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Jump to a detailed profile, search site with google or try advanced search. West Cape May, NJ residents, houses, and apartments details.


Burcher draws in the sand using his cane, mapping from memory a town that no longer exists.

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He stands near the site of the home where he spent much of his childhood, but he cannot be sure if it was here, or beneath the waves that break behind him. Just dunes, marshes, squawking shore birds and a cove that curves hundreds of yards inland from the former shoreline. For a century, the spit at the southernmost tip of New Jersey was a summer colony with a small of year-round residents, first called Mount Vernon, and then incorporated in as South Cape May. But nature had other ideas, as storms regularly battered the borough and dragged chunks of it out to sea.

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The Great Atlantic Hurricane of wiped out most of what was left, and a storm chased away the few remaining residents. Burcher, 86, a retired teacher who now lives here in West Cape May, is one of the few people still living who knew the former town intimately.

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Many human settlements have been shaped by nature, but few have been erased so quickly and completely. To Mr. Burcher, who is cheerfully contentious and profane, the point is not just to preserve the names and dates.

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Neighboring Cape May was the summer playground of rich families traveling with servants. But South Cape May was never so genteel, and Mr. He was one of 12 siblings who survived past infancy, and their mother, Theresa, made them contribute financially as soon as they could.

My mother was a tough Irish broad. Any way to teach us to make a buck and survive, she would do it.

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The children walked several miles into Cape May each day. They sold newspapers, or fish they had caught, but their main job was scavenging the beach for whatever people had left behind. Their mother made forgotten towels into diapers; sweaters became bathing suits; and wallets were emptied of cash and then turned in to the police.

The Burchers lived inland most of the year but spent summers with family in South Cape May. There was little adult supervision, the risks balanced by autonomy and adventure. Burcher remembers hiding in the dunes with his brother and watching rum runners bring their contraband ashore and, once, shoot it out with the Coast Guard.

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Some physical pieces of South Cape May endure, along with Mr. Kenselaar collected. Most of the surviving houses now sit in Cape May, a resort known for Victorian architecture, where there is nothing to suggest to passers-by that these particular landmarks are survivors of a ghost town.

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One well-kept example, owned by Lee Krumenacker, 67, and her siblings, was bought by her great-grandfather and still has furniture dating back generations. After the people and buildings were gone, South Cape May was legally dissolved.

For years, a local farmer used some of the remaining territory as a cow pasture. Three decades ago, the Nature Conservancy took over and created a refuge for migratory birds. The group restored dunes to keep back the sea, allowing a freshwater wetland to form.

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Now there are head-high grasses, and nesting grounds for least terns, piping plovers, American oystercatchers and swans. Burcher and his wife of 61 years, Vida, can gaze on it from the front porch of their ramshackle house, which he built decades ago. They live at the southern edge of West Cape May, literally across the street from the former site of the vanished town of South Cape May.

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Written by Lisa Alexander Updated Jun 23,