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!
In 1829, Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a physician and amateur naturalist, made an accidental discovery that would allow for the successful widespread cultivation of exotic plants. Dr. Ward tried to grow several exotic plants in the backyard of his East London home. He was unsuccessful, mainly due to the poor air quality of the city. In an unrelated experiment, Dr. Ward buried a chrysalis in some moist mold in a bottle with a lid. After a few months, he noticed that a fern seedling and a blade of grass had begun to grow. Based on this discovery, Dr. Ward started to construct what looked like miniature greenhouses which were called Wardian cases. Soon, they became hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Victorians were very interested in nature. They saw nature as something beautiful and pure, yet it still needed to be controlled. It was considered fashionable to have plants in one’s house. Wardian cases were popular in houses where the family wanted to show they had refinement and excellent taste. It also showed the family had high morals since nature was God’s creation. Being closer with nature meant being closer to God.
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.