Four days into our stay here & we’ve yet to see any sunshine. Wednesday, the day we arrived and the following day were overcast, cool and the winds were blustery. Friday and Saturday it was rain, rain, and more rain and chilly temps. We decided we’d had enough of being inside or of trying to hike while dodging the showers, so a visit to St. Marys Historic District was in order and we’d just take an umbrella with us.
First on the agenda was a stop at the Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitors Center on the waterfront so I could inquire as to whether or not there were still open ferry seats for Monday morning. We were in luck, there were still a few left so we made our reservations. Thankfully my ankle is fine, just bruised. Nothing that will hinder me from walking.
St Marys has a lovely well planned and laid out waterfront park. There are gardens, a central fountain, picnic shelters and an amphitheater.
Next to the center some of the locals had set up a small marketplace. Two booths offered homemade juice, jellies and salsas. One had fresh local produce and the fourth was a man selling drift wood that he had painted water scenes on. We sampled two of the jellies, a strawberry margarita and a pina colada. A jar of pina coloda came home with us along with a tangy salsa mix we’re going to try on grilled bratz.
With map in hand we ventured down Osborne Street, it’s the main road in the historic section of town. The historic buildings vary in age. Several were built in the early 1800’s, but a couple were constructed as late as 1908 -1930’s. Most are still privately owned residences.
General John Floyd, a carpenter from South Carolina, came to Camden County to engage in ship building. Ship building was the main industry of St. Marys at the time thanks to the abundance of Live Oak in the area. Live Oak is one of the two favored woods to use in the construction of ships due to its structural build and endurance. Gen. Floyd served as a brigadier general during the Creek wars. He also was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and later served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Archibald Clark House also referred to as the “Aaron Burr House” caught Don’s eye because of the plaque on the house front. The plaque indicates that Burr was given refuge in the house by Gen. Clark while fleeing capture after his duel with Alexander Hamilton. He knew I’d be interested because Aaron Burr is an ancestor of mine. Apparently the antique business that had been housed in it failed and it is currently on the market. The British had also used this house as their headquarters during the War of 1812. It is likely the oldest house still standing in St. Marys.
One of the old homes that is now open to the public for touring is Orange Hall, a ante bellum mansion. Construction of the house began in 1826 but took three years to complete. It is built in the Greek Revival style and was a wedding gift for Rev. Horace Pratt and his first wife Jane Wood from her wealthy parents. Orange Hall was given its name because of the orange trees planted around it. It had passed through many hands until it came to be owned by the city of St. Marys. The Orange Hall Foundation strives to restore the hall to its original structure with furnishings of the period.
Don and I chose to take the tour. The main floor entrance opens into a central hall with two rooms to either side. The front two rooms are parlors or receiving rooms. Men and women of wealth often had separate rooms to entertain in. Men could smoke a cigar, sip a brandy and discuss topics considered too “manly” for the delicate sex. The parlor room left of the entrance was more likely the men’s parlor. We believe this because of the height of the fireplace mantle. Men of that period were inclined to rest an elbow on the mantle place whilst passing the time with guests. The second parlor is currently decorated as a music room with period pianos. Both have Italian marble fireplaces, original to the structure. The remaining two rooms on this level are the study and dining room. A door at the rear of the hall opens to a veranda identical to the one at the front of the house.
The upper level houses four bedrooms, again two to either side of a central hall. A wide door at the back of the hall opens up to a large second floor deck.
In the basement, directly under the front porch, is a dining hall. It’s not certain if it’s original to the house or not. It might have been a Carriage room that was later enclosed. The remaining rooms are a kitchen, wine cellar and servants quarters.
Each of the eight major rooms, those of the main and upper floor, is 18 by 20 feet with 12 foot high ceilings. There are twelve fireplaces, one for each room. The wooden floors of the upper levels are the original wood with the bottom levels floor being stone. The windows still have the original interior shutters that when open are flush with the window frames.
We both liked the stairway best. The wooden rails and spindles in contrast with the white plaster and the curved half wall at the top was very attractive. Our guide told us that many of the local ladies have posed for wedding photos on those steps.
Another interesting history tidbit is, during the Civil War, the Union Army occupied Orange Hall. The men stationed here oversaw the activities taking place on the riverfront.
Not only is this the oldest Presbyterian church building in Georgia but this historic church is also the oldest building that has been in continuous use since it was built. Originally it was a community church, housing the people of all the religious denominations within the town, but as the town grew, other churches were erected to serve the individual religions leaving this one to the Presbyterians.
St Marys has its quirks too such as this sign and fenced in section of the boulevard on Osborne Street. You may read it for yourself.
We ended our walk through town just as it began to rain anew. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had excellent reviews on both Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon, St. Marys Seafood & More. Don ordered the shrimp and scallop lunch special and I, the coconut shrimp with fried green tomatoes. We sampled each others orders and we would recommend this restaurant to everyone. Nice atmosphere, prompt and friendly staff, good prices and great food.
St. Marys is also the home of the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. We pass by it on our way back to Crooked River State Park. Just outside the main gate to the base is an eye-catching structure and Don insisted we stop so he could take a photo.
The USS George Bancroft, a fleet ballistic missile submarine was built in 1963 and commissioned in January 1966. She was decommissioned in September 1993 and scraped. This structure is a replica but this boat’s conning tower is from the original ship.
We continue on, heading back to the Suite Pea. To the right of the campground road lies a pond and bird watching area. Two Wood Storks were on the bank. As I had mentioned in a previous blog, although they aren’t an endangered species, their sightings are rare. This is only our second sighting of them.
When we finally return to our campsite, we find we have another visitor standing in our parking space.
It’s such a thrill to see wildlife up close, especially varieties that are uncommon to us Midwesterners.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid………………………