Regardless of where you grew up, St. Marys, Georgia, feels like home. The corner market sells fresh-baked treats, and the staff at Sterling's Southern Café knows everyone by name. At Seagle's Saloon, bartender Cindy Deen affectionately calls customers "losers" as she serves them the usual. Younger folks may be itching to leave, but odds are they'll return and carry on the family traditions.
Life rolls at a relaxed pace. For those in more of a hurry, big-league sports, an international airport, and cultural attractions of Jacksonville, Florida, await 45 minutes to the south.
"People know your business―which can be good and bad," longtime resident Angie Mock says, laughing. "But five of my seven kids live here, and I will never leave. We love the quiet speed." Angie grew up in St. Marys, five blocks from Emma's Bed and Breakfast, one of two local businesses she now owns. A walk from the B&B down Osborne Street, the main drag, takes you through downtown. You encounter no traffic. No stoplights. Only a sporty golf cart carrying a smiling couple who wave as though they know you.
Where Osborne ends at St. Marys Street, restaurants, fishing piers, and a submarine museum overlook the St. Marys River, thick with barrier islands. "I hope everyone can see this view at least once," says Janet Brinko, director of tourism. "Across the way is Fernandina Beach." Sure enough, the bountiful trees beyond the river are in Florida. A ferry lends access to Cumberland Island National Seashore, which attracts a steady but manageable flow of tourists to town.
Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base has brought thousands of newcomers to St. Marys since it opened in 1978. Some move on to their next station, but others settle here for good. "I have retired Navy friends who kept their house rented for more than 15 years because they knew they would come back to St. Marys," says resident Linda Victory.
St. Marys has had hardships―the Durango-Georgia paper mill recently closed, putting many people out of work (but also eliminating the mill's odor). The land is being repurposed for housing, shopping, restaurants, and possibly a hotel/convention center. Residents like the new development, as long as it doesn't get too popular. Says St. Marys Submarine Museum manager John Crouse, "We are small town, USA, and that's the way we like it."
For more info, visit ci.st-marys.ga.us.
(published January/February 2007)