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Travel Bloggers Visit Spencer House Inn

March 8th, 2016 by Mary

Select Registry has partnered with travel bloggers to build relationships and to help Select Registry properties gain exposure through their blog posts. Recently Meagan and Stephanie, the co-bloggers from A Friend Afar, paid a visit to us at Spencer House Inn. Based out of the Atlanta area, these two ladies have traveled all over the world and written about everything from the best travel apps to have on your smartphone to the best gifts to give the travel-loving individuals in your life. Their visit to Spencer House Inn was the first part of their trip to St. Marys and Cumberland Island and the feature of their first blog entry about the trip – check it out!

Thank you to Meagan and Stephanie for such a wonderful write-up, and thank you to Renee at Select Registry for coordinating the experience!

(image courtesy of A Friend Afar)

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Find Your Park at Cumberland Island

February 4th, 2016 by Mary

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Last week I blogged about the Find Your Park initiative from the National Park Service – this week I want to expand on that by giving you an overview of St. Marys’ neighboring park, Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Accessible only by water transportation, whether you take the Cumberland Island ferry or your own seafaring vessel, Cumberland Island is more than 36,000 acres of almost completely undeveloped wilderness – 9,800 acres of the land is Congressionally designated Wilderness. It is the largest and southernmost barrier island off the coast of Georgia, protecting the mainland from the harshest effects of coastal storms. The west side of the island is bordered by the Cumberland River and Cumberland Sound, both part of the Intracoastal Waterway, and to the east is the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. All sorts of wildlife call Cumberland Island home – from wild horses grazing on the grounds of the Dungeness ruins to ghost crabs hiding in their holes along the beach to shorebirds cruising above the salt marshes. The island also houses numerous ecosystems – the saltwater marshes on the western shore, the maritime forests that cover the island’s interior, or the pristine beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

Cumberland Island is a nature lover’s paradise – there are 50 miles of hiking trails that meander all over the island and numerous sites for camping, whether you camp at the primitive sites in the Wilderness or at the developed sites with restroom facilities. Bikes are available for rent and can be used on the main road – expect a bumpy ride! If you prefer a more leisurely adventure, explore the 17 miles of white sand beaches while collecting shells and shark teeth that the tide has brought in. The Lands & Legacies van tour is an excellent way to experience the full scope of the island in a day – you are driven by a knowledgeable guide up the single main road to the north end of the island, a 16 1/2 mile journey from Sea Camp Ranger Dock. Along the way you stop at the Settlement, which once was home to African American workers; the First African Baptist Church, where John F. Kennedy, Jr. was married; and Plum Orchard, a fine mansion that once belonged to the Carnegie family at the turn of the twentieth century. These standing structures are evidence of past development on the island. There is another example that is no longer standing – the ruins of the Dungeness mansion, which are on the south end of the island. The first Dungeness was built in the late 1700s; another was built on the same site in 1884 but burned down nearly 80 years later, and since then the ruins have remained undisturbed.

In 1971, most of the owned land on Cumberland Island was given to the National Park Foundation, and the next year it was designated as a National Seashore. Since then, the NPS has endeavored to preserve the island for future generations to enjoy. Only 300 visitors are allowed on the island each day – this includes both campers already on the island and daily passengers on the ferry. Maybe Cumberland Island can be your park, whether you’re a fan of the outdoors or a history buff – there’s something for everyone on this wild piece of paradise. If you’d like more information, visit the Cumberland Island section of our website or the NPS Cumberland Island page.

 

 

Find Your Park

January 27th, 2016 by Mary

 

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2016 marks the National Park Service’s Centennial, and to commemorate the occasion, the NPS has launched a new campaign called “Find Your Park.” The purpose of the campaign is to encourage people to personally connect with national parks, wildlife refuges, public land areas, and even National Park Service programs. To get started, potential park visitors can visit the Find Your Park website; they can search for a park based on the experience they would like to have, by location, or through others’ experiences, conveyed through videos from people who are a major part of this initiative, such as Bill Nye, former First Lady Laura Bush, and current First Lady Michelle Obama.

