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A Simpler Trip: Spending the Day in St. Marys, Georgia

Over the next year, Joe Miller (our blogging historian) will take day trips to sites within a five hour drive of Jacksonville.  Join him as he points out the fascinating sites while pointing out historically interesting footnotes.

-----  Note: Click Photos to View at Larger Size -----

riverSaturday morning, I asked my wife if she would like to bike ride at St. Marys, Georgia, then drive to Jekyll Island to continue the trip.  I had been told by Kenneth our Publix Manager (Deerwood Lake Parkway) that there were “tons” of interesting things to write about St. Marys. 

“The cemetery is outstanding,” he said.

St. Marys (known for Kings Bay Naval Station) is just a 40 minute ride from the Southside of Jacksonville. Once you exit on I-95 exit 3, you will drive east another five miles until you see the St. Marys River.  You are now in the Historic District.

A look around, and it is obvious that the city is trying to bring life back to the area, though the financial crisis has taken its toll.  A brand new city hall and widened roads with center turn lanes are testaments to this fact.  A digital flashing sign board at city hall marks the biggest advancement in the town’s history, though I personally thought it was tacky and not in keeping with the Old Town history theme.

We arrived in St. Marys at 9:30 am and unloaded the bikes.  The temperature was a bit cold (50 degrees) and with the river, windy.  But with layering of jackets and long sleeve shirts it was bearable.  Almost 100 people had already queued up for the boat ride to Cumberland Island at the St. Marys dock.   That is another story.  But, if you miss my story on Cumberland Island, be sure to make this trip.  Take a bike and picnic for everyone.  Otherwise, it is a long walk.

It was at the dock that I recognized someone from my past.  “Englewood ’72, right?” I asked.  I had not seen this former tennis partner since high school graduation.  He was astounded that I recognized him.  He told me he owns a roofing company in Jacksonville and was taking his “grandchildren” (we’re not that old) to the fine public playground nearby.  I think any child would enjoy this park though older individuals might dislike the choice of loud music which is piped in to the area.

Back to the story.  When you are cold, Historic St. Marys is a 30 minute bike ride.  On a pleasant day, this could have been an entire morning.

Our first historical marker of the day informed us of the birth of the country’s first pecan.  The marker informs the reader that in 1840 Captain Samuel F. Flood discovered pecans floating in the ocean and retrieved them.

He brought the nuts to St. Marys and his wife Rebecca planted them, starting the first pecan orchard.

old-gravesAlso, be sure to visit St. Marys Oak Grove cemetery established 1788.  Kenneth was right, it is outstanding.  Its ancient headstones mark moments in time that you can only read about.  Touching them and reading their markings connect you to the past.

After the cemetery visit (another 30 minutes), we packed up and exited town.  Four blocks from the river on the main road, there was a historical marker (I have to stop at all historic markers) pertaining to oaks, wells and President George Washington. It turns out that the town of St. Marys received word of Washington’s death 49 days after it occurred. Remember, there were no cellular phones and the commercial version of a telegraph would not be invented by Morse and Vail for nearly 40 years, in 1838.  At the site of this marker is the remains of a working well which provided fresh water to the city.  There were four such wells.  They were located in each city block in order for its citizens to easily have access to fresh water and for use in case of fires.  There were no fire hydrants (invented 1869) in those days.

washington-oakUpon learning of President Washington’s death (Washington died December 14, 1799); the traumatized town organized a mock funeral.  A wooden casket was constructed and draped with the nation’s flag.  It was taken into the river by boat and when signaled was delivered to shore while the towns citizens stood by to watch.  The crowd followed the pallbearers the four blocks of Osborn Street where a hole had been dug for the occasion and watched closely as it was lowered into its final resting place.  A volley of gunfire was exchanged.

washington-pumpSoon after, a well was dug at this site.  It became known as Washington Pump. In their final recognition of Washington’s death, six oak trees were planted at this site.  They became known as Washington’s Oaks. The last of which died in 1987.  Its stump is still visible today.

Continuing our trip, we drove to Crooked River State Park ($5 daily parking fee and ample campgrounds) but decided that it would be another day trip and exited.  Besides, we were hungry for lunch and I become irritable when hungry.

sugar-worksOn the way back from Crooked River State Park, I noticed another historical marker titled Tabby Sugar Works.  This marked the location of the remnants of an 1825 plantation sugarcane mill.  It was owned and constructed by John Houstoun McIntosh.  Born in 1773, it was McIntosh who organized a group of men to capture the northeastern portion of Florida during tabbythe war of 1812.  They were unsuccessful and he moved to this area and established two sugarcane plantations.

In regards to the mill, one could state “They don’t make em like that anymore” and be correct.  The mill was manufactured out of Tabby which is a mixture utilizing equal parts of oyster shells, lime, water and tabby2sand.  The walls are easily two feet thick. Approximately 60 feet square the structure is like new though the wooden roof and window  frames are long rotted and gone.

McIntosh died in 1836 and the plantation was sold to Colonel Hallowes.  He renamed the plantation to Hollingbrook Plantation and kept it until after the Civil War.

This is a great place to stretch the legs, exercise the kids and walk the dog.  A truly fascinating discovery.

Next we drove on to Jekyll Island and the discovery of a lifetime...

6 Responses »

  1. This is a good article, I love St Marys, it is a quaint little town on the river, just laid back and some wonderful sites to behold, I love the way you explained your trip, you did it justice..

  2. Thanks for this article. Makes me want to take my Yorkie and head on up to St. Marys (when the weather is a little warmer, that is.)

  3. While you are in St. Mary's visit "The Mad Hatter" tea room. It has delicious teas, hot and cold and different flavors on certain days. They also have the greatest sandwiches and salads and soup as well. I couldn't stop without mentioning their scones with cream and preserves. If you have a large party, you might want to make a reservation. Winter or summer the food is great!!!

  4. Glad to read that you found Crooked River State Park. It is a gem, very much reminds me of Hanna Park in Atlantic Beach but quieter. When the weather turns there is a small pedestrian ferry service that runs between downtown Fernandina Beach and St. Marys. They will allow you to ferry your bikes also.

  5. Beautiful place, St Mary's. Always enjoy visiting the Orange Hall (Circa 1829) House Museum, an area haunt of two old comic strip friends "Captain Easy" and "Wash Tubbs".
    Enjoyed your article and look forward to future ones.

  6. Thank you so much for writing about Crooked River State Park. Since you're taking a year to explore around Jacksonville, I like to recommend Hofwyl-Broadfield Historic Site in Darien, Ga. -- a lovely old rice plantation and furnished house. Fort King George Historic Site is near Darien as well -- with reconstructed colonial buildings. Photos are on http://www.GaStateParks.org.