Saint Marys (Pennsylvania)
Saint Marys is a city in Elk County, Pennsylvania, part of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Sitting near the center of the Pennsylvania Wilds region, Saint Marys provides a great jumping-off point for visits to the area's parks, forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains.
Saint Marys was founded by Bavarian Catholic immigrants in 1842, and today it still retains the early settlers' work ethic, industrial nature, and religious devotion.
The original settlers intended to take up farming as their primary industry, but the terrain was found to be unsuitable to widespread agriculture. Fortunately, there were other resources to which they could turn. First among these was logging, facilitated by powerful new steam engines, and the corresponding lumbering industry.
Brickmaking was popular for a while, as well as brewing. Around the turn of the 20th century, carbon and powdered metal became an important part of the borough's economy. Saint Marys was also the site of an early light bulb manufacturing company, the Novelty Incandescent Lamp Company; through a series of mergers and name changes that company became Sylvania, which still maintains a major facility in Saint Marys over 100 years later.
In 1992, Saint Marys absorbed the surrounding township of Benzinger and incorporated as a city, leading to the slogan "Pennsylvania's Newest City". Most of the "city" limits remains wild, with business and residences found primarily within the former borough limits.
Today, powdered metal, carbon, beer, and light bulbs are still the cornerstones of the Saint Marys economy, but like many old industrial areas, the city is shifting toward more service-oriented businesses.
Saint Marys lies at the intersection of Pennsylvania Routes 255 and 120. U.S. Route 219, the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Highway, is the main route into and out of Elk County. To get from U.S. 219 to Saint Marys, there are three options. From the north, take Route 255 in Johnsonburg and travel nine miles southeast to Saint Marys. From the south, take Route 255 in Dubois and travel 30 miles northeast to Saint Marys. U.S. 219 also passes through Ridgway, ten miles west of Saint Marys; the two are connected by Route 120.
From the east or west, you will probably be coming in on I-80; take exit 101 (Route 255) in DuBois, or take exit 111 (Route 153) north where it connects with Route 255.
St. Marys Municipal Airport (IATA: STQ) is three miles southeast of the downtown area on South Michael Street. There are no scheduled commercial flights.
Getting around Saint Marys is both straightforward and confusing at the same time. As far as major routes go, it couldn't be simpler; Route 255 comes in from the northwest (Johnsonburg) and leaves to the south (DuBois); Route 120 comes in from the west (Ridgway) and leaves to the east (Emporium). Where it gets tricky, however, is at the intersection in the middle of downtown where those two routes meet. It's a triangular plot of land called the Diamond, and in addition to the two state routes, the railroad tracks, Elk Creek, and multiple local roads all pass through.
Staying on Route 255 southbound is the only straightforward path through the Diamond. For anything else, you'd be advised to take along a local for your first few attempts. If that's not practical, then watch the signs and surrounding vehicles carefully and be prepared to go around the block and try again if you miss.
The central business district is anchored by the Diamond, extending south on South Saint Marys Street (Route 255), southeast on South Michael Street, and east on Brusselles Street (Route 120). Businesses in the downtown area are primarily locally owned. The major commercial strip is farther south on Route 255, along a section known as Million Dollar Highway; this is where you'll find the chain restaurants, hotels, and shops. A relatively new Wal-Mart lies just south of the city limits on Million Dollar Highway, marking the southern end of the commercial strip.
Beyond the major streets, you'll want a map to get around; the terrain combined with the odd angles at intersections mean there are few right angles and a lot of dead-ends. Fortunately, most everything a traveler needs can be found on the major roadways (including North and South Michael Street).
The restaurant options in Saint Marys are a mix of casual chain restaurants, local taverns, and pizza joints.
If you'd like to buy groceries, you have two main options. There's a Wal-Mart just south of the city limits on Million Dollar Highway, or there's the Giant Eagle in town.
The distinction between "restaurant" and "bar" in Saint Marys is heavily blurred; most of the local non-chain restaurants have bars, and most of the bars have sit-down and/or takeout menus.
The Best Western and the Comfort Inn, both on Million Dollar Highway, are fairly new chain hotels, catering to the business traveler; they are comparable in most respects. Gunners and the Old Charm Bed and Breakfast offer more local flavor near the Diamond.
Saint Marys is in the 814 area code. Most phone numbers are in the 834 exchange, with some in 781. The ZIP code is 15857.
Saint Marys sits within easy driving distance of countless state parks, woodlands, waterways, and mountains.
Nearby boroughs, all about 10-15 minutes away:
Heading south, you'll pass through numerous small villages and hamlets before reaching the city of Dubois, about 40 minutes south of Saint Marys. Dubois is somewhat larger and more urbanized than Saint Marys, with a decent-sized mall anchoring a sizable commercial strip. This is where Saint Marys residents head when they want to shop someplace other than Wal-Mart.
The Clarion River, of which Saint Marys' Elk Creek is a tributary, flows through Johnsonburg and Ridgway and provides fishing and boating opportunities. It also runs through the Allegheny National Forest, which extends from west of Ridgway all the way north to the New York border and is a large expanse of wilderness dotted with small communities. Canoeing, hiking, skiing (water and cross-country), boating, swimming, and, of course, hunting are all available within its borders.
North of Saint Marys, the East Branch of the Clarion River flows from within Elk State Forest, where the East Branch Dam forms a 1,370-acre lake with camping, picnicking, and boat launch facilities. Downstream of the dam, closer to Johnsonburg, is Bendigo State Park with similar outdoors activities.
There is a herd of elk in the area, sometimes visible from Saint Marys but more often farther south near Benezette. It's one of the few herds found east of the Mississippi River.