Once people have found “their” park, they are encouraged to share their story. They can upload a photo, video, artwork, or whatever they feel best reflects their experience to the Find Your Park website under “Share Your Park”. For those active on social media, they can share posts on Twitter or Instagram and use #findyourpark to tag their posts.  Users even have the chance to win some amazing prizes – currently there is a video contest running in conjunction with Mashable.com and Playlist Live Orlando, with more contests to come.

The last step is for people to get involved with their chosen park, and the “Support Your Park” section has numerous suggestions – one can join the National Park Foundation or a local Friends Group, make a monetary contribution, or search for a volunteer opportunity.  There are over 400 national parks alone in the United States, so there is no shortage of possibilities.

Want to take part in this campaign? There are two nationally-managed areas right in our backyard for you to discover – first, Cumberland Island National Seashore is a 45-minute ferry ride away from downtown St. Marys. An unspoiled piece of wilderness, Cumberland Island has been preserved and maintained by the National Park Service since the 1970s. The island is rich in beauty as well as history. Visitors can walk on the beach, observe wild horses, explore the ruins of Dungeness Mansion, or take the Lands and Legacies van tour to the north end of the island. The Cumberland Island Visitor Center as well as the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum are in downtown St. Marys and are great places to visit to further enhance your experience. Wild Cumberland and the Georgia Conservancy are two nonprofit groups heavily involved in the continued preservation of the island, if you are looking to volunteer.

The second nearby area is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, with the Main Entrance located an hour to the west of us in Folkston, GA. Experience the “Land of the Trembling Earth” by hiking the numerous trails, climbing up the observation tower at the end of the Chesser Island Boardwalk, or taking a guided boat ride through the swamp. The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a terrific source of information and education, and for any volunteer opportunities, you can contact the Okefenokee Wildlife League, the official Friends Group for the Refuge.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and find a park near you!

 

Orange Hall – A Beautiful Antebellum Home

July 29th, 2014 by Seth

 orange hall

As you drive into St. Marys you will pass a beautiful white house with big Greek columns and a wide staircase leading up to the porch. This home, Orange Hall, is a favorite among both locals and visitors alike. Prized in the antebellum era, Orange Hall’s size and Greek architecture was unprecedented here in Historic St Marys. Architecture aside, the most dominate feature was the number of large sour orange trees which encircled the property during the early years of its life – providing the name Orange Hall.

Reverend Horace Southworth Pratt, a Presbyterian minister, and his father-in-law, John Wood, purchased the property in 1826. Pratt arrived in St. Marys around 1820 to help start a church. Before construction of the home began, Pratt’s wife died.  Pratt remained in St. Marys and remarried a few years later. In 1839, Pratt, a Yale and Princeton graduate, took a position as a professor at the University of Alabama and left Orange Hall behind. General Duncan Lamont Clinch is thought to have been lived there when Pratt left for Alabama. Pratt may have had intentions of returning to Orange Hall, but he would not have the opportunity because he passed away in 1940.

This would lead to the first change in ownership, and more would follow over the years. The property was then sold in public auction in 1846 to James Monigin Smith. Here is the list of known owners over the years:

1846 – James Mongin Smith

1862 – Francis Adams

1869 – Silas Fordham

1911 – Joel Lee Sweat

1919 – James Howard Becker

1933 – S.C. Townsend – converted upper floors to apartments

1951 – St Marys Kraft Corporation – bought to house paper mill employees for 10 years

1965 – City of St. Marys

Rising two stories above ground, Orange Hall sits atop a lower level basement – housing an old dining hall, servants’ quarters, wine cellar, and kitchen. The main floor boasts a music room parlor, study, tiffany dining room, and front parlor, as well as two original chandeliers from the Becker family, residents in the 1920’s. These chandeliers are the only items that have been left behind by owners of the home over the years. However, the chandeliers are not the only pieces of Orange Hall’s history to see here on this floor.

The original Italian marble fireplaces adorn the parlors. These fireplaces are just 2 of 12 located in the house. The second floor is made up of four bedrooms – the Horsehair room, the Children’s room, the Jacquard/Duvall Room, and the Peg-bed room.

Orange Hall was recorded in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. To preserve the historical significance of the property, the exterior was recently renovated. The house has been restored to look just the way that it did when it was built. As you walk up the front steps on to the expansive porch, you can look to your right and see the First Presbyterian Church. This is the same view that Pratt saw as he climbed those steps back in the 1830’s.

