ST. MARYS IS COASTAL GEORGIA’S
ST. MARYS, Ga.—There’s something about St. Marys. Hundreds of years ago, the Timucuan, Guale and Creek Indians saw it in the bounty of her fish and game and fertile lands. In the 1500s, French explorers saw St. Marys as a “country full of havens, rivers, and islands of such fruitfulness as cannot with tongue be expressed.” In the 1700s, St. Marys’ location on the very border between the freedom-loving colonists and sometimes Spanish, sometimes British, Florida, placed it in the position of protector for all Georgia and the colonies against Britain.
There’s something about St. Marys. And today, visitors are enchanted by her storybook setting on the St. Marys River. Her white picket fences and beckoning front porches. Her magnolias and wisteria. Her captivating streetscapes framed by canopies of majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss. Fragrant salt air and alluring waters. Quaint shops and charming Victorian inns. There is an unmistakable softening of life’s edges in St. Marys—an undeniable allure of history, romance and gentler people. Yet, an ever-present invitation to adventure as well. There is something about St. Marys. Some say she’s the “jewel in the crown” of the Colonial Coast. Some speak of the intrigue of pirate lore and natural treasures that abound in and around her riverfront setting. Whether it’s beauty, tranquility, romance, excitement or mystery that calls one to St. Marys, it is a siren song few resist once they’ve made the lady’s most gracious acquaintance.
GATEWAY TO CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE—NAMED ONE OF AMERICA’S TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
An island like no other, Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. An island where wild horses roam freely, as do whitetail deer, armadillos and wild turkeys. It is a noted birthplace for loggerhead sea turtles. It is an island of complex ecological systems, salt marshes, sand dunes and dense forests. This is the island inhabited by the famed Carnegies, and a glimpse of their gilded lifestyle remains in the Plum Orchard mansion and the ruins of Dungeness. Carnegie descendents still reign over the famed Greyfield Inn where America’s prince, John F. Kennedy, Jr., held his wedding reception after a simple ceremony in the island’s tiny First African Baptist Church. Seventeen miles of white, sandy beaches, breathtaking vistas and beguiling face-to-face audiences with some of nature’s most fascinating creatures make Cumberland Island a favorite among hikers, campers, and those seeking to capture the essence of a true beach wilderness. Selected by the Travel Channel as one of “America’s ten most beautiful beaches,” Cumberland Island is just a short ferry ride away from the St. Marys waterfront.
ATTRACTIONS OF THE HIGHEST ORDER
For adventurers of all ages, from three to ninety-three, there’s plenty of fun to be had in St. Marys. As home of Kings Bay Naval Base, one of only two Trident submarine bases in the world, it is only natural that St. Marys play host to one of the world’s most extensive collection of submarine memorabilia and displays. St. Marys Submarine Museum is located right on the riverfront. One special treat that everyone enjoys is a hands-on demonstration of a working periscope. Also in the heart of St. Marys stands Orange Hall, an impressive three-story Greek Revival mansion built in 1827 that showcases the extraordinary social life of St. Marys’ heritage. For the young and young at heart, St. Marys Aquatic Center is the hub for water fun in the warmer months. The Cumberland Island National Seashore museum is another venue for getting a taste of the island’s treasures and history. A mere 35-minute drive away stands the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where the “Land of the Trembling Earth” carries visitors back into the world’s pre-history with interpretative exhibits, lectures, wildlife shows, boat tours, and wilderness walkways. Crooked River State Park features nature trails through maritime forest and salt marsh, and nearby stand the ruins of an authentic sugar mill dating back to 1825. Historic St. Marys’ own impressive waterfront park is the perfect place to watch the shrimp boats come in and experience stunning sunsets from a front row old-fashioned swing seat.
BIRDS AND BIRDIES. FAIR WINDS AND FAIRWAYS. ST. MARYS IS ALL ABOUT BEING OUTDOORS.
Nature lovers thrive on the riches that St. Marys serves up in its outdoor world. Two award-winning golf courses offer a grand adventure for players at all play levels. Nearby
Osprey Cove, set amidst the natural beauty of the St. Marys River basin,
was designed by PGA Tour Champion Mark McCumber, and its rolling greens and sculptured fairways overlook serene salt marshes, emerald woodlands, and crystal blue lakes. Awarded four and a half stars by Golf Digest, Osprey Cove is listed as one of America’s “100 Must Play.” Laurel Island Links, just minutes away, is the municipal golf course that takes players through a contoured wonderland of stately oaks and striking marsh scenes. This Davis Love III design masterpiece undulates along 120 acres of the Crooked River’s south bank.
