The Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center opened in 1996 and is dedicated to preserving and presenting to the public the history of Cape Charles and surrounding areas. It is the hope of the Cape Charles Historical Society that inspiration from the richness of its past will help guide Cape Charles' renewal and growth.
The Town of Cape Charles was laid out in 1884 to be the southern terminus of the newly formed New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk (NYP&N) Railroad and the transfer point to elegant steamers traveling across the Bay to Norfolk. The town was a busy place for many years: four trains a day from NY, with automobile ferries added in 1931. But in 1950 the ferries moved to Kiptopeke Terminal seven miles south; Pennsylvania RR steamer service ceased in 1953, passenger trains in 1958. Freight passage via the link to tug and railroad barge continues to this day in one of the few such operations in the United States.
The architecture of Cape Charles houses has surprising aesthetic and historic interest thanks to a wide variety of styles and gingerbread ornamentation on the older houses. There are also fine examples of Sears Roebuck mail order houses from the 1920s. A walk or bike ride through Cape Charles is a good complement to a Museum visit.
Built by the Eastern Shore Public Service Company in 1947 to house two diesel powered electric generators and subsequently acquired by Delmarva Power, the Museum Building served as a peaking unit facility into the 1980s. One of the engines, a 16 1/2" bore Busch-Sulzer diesel fuel injection model, remains in the building as a permanent exhibit. It has been re-engineered to run as a demonstration unit, and the motion of the pistons and crankshaft can be viewed through Plexiglas windows.
The diesel which fueled the engines was delivered by rail from the line which runs behind the Museum. Freight trains still pass by to be loaded on barges at the railroad dock in Cape Charles Harbor and drawn by tug across the Bay to Little Creek in Norfolk, as implemented by Alexander Cassatt and William Scott, the town's 19th century founders. Scott, a wealthy Pennsylvania rail and coal magnate and close associate of Grover Cleveland, created a large and successful truck farm beside the new town. This farm is now the Bay Creek development and golf course.