Orange Hall Fireplace and Room

Cumberland Island Lands and Legacies Tour

August 8th, 2013 by Mary

Plum Orchard Med

After seven years of planning, The Lands & Legacies tour began August 2011 and has been a must do for Cumberland Island visitors ever since. This much sought after tour takes a limited number of people a day, 16 miles each way – that they would otherwise have to bike or walk, to the north end of this captivating island.  For $15/adult and $12/senior or child – in addition to the ferry fee, day-trippers and campers the like are able to tour historic sites such as, the extravagant Plum Orchard Mansion, the First African Baptist Church (where John F. Kennedy Jr. & Carolyn Bessette were married) and learn about the wilderness and wildlife that live and grow on the island, as well as its intricate human history.

Your tour begins shortly after an enjoyable 45-minute ferry ride on the Cumberland Queen leaving from the St Marys waterfront at 9am and arriving to the Sea Camp dock, the second dock on Cumberland Island. This is where you will meet with your National Park Service ranger/tour guide and load onto a white, 10 passenger, air conditioned van. From there you will embark on a 5-6 hour journey on the rugged unpaved “Main Road”, awe struck with the islands never ending beauty. As your tour continues, be sure to keep an eye out for wild horses, hogs, turkeys and many other forms of wildlife that inhabit the island.

After breaking for lunch, your tour guide takes you through the enchanting Plum Orchard Mansion. Walk through those beautiful white, double doors and you are suddenly taken back to the early 1900’s – greeted by a room so warm and welcoming, you already feel at home. This 22,000 square foot mansion is southern comfort at its best. From dining room to bedrooms and basement to indoor pool, you won’t want to miss a beat.

As the Cumberland Island van tour draws to an end, you are taken back to the Sea Camp dock. If the tour ends early enough, you then have an opportunity to venture to the beach for the remainder of your day on the island or just a mile down the road to Dungeness. Dungeness was another Carnegie mansion, it was burned to the ground in 1959, but the ruins and grounds are just as eye catching. The brick chimneys and stone skeleton still stands as a glimpse into the past of the grandeur that once was Dungeness. Just a short walk away is the Dungeness Dock, where you will catch your 4:45pm ferry back to the St. Marys waterfront – don’t miss the ferry because that’s the last one until morning.

Taking the Lands & Legacies Tour is just one way to experience Cumberland Island National Seashore and its vast natural beauty and history. If you are interested in exploring the island by foot or van tour, reservations are strongly recommended – to make a reservation call 912-882-4335, Monday – Friday between the hours of 10am – 4pm. For more information on Cumberland Island, camping, and tours please visit: www.nps.gov/cuis

 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Is On The Rise

August 12th, 2012 by Jeanice

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937, not only to preserve and protect the wildlife, but also for people to explore and enjoy the nearly 402,000 acres(roughly 300,000 football fields in size) of marsh lands, cypress forests, and lakes. These beautiful wetlands are thriving with wildlife that roam free in their natural habitat – ranging from alligators to tortoises and woodpeckers to white-tailed deer. With it’s rich history,  immense wetlands and  wildlife galore, there is no surprise as to why the Okefenokee Swamp is a must see when visiting Southern Georgia or Northern Florida.

The Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world’s most well preserved freshwater ecosystems and is a system dependent upon rainfall, making it easily susceptible to drought and wildfire – for this reason these vast swamplands have been in a drought for over two years now. The drought has left many of the trails along the 120 mile system of trails inaccessible by maintenance crews, causing an abundance of plant overgrowth. Many of these trails are still blocked by downed trees from the Honey Prairie Fire in April 2011. Fortunately for the swamp, it’s water levels were recently replenished by the upper edge of Tropical Storm Debbie. This storm was moving at a not-so alarming rate of 3-5 mph and brought very heavy rainfall. The Okefenokee Swamp saw anywhere from 3.2 inches of rainfall all the way up to 20.6 inches near it’s southern edge in Florida. Water levels have not been up this high since February of 2010 and its causing for more and more trails to open back up.

Now is the perfect time to head over to the swamp and take advantage of one (or more) of their guided tours. With a plethora of knowledge and experience, each guide brings a different perspective to your tour. Whether you take a 90 minute boat ride along the historic Suwanee Canal or a sunset kayak tour to witness the swamps magical golden sunset, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience. 

