This jewel of a Southern village — an easy 3-mile cruise up the St. Marys River from Intracoastal Waterway Mile 712 — boasts friendly locals, picturesque gingerbread homes and buildings along five downtown blocks and hundred-year-old live oaks arching over the roads. Lang’s Marina’s two facilities bookend the busy commercial waterfront.
Languid charm hides a tumultuous history, including 100 years of skirmishes between the Spanish of St. Augustine and the English colonists from the Carolinas, who were trying to evict American Indians and claim the land for their respective kings. The victorious Americans chartered St. Marys in 1787. During the War of 1812, the British briefly occupied the city and, 50 years later, Union forces did the same.
In the days when St. Marys was a bustling shipbuilding center and lumber port, 300 tall ships often crowded the anchorage. They loaded live oak, cypress and hard pine for the insatiable 19th century Northern shipyards and commercial builders. Now shrimp boats and the National Park Service’s Cumberland Island Ferry dock along the waterfront. The welcome center’s video and 30-foot mural highlight this history, as does the narrated one-hour tram tour. You can explore further in the Submarine Museum, stately Antebellum Orange Hall or Oak Grove Cemetery, where marked graves date from 1801. The Park Service’s Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum will tempt you to anchor off that fascinating nearby barrier island and explore.
Art galleries, a dozen boutiques, two bookstores (one for new books, one for used), lodgings and almost a dozen restaurants are within four blocks of the waterfront. (The chain stores and restaurants on Route 40 require a car.) Downtown, we enjoy super-fresh seafood at Lang’s Restaurant — off its own boats — dining al fresco at Riverside Cafe and the camaraderie of Seagle’s Restaurant and its four bars. Pauly’s Restaurant (Italian), the Shark Bite Grill and two coffeehouses are on our “to try” list.
Many southbound snowbirds join the annual boaters’ Thanksgiving potluck at the Riverview Hotel, hosted by its owners, Jerry and Gaila Brandon. Locals roast several turkeys and hams, and 280 or more cruisers dinghy to the town dock bearing culinary masterpieces (appetizers or desserts), along with their personal table linens, china and crystal wine glasses. The party lasts into the night.
Seagle’s Saloon occasionally offers live music. Summer concerts, the Independence Day Celebration, the Saltwater Classic Fishing Tournament and the Rock Shrimp Festival enliven the waterfront. All year you can enjoy the sunset from the waterfront park or the marsh walk.
• Lang’s Marina, (912) 882-4452, www.stmaryswelcome.com (search Lang’s)
• St. Marys Welcome Center, (912) 882-4000, www.stmaryswelcome.com
• Riverview Hotel, (912) 882-3242, www.riverviewhotelstmarys.com
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This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.