The History of Leith Hall Bed and Breakfast
Leith Hall was built as a speculative house soon after the last great fire in Cape May in 1878. Before the fire, a large hotel called The Columbia House stood at the corner of Columbia Avenue and Ocean Street. The site of our house was covered by small buildings housing concessionaires and services for the hotel’s guests. After the fire, the owners of the land decided that there was more of a market for summer houses than for large hotels so they replotted the land and built a row of French Second Empire summer houses. This means that it has a Mansard roof as the third floor. Ours is a concave Mansard. There are lots of straight Mansard roofs in Cape May and one convex also. This kind of roof was invented for French chateaux during the Renaissance. To the Victorians anything French implied elegance and luxury. The French Empire Style was very popular in America during the 1850s and 1860s. In Cape May, after the great fire of 1878, the town was rebuilt using this old fashioned style.
Leith Hall Interior
The inside of Leith Hall was almost certainly furnished in Aesthetic Movement style. This reform movement began in England during the 1860s and spread to America in the 1870s. It stayed popular into the 1890s. he original baseboards, door and window surrounds and the newel post at Leith Hall are in
Aesthetic Movement (or Eastlake) style. We used that as our cue and chose Aesthetic wallpapers, furniture, pictures, and objects for the house. You can read more about our restoration in the Our Restoration page.
Owners of Leith Hall
The house was sold to a couple from Philadelphia as a summer home and had several owners during the first few years. We recently had a guest whose family owned our house for several generations. Her great-grandparents, the Kehrs, owned the DevonHotel on Lafayette Street as well as the the two houses next to ours going toward Columbia Avenue. Anna Kehr, the wife of this couple, was the daughter of the family who built the Colonial Hotel (now the Inn of Cape May, across the street) and sister to the mayor of Cape May. They gave the house to their daughter Lorena and her husband, Stuart Claghorn. At the time, the house was connected to the house next door by two bridges built on the second and third floor. Our guest remembers sitting on the bridge while her hair dried! The house was passed down in the family and then sold to friends, Seth and Mary Snover, who owned it for twenty years from the mid-1960s to the mid eighties. The Snovers added the fire-escape in the back of the house, the corridor which leads to the fire exit, and the Angel Bedroom in the Audubon Suite on the first floor.
Elan and Susan bought the inn in 1989 and restored the house to its Victorian appearance. We have furnished and decorated Leith Hall as a period house of the 1880s. Our wall coverings, furniture, pictures, silver, all date from the time when the house was built. We hope that we have created surroundings that let our guests imagine that they are staying in Cape May when it was America’s first beach resort.