For more information visit  http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/ or http://okefenokeeadventures.com/guided-tours/

 

Hay Days in St. Marys

October 7th, 2011 by Mckenzie

Do you want to "Build-A-Scarecrow"?

 Hay Days comes to St. Marys every year at the beginning of October. It is a month of fun activities for fall. The main street in St. Marys, Osborne Street, will be decorated for the season with scarecrows from businesses, individuals and organizations. Each year locals have a great time coming up with the most innovative and creative scarecrows. It seems like the “population” in town  has increased with the new residents and there is hay covering everything! It is a fun way to not only get involved with your community but to also get out and enjoy this great weather.

 The annual Hay Days will take place October 8-29th, with numerous events throughout the month in downtown St. Marys, including the “Build-A-Scarecrow” event which takes place Saturday, October 8th. You can build your own scarecrow to take home or put on display downtown. This event is held at Orange Hall and will last from 10am-12pm. When you register, you will receive a “Scarecrow Kit” for $20 ($25 at door, if available) that will contain everything you need to build your own. Registration is encouraged because this activity is limited to the first 50 people. Also, come out and enjoy all the hard work and creative thinking that went into building these scarecrows during the “Scarecrow Stroll” on Tuesday, October 11th from 5 to 7pm. Tuesday night during the Scarecrow Stroll dress up in your best costumes. There will be trick or treating, hay rides and bounce houses.  There will also be a haunted history tour on October 28th from 6 to 9pm. This walking tour includes stops at the Oak Grove cemetery, Submarine Museum, Orange Hall and other stops along the way. October 29th will end the Hay Days but one last event takes place. The inaugural Last Saturday on the Waterfront from 3 to 9pm which will encourage people to visit local businesses in St. Marys. All of these events are great for the whole family. 

The scarecrows will be around town all month long so at anytime you could take your own stroll down Osborne Street to see all the really cool scarecrows. This is such a fun way for everyone to start the fall season, whether you build a  scarecrow or  just stroll down the street to enjoy all of them. The city of St. Marys during Hay Days would put anyone in an “I Love Fall” kind of  mood!

For more information on the St. Marys Hay Days Celebration, contact the St. Marys Downtown Development Authority, (912) 882-8111 or info@stmarysdda.com

St. Marys Rock Shrimp Festival 2011

September 20th, 2011 by Mckenzie

Rock Shrimp Anyone?

Every year St. Marys hosts the Rock Shrimp Festival on the first Saturday in October. This year on October 1, 2011, it will be the 39th annual festival. The festival is all about our special rock shrimp found in the coastal waters of Georgia. With the St. Marys Kiwanis Club sponsoring this event, we look forward to food, games, entertainment, vendors and so much more. Bring the whole family and experience this fun filled festival that only St. Marys has to offer.

Events for the festival include a pancake breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30am, the 5k and 10k run will also start at 7:30am, the parade starts at 10:00am, and of course the Rock Shrimp dinner plates will be served from 11:00am to 5:00pm. The rock shrimp dinners not only include the rock shrimp but they also have regular shrimp, fish, cole slaw and hushpuppies made from a “secret” recipe. To buy tickets in advance for the pancake breakfast or the dinner plates, you can go to any of the following: St. Marys welcome center, Kingsland visitor center,  St. Marys Economic Building, Camden Printing, Tribune & Georgian and Once Upon a Bookseller, or from members of the Kiwanis Club of St. Marys. If you are interested in filling out an application for the run , click here.
 
Along with the parade at 10:00am, there will be entertainment at the waterfront park and throughout the festival. Vendors line the streets of downtown St. Marys with a wonderful variety from arts and crafts to specialty items and also our little shops here in the village are always fun to visit. The food at any festival is delicious but to add the rock shrimp dinners, it’s like a true southeastern Georgia festival made complete. This is a great way to spend your first Saturday in October, the beginning of fall. Not only do you get to enjoy the Rock Shrimp Festival but you also get involved with the community and see what makes St. Marys so special.
 
