Sam Burnham, Curator
There are hidden gems. There are well-kept secrets. And then there is St. Marys.
This town is tucked in behind Cumberland Island and set along the St. Marys River. It’s a great location for an 18th Century port of entry, protected from storms, yet maintaining a direct connection to the Atlantic.
It’s the sort of place you might find in a Hemingway story. The waterfront has several places where travelers and locals find food and drink. There’s live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. From these places you can see sailing vessels anchored in the harbor, floating peacefully on the brackish waters formed by the mingling of the freshwater river and the salty sea. From that harbor you see St. Marys as a village perched on a slice of dry ground wedged between the marshes.
For us, the town was a respite, both physically and psychologically distant from the hustle and bustle that is increasingly consuming much of North Georgia. I joked that it was “as far as you can get from Atlanta without leaving the state.” That’s pretty much the truth in more ways than one. In the heart of historic downtown we found a home for the week. We sat on the porch in the evenings and watched people walk or ride bikes or golf carts to dinner. There were no traffic jams, no honking car horns, no struggle to find a parking place. In fact, for much of our stay there were empty, unneeded spots in front of our house, a product of a walkable community. Rush hour here consists of a couple dozen people walking to catch the Cumberland Island Ferry in the morning or back to their cars in the afternoon.
It seems like this would be a dead town, void of culture or commerce. But there are restaurants, antique stores, decorating & design studios, an art gallery, museums, and even a local newspaper. The museums and galleries, along with the community theatre, are just part of a cultural base. This is a community where artists and musicians find outlets and where the people are well connected to their history. There’s a 600 feet long history walk, a trail shaded by large trees with interpretive markers that tell the history of the town.
St. Marys is the gateway to Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s 18 barrier islands. The Island was developed into plantations and even the home of several wealthy heirs of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The Island is now a national preserve and Dungeness, the most magnificent of the homes, is in ruins. The descendants of the horses of the wealthy are now wild and freely roam the lawns and gardens as well as the woods and beaches. Second growth trees, mostly moss-draped live oaks, tower over land where slaves once toiled over crops.
We’ll be covering more of this area in the future. There’s a lot to discuss and the southeast Georgia area is really in our wheelhouse. So stay with us and enjoy the ride and we cover some people, places, ideas, and events that stuck with us.
Sam Burnham, Curator
“Beauty will save the world...”
This was the response left by my friend Laura to our post on Instagram quoting Sir Roger Scruton: “Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.”
The very moment I read it I knew it was a complex statement with one meaning that transcends creation, a meaning on a spiritual plane. But she also meant in the here and now. While it is easy to see chaos and destruction and fear the worst, we must never underestimate the transforming, revolutionary, restorative, creative power of beauty. It brings life wherever it is introduced. Aesthetics matter. Be it art, nature, music, architecture, or a thousand other forms, beauty inspires us and makes our world better.
Consider the way a flower can sprout through a crack in a parking lot. It is that sort of resilience that will enable beauty to save the world. No matter how hard we work to bulldoze, grade, and pave it away, nature is always fighting to get back.
But why constantly fight against it? There are ways to work with it. American cities and towns have a long history of parks and public squares. Green spaces allow us to have a connection with nature, even in an automated mechanical world. This is one reason I love the Victorian garden cemeteries. Statuary, trees, grass, birds, a peaceful respite from the hustle just outside the gates.
But development need not be unappealing. While our recent past has given us generic strip malls along both sides of nondescript streets, a trend has arisen that restores, revitalizes, and repurposes the great architecture of our past. Buildings with character, a mixture of utility and grace, are giving us new uses for the places that have endured. Historic downtowns, old factories, even classic homes are housing a new generation of commerce. It’s a much better option than the revolving door of disposable structures that go from blueprints to landfill in a few years, if not months.
And beauty comes to us in other forms. There’s the beauty of a bride on her big day, the beauty of a newborn child, the beauty of a violin concerto, the beauty of a sunset on the Ogeechee. The constant through all of these is hope. Beauty renews our world and shows us that, despite the evil and chaos we see, the world should go on. We should use this hope to encourage ourselves and others that beauty will indeed save the world. With that in mind, let us live by the Scruton quote I mentioned earlier. If we’re to see beauty increase in our world, let us live as though it is vital...because it is.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Revisiting the Economy of Place.
When we find ourselves connected to a place, what is it that connects us? What are the ties that bind us to a place?
There are elements of a place that you can manipulate such as decor, landscaping, and even architecture. In these elements you can make changes, adjustments, or even create something anew. These are the elements that can perfect the right place or improve a less than ideal location.
There are elements that are mostly beyond our control. The people, the climate, the culture, the terrain. These are the elements that can be the difference between the right place and a wrong place. If you are a mountain person, there may not be anything that would make a beach town the right place for you.
Tanya Berry made a great point when she said “You can make a home,” explaining that you just get somewhere and stay put. The philosophy that she and her husband, Wendell, have espoused focuses on finding and creating beauty in your place. This is where the elements you can change matter. Plant some flowers, add seating on your porch, hang pictures of your family, do things to attract birds to your yard. Create a space you wish to be in. When those elements endear you to a place, you might find the elements you cannot easily change will become more endearing to you.
Beauty can make a home. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. It might even be homemade. Try things out, find what suits you. Go with it. In creating that beauty in your own space, you may even provide a more beautiful environment for your family, friends, and neighbors. Perhaps that will inspire them to add beauty to their place, which in turn adds to yours. That’s an interest bearing account in the economy of place.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire