If you want to visit the place where this photo of me was taken, you will need to head to St. Mary's, Georgia. The town is the gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The town is located on the banks of St. Marys River, which empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, just a mere six miles away. For this reason, it serves as a prime location for not only pleasure water craft, but commercial boats as well. With such a strategic location, one can understand why its settlement goes back to the mid-sixteenth century, when the Spanish first occupied the area.
The town has a lovely waterfront park, that is good for bicycling, running, walking, or just relaxing, as you watch the people on land and the boats in the water.
The waterfront is also the home to the Visitor Center for the Cumberland Island National Seashore ( www.nps.gov/cuis ). This is where you can purchase a ticket to ride the ferry boat to Cumberland Island. Cumberland Island is Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island. It has pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Native Americans, missionaries, enslaved African Americans, and wealthy industrialists all walked here. The island has over 9,800 acres of Congressionally-designated wilderness.
The Visitor Center has a nice gift shop, viewing platform for the ferry, and clean restrooms. In addition to these amenities, there are exhibits that tell about the history of the area, including a significant battle that was fought nearby, during the War of 1812.
Another point of interest along the riverfront, is the St. Marys Submarine Museum ( www.stmarysubmuseum.com ) It is the largest museum of its size in the South, and has exhibits of interest to young and old alike, including a periscope, simulated control room, and examples of sleeping/dining spaces on a submarine. The museum displays items from both United States and foreign military submarines.
It is only fitting that St. Marys has a submarine museum, because the town borders the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. This sign is a reference to one of the subs that call Kings Bay their home---the USS Maryland (SSBN 738). This particular vessel is an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, with the nickname "Fighting Mary". Since the military submarines are called "The Silent Service", I am using this image to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health memory verses ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) that says, "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." Exodus 14:14. When I was researching information for this article, I was intrigued when I saw that the submarine base is adjacent to Grover Island, since I have a family member with the name, Grover. I learned on Wikipedia that Grover Island was our country's first National Forest Preserve! It was so designated by President John Adams, because its live oak forests supplied the necessary building components for America's naval vessels, such as the USS Constitution.
A good place to start your visit to St. Marys is the Welcome Center. There one can get the necessary information needed to fully learn abut the community, and get the map/brochures to guide you through the National Historic District. Their phone number is 866-868-2152.
There are at least two historic churches located in St. Marys. The First Presbyterian Church (shown in this photo) is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Georgia, and its building is the oldest continually used church building in the state, having been in use since 1808. In addition, the Christ Episcopal Church Historic Chapel had a founding congregation that dates back to 1843. They constructed a church between 1845-46. It was burned during the Civil War, but reconstructed in 1889.
Another historic building is Orange Hall. Its architecture is a good example of the temple form of a Greek Revival dwelling. It was completed in 1838, and has undergone extensive work to restore it to the beautiful appearance one sees today. The name "Orange Hall" comes from the fact the home was surrounded by orange trees. Orange Hall is open for tours, and one can phone 912-576-3644 to get current prices and hours of operation.
The St. Marys Railroad offers themed train rides, as well as a train museum. You can learn more at their website---www.stmarysrailroad.com
Adjacent to the railroad, is the Theater by the Trax. A group of very dedicated volunteers are currently offering a live production called "River of Life". Their website says performances will make the history of St. Marys come alive through song, dance, comedy, and drama. It is both fun and educational.
At the time of this visit, the tall sailing ship shown in this photo was docked, and available for visitors to board. It is a barquentine, which means it is a sailing schooner with 3 or more masts.
The sign tells us that the name of the ship is The Peacemaker, and it was owned by The Twelve Tribes Communities ( www.twelvetribes.org ). This is a religious community that has around 50 communities in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. It is available for festivals and dockside events, which explains why it was currently moored at St. Marys.
The Twelve Tribes use the boat to travel between their communities, while providing apprenticeship for their youth in sailing, seamanship, navigation, and boat maintenance. As a seaman, one needs to know how to spell with Maritime Signal Flags, as well as the computer. There is no "spell check" for communicating with these flags, so it is important to learn the language correctly!
I took this photo of my friend, Diane, coming out of the ship's large deckhouse, finished in mahogany. We also visited the galley, and seemed to be un-noticed by a family with small children, who were having their lunch. They told us they were part of the live-aboard crew.
Unlike the Peacemaker gangplank, there were no welcoming signs to come visit the boat at the end of this dock. We decided it must be some type of government or law enforcement boat, since it had the familiar blue strip across the front. At one time, this was an official "Port of Entry" for the U.S., as the St. Marys River forms the winding border between the states of Florida and Georgia, before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
There are kayak outfitters that can set you up with guided trips on St. Marys River, that can last from a couple of hours to all day. Likewise, experienced paddlers can arrange to paddle all the way to the tip of Cumberland Island. However, this presents some challenges due to the extreme tidal variations and strong currents in the ocean waters surrounding Cumberland Island. Those notes of caution were enough to make me think I will take the ferry!
I am very thankful for this visit to the gateway of Cumberland Island National Seashore, and the town of St. Marys, Georgia. It gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!! Tricia