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.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire