Charles Landis purchased the land for Sea Isle City in 1880. Within two short years the town had spawned its first post office. Between that time and the 1920s, the facility managed to change location at least five, and probably six, times – all within three square blocks.
Then it stayed in one place for three decades, before finally finding a home at its present location on the corner of JFK Boulevard and Central Avenue.
Just as a matter of record, the first post office in Cape May County opened on October 9, 1802 at Dennis Creek, which later became Dennisville.
Three months later, an office was established at Cape May Court House, beating Sea Isle City by about 80 years.
Back in Sea Isle, the year was 1882 and the town was beginning to grow.
On June 20, the U.S. Post Office Department commissioned George Whitney as the city’s first postmaster and he went into business on that same day.
The first post office was located in the imposing Lincoln Hotel on the southwest corner of 44th Street and Landis Avenue.
Some called it the “Postal Building,” which was probably confusing to visitors looking for their lodging. The whole thing was demolished in 1975.
(There was to be no home delivery until 1924 when Louis Lamanna became the sole mailman. Nor was the mail brought to Sea Isle in the early days by the Postal Service; it was delivered to the city twice a day by the U.S. Lifesaving Service.)
The Post Office wanders
There must have been a reason for all its moving about – and there was. In the early days, the government apparently wasn’t very generous to its postal employees; the postmaster was generally responsible for providing his own equipment and even his own office space.
The result was that many times he set up shop in a corner of his own residence. So, as postmasters came and went, so did the facility location.
The Sea Isle Post Office wasn’t destined to remain in the Lincoln Hotel forever. Its first move was to the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Pleasure Avenue when James T. Chapman became postmaster in 1905. He was the first stay-at-home postmaster. His house and post office were next to the Ocean View Hotel.
Then, 10 years later the post office migrated up the block to the northeast corner of 42nd Street and Landis Avenue when Thomas E. Ludlam Jr. became postmaster. This subsequently became the site of the American Store, the ACME, and Creighton’s Trading Post.
The Sea Isle Post Office hadn’t explored 43rd Street yet, so in 1920 it swung south and around the block to 27-43rd Street, which hadn’t yet become Basilico’s Restaurante. It was, however, the home of Charles P. Camp – the new postmaster.
But it didn’t stay there long. Two years later it returned to 42nd Street and Pleasure Avenue, when James Chapman once again became postmaster.
For a time, there was a postal facility tucked into a corner of the Cape May County Times building at 4411 Landis Avenue. The building, constructed in 1923, was later restored and still stands.
Finally, in February of 1927, the post office settled into 4309 Landis Avenue, the future site of Giovanni’s Delicatessen. Then it rested for 33 years.
A home at last
By 1960, mail business in Sea Isle City had increased drastically. Revenue had more than doubled over the previous ten years. Platform and parking space were badly needed both for employees and for the public.
The U.S. Post Office Department agreed. The government arranged to have a new brick building constructed on the northwest corner of JFK Boulevard and Central Avenue.
The builder leased it to the Post Office Department.
On Jan. 16, 1960, equipment was transferred to the new building, and Postmaster Elmer Reed was ready for business two days later.
Then on Feb. 20, the official dedication took place. The Sea Isle wintertime wind drove the festivities inside, but the dignitaries and visitors managed to make an appearance outdoors for the raising of the flag.
But the Sea Isle City Post Office wasn’t quite through with its machinations.
After 37 years, the JFK and Central Avenue facility was starting to sink, so a new, and hopefully more stable, building was proposed at a cost of $800,000. Luckily, the post office didn’t have to move this time, although it did have to set up temporary quarters for a time at the ACME Shopping Center.
The new and present facility was opened in 1999, and the Sea Isle Post Office had a permanent home at last. But – check back in 20 years or so.
To learn more about Sea Isle’s postal history, and to browse through our collection of photos, literature, and artifacts, please visit the Sea Isle City Historical Museum at 48th Street and Central Avenue. Access our website at www.seaislemuseum.com.
Call 609-263-2992. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday; and 6p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday evening.
This “Spotlight on History” was written by Sea Isle City Historical Society Volunteer Bob Thibault. Photos were provided courtesy of the Sea Isle City Historical Museum.