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Finding the Best Places to Retire Since 2006!

Vol XVII   Issue 8     Home     Today

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St. Marys, Georgia

St. Marys is a Charming Riverfront Town and Beckons with its Rich History and Easygoing Way of Life

Cost of Living:  Below the National Average

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Along the St. Marys River on Georgia's southern coast, the charming coastal village of St. Marys (population 20,000) is one of the oldest communities in the country. During its long history, it has been invaded by the British (American Revolution), captured by the British (War of 1812) and shelled by the Union army (American Civil War). It has also been a lumber processing hub, a paper mill town and a fishing center.

While fishing is still important today, the U.S. military and tourism are now the primary economic drivers. This is because Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the Atlantic Fleet's home port for U.S. Navy Fleet ballistic missile nuclear submarines, is right next door, and the Cumberland Island National Seashore, accessible only by boat, is just across the Cumberland Sound.

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The cost of living is 23% below the national average. Thirty percent of residents are age 45 or better. Politics lean to the right, and 25% of locals hold at least a four year college degree. The city has some racial diversity, and the crime rate meets the national average. Military families are sprinkled throughout town. St. Marys has grown 5% during the last decade.

The median home price is $250,000, reflecting an 18% increase since a year ago. Neighborhoods are leafy and tidy. Some areas have modest brick residences on small lots while others contain palatial estates along the water. Osprey Cove is a beautiful development with a championship golf course and access to the Intracoastal Waterway.

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Georgia is tax-friendly for retirement as it does not tax Social Security benefits and offers a deduction of up to $65,000 per person on all other kinds of retirement income for people age 65 or better. Beyond the $65,000, retirement income is taxed between 1% and 5.75%, depending on the amount. Georgia also offers a $2,000 exemption on a home's assessed value. People age 65 and better may double that, depending on income. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in St. Marys is 1.0%. The annual taxes on a $250,000 home are approximately $2,525 without a homestead exemption. The combined sales tax is 7%.

With a sleepy harbor and sweeping marsh views, St. Marys exudes tranquility. At the waterfront, shrimp boats are moored along the dock as they have been since the early days, and private pleasure vessels come and go in a leisurely fashion. Visitors wander in to catch the the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia's largest barrier island, while other people shop at nautical trinket stores, check out the visitors' center and dine in seafood restaurants.

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St Marys, Georgia

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Still largely undiscovered by developers, St. Marys is a closely-knit community dotted with white picket fences, quaint B&Bs and live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The air smells of salt and seagulls fly over the river. The Historic District contains portions of the original town with 18th-century commercial and residential buildings. With eyes closed, it is easy to imagine previous generations of steadfast Georgians who called this friendly, mellow hamlet their home.

Shopping venues include specialty shops, boutiques and some major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Belk. The St. Marys Community Market, an open air farmers' market, takes place every Saturday year round. Restaurants include some national chains, as well as locally owned cafes and diners. Some are very good, if a little overpriced during tourist season. Nightlife and entertainment venues are limited, but Jacksonville is only 40 miles to the south along Interstate 95.

What St. Marys lacks in nightlife, it makes up in festivals, events, small museums and more. Every year, Mardi Gras is celebrated with gusto, and the Rock Shrimp Festival and Fourth of July events bring out sizeable crowds. Three museums, including the Greek Revival Orange House Hall Museum, a testament to antebellum life, and St. Marys Submarine Museum, which houses a wealth of submarine exhibits, are interesting places to spend an afternoon.

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The waterfront's pretty Howard Gilman Memorial Park is the place to picnic and watch shrimpers come in each day. St. Mary's public library is a nice spot to spend some time. It has an interlibrary loan program, talking books and a volunteer program. It also is a member of PINES, which gives Georgia residents access to nine million books that can be home delivered. St. Marys Little Theatre is a community theater with an engaging, year round schedule.

Jekyll Island and Fernandina Beach are both close by and have beautiful public beaches. Cumberland Island National Seashore, the reason many people come to St. Marys, has a federally-protected, unspoiled shoreline where wild hogs and feral horses roam freely. This is the place to hike, kayak, gather seashells or watch the stars. It is also home to Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness, two mansions built by the Carnegie family in the late-19th century. Plum Orchard has public tours, but Dungeness has been lost to time and is now inhabited by wild animals.

The St. Marys Senior Center is managed by the city and offers noon congregate meals, planned activities, legal assistance, monthly blood pressure checks and more.

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Southeast Georgia Health System - Camden is located in St. Marys and has 40 beds. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. Seven miles away in Fernandina Beach, Baptist Medical Center has 55 beds and is award-winning for excellence in patient experience. It, too, is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. For military retirees, St. Marys has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Lake City, Florida, 75 miles away.

Summer temperatures are in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Humidity is high, and the city ranks well below the national average on the comfort scale, a combination of temperature and humidity. Winter temperatures are usually in the 50s and 60s. On average, the area receives 50 inches of rain each year, and the sun shines 220 days of the year.

Retirement in St. Marys has some downsides. There is no public transportation, and road access is limited to a handful of roads in and out of town. Traffic congestion builds during tourist season. This is an old town, and parts of the infrastructure are outdated. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 both caused flooding, downed power lines, downed trees and waterfront damage. More hurricanes could strike in the future.

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Yet even with these issues, this gem of a town sparkles, offering a quiet life in a beautiful location. With its deep roots, historic waterfront and gentle soul, St. Marys is hard to resist and is a great retirement spot.

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