and Kirk Hastings
Cape May County is an area rich in cultural history. Several of the towns and boroughs in the county have preserved their history by forming historical societies, and Wildwood Crest is among them. The Wildwood Crest Historical Society and Museum began early in 1975. The daughter of Philip P. Baker (the founder of Wildwood Crest) had passed away earlier that year, leaving all of her father’s documents to the Borough of Wildwood Crest. In her will, she stipulated that all of the documents were to be made available for public display.
Martin Way, the attorney who handled the legal proceedings, placed the papers in the care of Mayor Charles Guhr. Realizing the historical significance of the documents, Mayor Guhr appointed Bill and Barbara Smith and Stanley Gage to set up a museum to display them. The museum was temporarily located in a small building at the entrance to the (second) Crest Pier municipal building, and the papers were on display by summer.
It soon became apparent that the museum needed a more permanent location. The new location was a house at 204 E. Cardinal Road. The museum opened on May 31st, 1976 and was the first big event of the Bicentennial celebration in Wildwood Crest. The Bicentennial celebration included the dedication of Turtle Gut Park across from Sunset Lake and involved the entire Crest community. Doris and Thomas Benner were appointed as Co-Chairmen to handle the event. Mayor Guhr cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony and opened not just a building, but a doorway to local history.
The Crest Museum grew quickly; public donations of documents and artifacts soon filled the house on Cardinal Road. The museum’s success continued for a few years until 1981. Under shifting political tides, it was decided that the Police Department was to expand. The museum was given notice that its building was to be torn down to make room for the larger Police Department. All of the historical articles were moved to the Crest Memorial School, and then later to a storage facility offshore.
Not having a home for the museum didn’t stop the Society, however. Jack Christine, the President of the Society at the time, was determined to keep Philip Baker’s legacy alive. Together with Stanley Gage, a lecture series was planned. Held at the Crest Memorial School, the South Jersey History, Culture & Heritage Course was taught by the pair in the fall of 1982. The course was a success and over 70 people from all over the county attended. The course was repeated again the following year.
Even with the success of the lecture series, the historical society entered a dormant state for a few years. Without a home, even the determination of its members couldn’t carry the society indefinitely. It wasn’t until early in 1990 that the society resurfaced. Kirk Hastings, a Somers Point resident who had grown up in Wildwood Crest, began searching for the Society. The presidency had passed from Jack Christine to Bob Coombs in 1990 and Kirk was referred to President Coombs. The two met and decided to revive the museum. Public interest sparked and the society grew once again. Old members became active and Commissioner Arthur Schard found a new home for the museum – it was to be moved to the second floor of the municipal building.
In June of 1992, the museum was again opened to the public. But in 1994 the borough government decided to expand and reconfigure the municipal building, and the museum was once again left without a home. But not for long. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor John Pantalone, in 1995 the Historical Society was given one of the stores on the north side of the new Crest Pier (the third) for its museum. With Kirk Hastings as its new President, the Society’s grand opening celebration for its newest museum was held on May 25, 1996. This museum boasted hundreds of artifacts, documents and old photographs of Wildwood Crest’s rich history.
Through the tenacity and dedication of its members the Wildwood Crest Historical Society has become an important part of Wildwood Crest.