Friday, January 21, 2022

Two Wildwoods groups merge to form new preservation nonprofit

A tidy row of cottages in Wildwood. While most short towns are being filled up with expensive larger homes, the Wildwoods still maintain an amount of more modest and affordable homes.


THE WILDWOODS - Two Wildwoods-based organizations have merged to form a new group taking an active role in preserving the Wildwoods' diverse history.

Preserving the Wildwoods was previously a committee of Partners in Preservation, which itself was originally the Friends of the J. Thompson Baker House. In 2022, the 501c3 nonprofit and committee merged and became Preserving the Wildwoods: A Community Alliance, whose mission is to advocate for the preservation and recognition of the historical, cultural and community heritage of the Wildwoods.

"Wildwood is more than a beach and a boardwalk," Secretary Gail Hayman Cohen said. "It is an island community with a unique evolving identity created by its history, architecture, culture and character."

The new leadership is Pary Tell as President; Taylor Henry (recipient of a 2021 Young Preservationist Award from Preservation New Jersey) as Vice President; Dennis Pierce as Treasurer; Cohen as Secretary; Cathy Nesbitt Smith as Trustee; Mary Lou Wilson as Trustee; and David and Theresa Williams as Emeriti. The leadership has an advisory board made up of Jackson Betz, Christopher Tirri, Michael Hirsch, Susan Fox Hirschmann, Kathy Fulginiti, John Donio and Ryan Henry.

"Having grown up in Wildwood, I am excited to be working with the dedicated people of this organization to preserve the diverse history of the island," Tell said. "The successful future of any community begins with understanding and appreciating its past."

The groups have previously worked with the City of Wildwood to restore and interpret the history of the Holly Beach Schoolhouse; rescued signs from the now-demolished Lampliter Motel in Wildwood Crest; hosted Holiday House Tours and Mother's Day Weekend Plant Sales; supported the former Shamrock Beef & Ale to relocate its 1900's Victorian house; launched the "Bring the Woods back to the Wildwoods" campaign; published the Historic Buildings of Pacific Avenue survey; and partnered with Preservation New Jersey to deliver a presentation on the benefits of preservation to the Wildwood City Commissioners. 

They also published the periodical newsletter Participate in Preservation and received a grant from the Cape May County Division of Culture and Heritage to produce and place historic display panels in vacant storefront buildings on Pacific Avenue. Last fall, Partners in Preservation earned the Historic Preservation Award from the Country Chamber of Commerce.

Goals for this year include maintaining Holly Beach Park, including the 1882 schoolhouse and county Fisherman's Memorial; working with the leadership of the Wildwoods to appoint history preservation commissioners; teaming with the Neighborhood Preservation Program focused on revitalizing a broad section of Pacific Avenue; and working with the area high schools to encourage interest in local history.


Friends of the J. Thompson Baker House formed in the 1990's to preserve its namesake Atlantic Avenue house, which for decades served as home of the Wildwood Civic Club. When, in the 2010's, the house was sold and restored privately, the Friends evolved into Partners in Preservation.

Meanwhile, in 2019, concerned citizens succeeded in nomination the Wildwoods as one of the 10 Most Endangered Places in New Jersey, recognizing that many of the remaining structures are worth preserving. This nomination spurred a social media movement called "Preserving the Wildwoods," which ultimately became a committee of Partners of Preservation.

Both entities soon realized they shared similar foundations, purposes, objectives and leadership and thus agreed to combine efforts. Through their January 2022 decision to reorganize under the name Preserving the Wildwoods: A Community Alliance, the groups hope to strengthen their effectiveness, reach and impact, as well as to increase growth and creativity.

"We are both heirs and guardians to these historic resources and the values incorporated into these places ought to be reason enough to protect them," Cohen said. "A community without memory is a meaningless place."

The Alliance is seeking talented and passionate individuals to serve as board or advisory members, as well as volunteers. Please send an email expressing your interest to

To learn more, please visit

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