A museum educator portraying Dr. Emlen Physick proudly points to his home
Welcome to the 
Emlen Physick Estate, 
Cape May, New Jersey's 
only Victorian house museum

An exterior shot of the Physick Estate shows the distinctive gridwork designed by architect Frank Furness


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.

Free on-site parking/RV-friendly

Won’t you join our labor of love? Your donation today will help us maintain the Emlen Physick Estate so it can be enjoyed by  generations to come.

Find out more about the Physick Estate:

House Tour Theme:

What the Heck is that Thing?
Victorian Household Innovations: The Victorians used tools in the home that would bewilder the 21st  century householder.  Such gizmos as button hooks and magic lanterns had a specific use for Victorians, but today are obsolete.  Learn about curious gadgets like these, how they worked, and why they were as essential to Victorians as smart phones are today. 
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).

to join the Friends of the Physick Estate

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!

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One of the scarecrows in Scarecrow Alley
What to expect when you visit         
The grounds of the Physick Estate are home to not only the Physick’s house, but also Hill House, immediately behind the main house where you’ll find  our business offices, and which had a history of its own in the lives of the Physick family.  Also on the grounds is the Carriage House, where the Physick’s horses and carriages, and later Dr. Physick’s Model T, were kept. Today, it is home to a visitors center as well as the Carriage House Museum Shop,  the Carroll Gallery, where you can see changing exhibits throughout the year,  the Carriage House Café & Tearoom, open for lunch & afternoon tea late April through the end of October, and the Carriage House Visitors Center, where you purchase tickets to tours of the Physick Estate.. Other outbuildings, many original to the Physick family, are located on the grounds and are still in use today. There is ample free parking  for cars and RVs and there are bike racks for those who come on two wheels. There is access to public rest rooms, and  picnic tables are located on the grounds and the brick patio beside the Café & Tearoom tent. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the spacious lawns for an afternoon stroll or relax in the gazebo or on the porch. Be sure to check out the abundant herb garden, located near the brick patio behind the Carriage House, as well as the front lawn’s Oval Garden, an original and integral part of the estate’s landscaping and a favorite of Mrs. Ralston, Dr. Physick’s mother. Also check out the “Story Stops” located on the grounds where you can use your mobile device to scan a QR code and hear stories told by members of the Physick household.
This Majolica bowl was a housewarming gift to the Physick family in 1879. You can see it on display in the formal parlor.

Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer

c. 1895


Many historians point to the late 19th century as the beginning of modern medicine.  This time period also saw the rise of “patent medicines,” which were prepackaged remedies sold over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription. There was no drug regulation, so companies could make whatever claims they wanted.


The Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer was advertised to cure “whooping cough, colds, bronchitis, coughs, sore throat” as well as other respiratory problems. Supposedly, it could also be used to “clear the room of diseases.” The bottom lamp was filled with Kerosene. The fire would warm the top basin which was filled with medicine. The fumes were inhaled. The directions stated this could be done overnight.

The “medicine” used in the vaporizer was cresol, a chemical derived from coal tar. A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1908 debunked all of the claims made by the Vapo-Cresolene Company. It stated that inhaling more than a very small amount of cresol vapor would be very dangerous.

Get Directions To:
1048 Washington St.
Cape May NJ 08204