We didn’t always know about Congress Hall’s history. Its hard to imagine now; the walls are filled with old photos dating back to the 1840s. There are books with pages of comprehensive facts, colorful illustrations, and definitive dates that put The Big House By the Sea on the map as America’s First Seaside Resort. As the baton was passed from generation to generation, details of previous owners would fall away as the new guard would take over and begin a new era.
Back when we were renovating Congress Hall in the 1990s, the history of this grand old place was obscure at best. There were some books, but their reliability was questionable. It took hours of research at the library going through microfilm to piece it all together, and the new wave of Congress Hall caretakers would pick up the baton and start the race over again.
The hope is that in this digital age, the research that was discovered in the library fifteen years ago may be cataloged and shared across the World Wide Web. In 2003, Jack Wright published Tommy’s Folly, the only book exclusively devoted to Congress Hall’s history. Then, in 2016, Jack Wright and Curtis Bashaw worked together on revising the original. Days of effort went in to publishing a second edition with more information, anecdotes, and stories that have surfaced about this singular place in the last thirteen years, all in honor of a very significant milestone: The 200th birthday of America's Oldest Seaside Resort.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the summer of 2016 was packed with celebrations to honor Congress Hall's 200th. The festivities culminated with the Labor Day burial of a Bicentennial Time Capsule at the base of the flag pole on Congress Hall’s Lawn. Our programming team collected photos, items, stories, and memories for the time capsule. Guests, former employees, and Congress Hall patrons shared their special connections to Congress Hall in the hopes of preserving a piece of their lives for future generations.
Some of the items that were received for inclusion in the time capsule include photos from the past century. Former employees shared pictures of what Congress Hall looked like while they were teenagers working here for the summer. Other items were from guests, recounting memories from summers on the beach, Winter Wonderland, New Years’ celebrations, Easter Brunches, and Fourth of July Picnics.
Amid the cocktail napkins and matchbooks lie heart-warming stories that stretch beyond a lifetime of memories. In September 2013, a guest named Megan Feeney shared the gender of her baby with her family in the Brown Room. The kitchen staff wrote “It’s a Boy” on some of the Blue Pig Cookies sold at Tommy’s Folly. A few months later, her son was born premature and spent the next seven months at the hospital. In June of 2016, the Feeneys took their very first family vacation with happy, healthy two and-a-half year-old boy. They chose Congress Hall for this special trip, where almost three years ago they gathered together in anticipation of the miracle they were about to welcome into the world.
There are so many different pictures, different families, and different experiences that have happened at Congress Hall. A common thread stitches together the pieces that will be unearthed in 2066: everyone who has contributed to the Time Capsule thinks that this hotel is a pretty special place. It means enough for us to care about that generation that we have yet to know about, who will open up the Time Capsule in fifty years, knowing things about the world that we can only exist in the current generations' imagination. On Labor Day weekend, a half a century from now, they will come back to this place to honor us, knowing that we buried these memories for them. ✯