While some visitors come to St. Marys to score birdies, many come to score sightings of the more than 150 species of birds that call St. Marys home. St. Marys is a favorite destination for the Audubon Society, and a natural setting for their annual bird counts. Wood storks (North America’s only native stork), ospreys, bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, and great blue herons are among the area’s feathered population.
St. Marys’ annual average year round temperature of 70 degrees is an attraction in itself. Warm breezes are the rule rather than the exception in this land of fairways and fair winds.
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE
St. Marys plays an integral role in Georgia’s moving coast with its rivers, streams, swamps, and tidal marshes. Once inside the shifting sands of the barrier islands, St. Marys emerges as an intermingling of land and sea, salt water and freshwater. Its marshes provide a safe haven for the breeding and hatching of an enormous number of sea creatures. On any given day, a walk along the riverfront might be interspersed with glimpses of sea otters, dolphins and manatees. Yachters often use St. Marys as a stopping off point from the northeast to Florida and the Caribbean, enjoying the charm of a Forrest Gump-like waterfront. And just steps away, visitors can explore a lively downtown dining and entertainment experience and purchase treasures at the unique shops along the way. Water expeditions by kayak are another main attraction for water lovers, and the fishing is great as well. The ocean, the barrier islands, the Intracoastal, the rivers, and the swamp—all add up to an endless offering of aquatic diversions in and around St. Marys.
A TOWN FOR ALL SEASONS—FESTIVALS YEAR ‘ROUND
February 2005 saw record cold throughout many parts of America while residents and guests of St. Marys swarmed the streets in shirt sleeves to join in the festivities of St. Marys’ Mardi Gras, a Super Bowl Host Committee sanctioned event. Mardi Gras 2005 was just one of many festivals held in the St. Marys area throughout the year—festivals that pay tribute to Coastal Georgia’s rich heritage and natural resources. The Rock Shrimp Festival, Independence Day Celebration, Crawfish Festival (in nearby Woodbine), Catfish Festival (in adjacent Kingsland), the Christmas White Lighting Ceremony and Christmas Tour of Homes—all family-oriented events that draw visitors from all over the country to experience the inimitable charm of small-town America, St. Marys style.
AWAY FROM IT ALL, YET NEARBY DAY EXCURSIONS ABOUND
Within a one and half hour driving distance from St. Marys, there are scores of exciting destinations that are a wonderful compliment to a stay in St. Marys.
Just across the river (and easy access by I-95) lies Florida with cosmopolitan Jacksonville just 45 minutes away. Amelia Island can be reached by boat or car and is a great afternoon excursion with its Fernandina Beach historic district, quaint shops, and waterfront restaurants. St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, is just a little over an hour away. Savannah is an easy ride up I-95, and several barrier islands—St Simons, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island as well as the town of Brunswick are just “down the road a piece,” and offer visitors an excellent opportunity explore history, art and southern culture at its finest.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT ST. MARYS—SOME SAY IT’S “THE PEOPLE.”
“Enter as strangers. Leave as friends.” So, says a quaint sign above the entranceway of one of St. Marys charming bed and breakfast inns. It is a sentiment that rings true not only in the hotels and inns, but in the shops and restaurants as well. Warm smiles and kind words are second nature to St. Marys residents and business owners. There is the true essence of the Old South in St. Marys, and visitors are enchanted by the wry humor and embracing gestures that make them feel so welcome. Subtle Southern idiosyncrasies emerge from the unassuming nature of the people. “Shut,” says a sign in a downtown bakery when they’ve closed for the day. “Dead people’s stuff for sale,” announces one unpretentious antique dealer’s wares. It has been called the “best of a small town,” and the “best of the south,” by people whose hearts have been won over by this little coastal village. Money Magazine once named it, “Best Small Boomtown in America.” The American Dream Town Advisory Board voted it “America Dream Town 2004 for Georgia.” No matter one’s reason for visiting St. Marys—history, romance, adventure, culture, nature, or just to get rewarded with a heaping helping of Southern hospitality, one thing’s for certain. Visitors may leave St. Marys, but St. Marys will not leave them. Long into the future she’ll remain in their hearts and in their minds, and it will only take the swift scent of a lone gardenia, the golden glow of a waterfront sunset, or the gentle smile of a kind stranger to bring it all back. There is just something about St. Marys.
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