Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Classic Feel of St. Marys a Gift to Modern Explorers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Classic Feel of St. Marys a Gift to Modern Explorers

Article excerpt

So what's all the fuss up there just across the Georgia-Florida

line? Tiny St. Marys has made it big as Money Magazine's best

small town in America.

Take 45 minutes to drive there from Jacksonville, and you could

explore it for yourself.

You'll find:

A wide, shady main street that the city's annual parades have

to march through back and forth to make them last longer.

Almost no traffic lights or traffic. Restored 19th century

clapboard homes that house families, beds and breakfasts, small

shops with gifts, local artwork and antiques, and restaurants

offering inexpensive fare from Italian to seafood and gourmet

sweets.

A harbor with a covered pavilion, a boat ramp and dock handy to

drop a crab line over, shrimpboats and the National Park Service

headquarters with its twice-daily ferry trips to Cumberland

Island.

An old, stone-walled, live oak-shaded cemetery.

Three steepled, wooden churches still in use since they were

built in the 1800s.

The new submarine museum on the waterfront, staffed with Navy

volunteers, that complements the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base

at the edge of town.

And, a Mark McCumber-designed golf course (Osprey Cove) on the

way into downtown.

Officially established as a town in 1792, St. Marys once

sheltered aboriginal Indians, was admired by French and Spanish

explorers in the 1500s, and was included in a vast territory

from South Carolina to Spanish-held St. Augustine that the

British claimed in 1663.

A good place for modern explorers to begin is the St. Marys

Visitor's Center. It's in the basement of Orange Hall, a

restored antebellum mansion built in 1829 on Osborne Street at

Conyers Street.

The house was constructed for Jane Pratt, the wife of the

Presbyterian minister whose church was across the street (and

still is).

Susan Bison, Orange Hall manager, will settle you in some old

church pews to watch a 15-minute history video of the area, then

send you off on a self-guided tour ($2) of the house, which is

full of period furnishings. The guest register has names from as

far off as Wellington Shropshire, England (come to see what

their country had given up), to neighboring Floridians.

From Orange Hall, you can walk down Osborne Street to the

waterfront and drive or bicycle past old homes and inviting

shops like the Blue Goose.

Inside the Goose, you'll find Minnie Johnson overseeing her

stock of gifts from country to Victorian and a lot of locally

made handiwork and Georgia products like preserves and cane

syrup. There are Peter Bentivegna's handsome banks made with the

ornate doors of metal postal patron boxes from the early 1900s

and Janis Brooker Benson's clay sculptures of St. …

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