A visit to the Physick Estate today offers a look back at our Victorian past as evidenced by its architecture, decorative arts, customs, and the lives of one particular Cape May family, the Physicks. Emlen Physick Jr., his widowed mother, Frances Ralston, and his maiden aunt Emilie Parmentier moved into their home when it was completed in 1879.
Emlen, who never married, was descended from a famous and wealthy Philadelphia family. His grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, was considered the father of American surgery and invented numerous surgical procedures and medical instruments that are still in use today.
While he did graduate from medical school, Emlen never practiced medicine. In Cape May, he led the life of a gentleman farmer, owning two tenant farms and keeping livestock on his estate on Washington Street. He bought and sold a great deal of real estate in Cape May, and took an active interest in local doings by voicing his opinions at city council meetings.
The Physicks' distinctive home illustrates their changing tastes as well as the particulars of the Victorian lifestyle in Cape May.
The first floor of the Physick House Museum is fully accessible.
The Victorians’ love of nature included a strong desire to dominate it. See how they demonstrated this fascinating paradox in the ways they sought to study, master, and display the wonders of nature in their own homes.
Join the Friends of the Physick Estate
For years, the Emlen Physick Estate has been a “must see” destination for visitors to Cape May, as well as an outstanding educational experience for local schoolchildren. Help us to enhance this jewel of Victoriana and expand its outreach by joining the Friends of the Physick Estate, an affinity group of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC).
CLICK HERE to join the Friends of the Physick Estate
CLICK HERE for information on events sponsored by the Friends of the Physick Estate
Check out Dr. Physick's family tree!
The Physick House in Philadelphia was the 19th century home of our Dr. Physick's grandfather, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, who became known as the Father of American Surgery, and also created the first carbonated soft drink in America!
Hunting, or gunning, for sport was extremely popular in the Victorian era. Hunting became so popular, it began to decimate the population of several species. In the late 19th century, conservation groups like the Audubon Society came into being. Even some “sportsmen” organizations declared commitment to conservation practices.
In addition to this photograph in which Dr. Physick (the gentleman on the left) is holding a hunting rifle, there is more evidence he enjoyed gunning. Frank Leach, a friend of Dr. Physick’s, wrote in his diary on August 28, 1874: “Lilburn and I fished, Spicer and Emlen gunned. We caught 9 fish and they killed 8 mudhens.”
Interestingly, Dr. Physick became the President of the local S.P.C.A. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). A newly discovered newspaper article from an 1896 edition of the New York Times states Dr. Physick had 16 boys arrested for shooting birds out of season. The boys were let go after writing a statement promising not to shoot birds out of season again.
This photograph of Dr. Physick is located in the Billiard Room.
This year's theme for Physick House tours, "At Home With Nature," explores the ways in which the Physick Family brought nature into their home in Cape May.