 All proceeds from the festival will go to the funding for the children’s programs and other programs that the Kiwanis Club sponsors, such as the Thanksgiving baskets that are put together and presented to families in need or gifts at Christmas time for children in the community. Come one, come all for a delightful day!
 

Annual Catfish Festival in Kingsland, GA

August 25th, 2011 by Mckenzie

Who doesn't like pie?

The Labor Day weekend Catfish Festival is held every year in Kingsland, Georgia. This year it will be held September 3rd through the 5th. This popular festival is one of the biggest events in southeast Georgia. With more than 65,000 people attending over the holiday weekend, there is always plenty of catfish to go around. It is said that there is over 10,000 pounds of farm-raised catfish cooked up and served for this fun event. The delicious catfish dinners are available beginning at 12:00 noon on Saturday and Sunday and 11:00am on Monday Labor Day.

Food vendors along with arts & crafts, antiques & collectibles and vendors selling art and other unique items line the streets of downtown Kingsland. There is plenty of entertainment too at this three day outdoor festival. In addition to the catfish, remember there are plenty of food options including deep-fried onion blossoms, oriental fare, barbecue, homemade ice cream, etc.

Several events occur during the weekend including the 5K run, car and truck show, parade and also entertainment from many different local and regional bands. For a full list of the events and times, go to www.kingslandcatfishfestival.com. The festival does a nice job offering things to do for the children as well as for the adults too. The Catfish Festival closes down every day at 6pm. 

On Monday morning the festival is not winding down by any stretch of the imagination, there is a big pancake breakfast sponsored by The Lions Club followed by the awesome parade which starts at 10am and heads down Highway 17 into Kingsland – the parade features our award winning high school band and our state championship high school football team – just what a hometown parade should have!

Overall, this is a great festival for family and friends to enjoy. Between the big parade on Monday and the secret recipe for the catfish, you just can’t go wrong attending this festival for a day or for all weekend. With this event being only 15 minutes from downtown St. Marys, you could enjoy a day at the festival and also visit Cumberland Island and tour the historic district of St. Marys too – what a fun holiday weekend!

Cumberland Island Guided Van Tours

August 7th, 2011 by Mckenzie

First African Baptist Church

 The National Park Service has announced they will be starting the guided van tours on Cumberland Island National Seashore. Starting August 11th, they will take visitors on a 16-1/2 mile long tour of the island, stopping at places like the First African Baptist Church, where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married, and Plum Orchard, a mansion with 106 rooms built in the 1800’s. This tour lets you see all the island sites in a single day without walking, but it is a very physically demanding trip as the main road is a dirt road with washboard surfaces in many areas.

Visitors who are taking the “Land and Legacy” tour will spend about 45 minutes or longer at Plum Orchard depending on other stops. Plum Orchard was built by the Carnegie family in the late 1800’s and the  mansion was donated by the family to the National Park Service in 1971.  The mansion still remains in good condition in part due to the volunteers helping to maintain it.  The visitors will be given a tour of the mansion from the spacious bathrooms with unique fixtures, the beautiful Tiffany glass pieces, the lovely wallpaper to other antiques spread throughout the home. The indoor swimming pool and elevator are especially interesting to see because they are original and ahead of their time.
 
The First African Baptist Church became popular with the outside world when JFK Jr. and Carolyn got married there in September 1996. With the Kennedy wedding  being only 20 minutes of the church’s history though, it is interesting to see what else has happened there. During the 1890’s the Settlement was established for African American workers.  The little church sits on the northern end of the island about 17 miles from the Sea Camp dock which is where the tour begins.
 
The Park Service recommends that visitors should bring their own food and drinks in a small bag or backpack as you will be gone for 6 hours. Restrooms stops will be made but will be limited. The tours will be $15 for adults and $12 for Seniors and Children – these costs are in addition to the ferry ride and the park entrance fee.  The Cumberland Island van tours will leave Sea Camp at 9:45am, just after the first ferry docks, and be given rain or shine. To make your reservations for the Cumberland Island ferry or the van tours, please call 912-882-4335, Monday- Friday 10am to 4pm. This truly is a great way to see Cumberland Island National Seashore. Come prepared for a wonderful adventure! 
 
For more information on the ” Lands and Legacies Tour” go to  http://www.nps.gov/cuis/planyourvisit/land-and-legacies-tours.htm.
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