Sam Burnham, Curator
A waterfront can be one of the most important assets a city can possess. Be it the sea, a river, bay, or harbor, people are drawn to the point where the land touches the water. If wisely developed and maintained, such an area can be priceless for a municipality.
Norfolk, Virginia is an excellent example. The city was gifted custody of the Iowa class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and they have brilliantly transformed it into a centerpiece in one of the town’s waterfront districts. The ship is partnered with Nauticus, a museum that commemorates the amazing history of “Wisky” as well as the economy and ecology of the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay region. A cruise ship port lies adjacent to the museum. That means tourists who tour the ship and the museum as well as the restaurants and stores that can be found along the neighboring blocks.
Norfolk is a modern city, much too busy for my taste, at least on a permanent basis. As a visitor, I really enjoyed this waterfront district. The streets and wide sidewalks were immaculately clean. There were people walking, biking, and riding those Lime scooters around. Get this, the scooters we saw not in use were all properly parked. People want to be in this part of town. There is a vibrant feel and there are jobs, homes, and entertainment all within walking distance of each other.
Some of the older architecture includes sites like the U.S. Customs House and the MacArthur Memorial. The latter serves as a repository, museum, and the final resting place of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. The building is the former city hall and can be seen from the main deck of the Wisconsin.
While I’m sure this district is pricey, the condominiums and townhouses we saw are of tasteful design and construction. They all seemed to fit what was going on around them and are built to reasonable scale. While it has to be tempting to try to maximize profits with obnoxiously huge high rise housing units, the waterfront in this district has avoided that blight. With easy access to the parks, museums, attractions of the waterfront and the jobs and entertainment along the city streets, this is a highly desirable area.
Sam Burnham, Curator
In the early days of St. Marys, the waterfront was a place of commerce. As a port of entry the town was a destination, as well as a starting point for vessels carrying passengers and goods.
Today the vessels are smaller, more of a private variety. They sit anchored in the river. There are also the ferries carrying visitors to Cumberland Island.
The waterfront is vibrant and alive. At present, there is construction on St. Marys Street that causes a small inconvenience to vehicle traffic. But the waterfront area is easy to walk through and the inconvenience to pedestrians is minimal. Once the work has ended, pedestrians will have plenty of room to move up and down the waterfront. Along this street you’ll find several restaurants, the submarine museum, the Cumberland Island visitors center, a kayak rental, some good ice cream, a waterfront pavilion, and the waterfront park.
It is refreshing to see so many local businesses operating there. Many of them have been open for some time and come highly recommended by locals and previous visitors alike. There are no national chains in this area.
The pavilion offers beautiful views of the river and harbor area. There are several benches for those who need to refresh from a walk around town or for those simply wanting to sit and take in the beauty. ABG contributor Jennifer Perren says she used to go to the pavilion to think and write.
On the evening of our arrival in St. Marys there was live music in the riverfront park. People were sitting on the porch style swings or in their own lawn chairs to enjoy the music, the atmosphere, and a beautiful sunset. Some danced and sang along with the band. Many of these were local folks but some come from other towns. We spoke to a couple from nearby Fernandina Beach, Florida who said they often ride up for the evening.
The park has brick walkways and a fountain shaded by broad palms. There are several porch style swings facing the water. A Little Free Library contains some books for those looking for one. A pier just put into the water and offers good fishing spots as well as perfect views of sunset.
What St. Marys has done is create an attraction with their downtown. It is a location people want to visit. They didn’t do it with tourist traps or theme parks or some fake or kitschy facade. There aren’t any go cart tracks or mini golf courses. They took what they had, made the most of it, developed wisely, and watched it work.
Part of the beauty of St. Marys is that downtown is alive but it isn’t overrun. The crowds are healthy and pleasant. There are some families and also a more mature bunch. This isn’t a loud, vulgar, or raucous crowd. It’s festive but pleasant. The morning sun rises on a town that isn’t vandalized or trash strewn.
That being said, don’t everyone run down there at once. Y’all take turns and mind your manners. This is one of the best kept secrets in Georgia because it’s a secret. So don’t go down there acting a fool. Enjoy St. Marys responsibily. Oh, and have fun.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It’s not a rare thing to find a border town with some quirks. While it doesn’t sit right on the state line, Ringgold is the first town heading south into Georgia via I-75 from Chattanooga. The town has a storied history. The Great Locomotive Chase ended with the capture of the Andrews Raiders on the tracks just north of town. Patrick Cleburne forced to Union Army to balk on an invasion attempt at the Battle of a Ringgold Gap just to the south of town.The city was host to thousands of Sounders soldiers in hospitals after the battles for Chattanooga.
But there’s another side to this town’s history. In some cases it’s less tumultuous than the War Between the States but in some cases it probably kind of similar.
You see, a couple with one form of ID (each) and $75 (cash - card transactions add a 3% fee) can obtain a marriage license in a matter of minutes. Couples with 6 hours of premarital counseling can get a license for $31. Once the license is secured, couples can go before a probate or magistrate judge, both of which are standing by for weddings as couples arrive. Couples also have the choice of walking out the front doors of the courthouse and crossing the two lanes of Nashville Street (we recommend the conveniently located crosswalk) to the Ringgold Wedding Chapel where $115 can get you a couple-only weekday wedding. Obviously larger ceremonies are available.
These policies and practices have built a unique institution in Ringgold. This is how a town of 3,500 people issues over 2,000 marriage licenses every year.
There have been some famous folks among the half million or so people who have tied the knot in Ringgold. George Jones and Tammy Wynette began their six year marriage in Ringgold. Don Everly of the Everly Brothers had one of his several weddings in Ringgold. Singer/songwriter and two time Governor of Louisiana Jimmie Davis married his second wife in Ringgold. Best of all, Dolly Parton said that Ringgold reminded her of “rings of gold” when she married her husband (yes, I know his name but he appreciates his relative anonymity) in Catoosa County in 1966.
Ringgold’s booming wedding scene is just one reason to come to town. A well preserved historic downtown is filled with local restaurants and shops. So whether you need to elope or you just need to browse for antiques, Ringgold might be your destination.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire