This waterfront Georgia town shines with smashing views and historic charm.

By Jacquelyne Froeber
December 04, 2006
Kevin Garrett

Regardless of where you grew up, St. Marys, Georgia, feels likehome. The corner market sells fresh-baked treats, and the staff atSterling's Southern Café knows everyone by name. At Seagle'sSaloon, bartender Cindy Deen affectionately calls customers"losers" as she serves them the usual. Younger folks may be itchingto leave, but odds are they'll return and carry on the familytraditions.

Life rolls at a relaxed pace. For those in more of a hurry,big-league sports, an international airport, and culturalattractions of Jacksonville, Florida, await 45 minutes to thesouth.

"People know your business―which can be good and bad,"longtime resident Angie Mock says, laughing. "But five of my sevenkids live here, and I will never leave. We love the quiet speed."Angie grew up in St. Marys, five blocks from Emma's Bed andBreakfast, one of two local businesses she now owns. A walk fromthe B&B down Osborne Street, the main drag, takes you throughdowntown. You encounter no traffic. No stoplights. Only a sportygolf cart carrying a smiling couple who wave as though they knowyou.

Where Osborne ends at St. Marys Street, restaurants, fishingpiers, and a submarine museum overlook the St. Marys River, thickwith barrier islands. "I hope everyone can see this view at leastonce," says Janet Brinko, director of tourism. "Across the way isFernandina Beach." Sure enough, the bountiful trees beyond theriver are in Florida. A ferry lends access to CumberlandIsland National Seashore, which attracts a steady butmanageable flow of tourists to town.

Kings BayNaval 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 whokept their house rented for more than 15 years because they knewthey would come back to St. Marys," says resident LindaVictory.

St. Marys has had hardships―the Durango-Georgia paper millrecently closed, putting many people out of work (but alsoeliminating the mill's odor). The land is being repurposed forhousing, shopping, restaurants, and possibly a hotel/conventioncenter. Residents like the new development, as long as it doesn'tget too popular. Says St.Marys Submarine Museum manager John Crouse, "We are small town,USA, and that's the way we like it."

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(published January/February 2007)