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