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MANDI CARDOSI / The State Journal. The City of St. Marys features industry, recreation and a unique charm that brings visitors year-round. MANDI CARDOSI / The State Journal. The City of St. Marys features industry, recreation and a unique charm that brings visitors year-round.
MANDI CARDOSI / The State Journal. Smith Candies is one of the many highlights of downtown St. Marys. The candy shop produces about 100,000 pounds of rock candy each year. MANDI CARDOSI / The State Journal. Smith Candies is one of the many highlights of downtown St. Marys. The candy shop produces about 100,000 pounds of rock candy each year.
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Small City Offers Unique Surprises

By MANDI CARDOSI

mcardosi@statejournal.com

It might be one of the smallest towns in the Mountain State, but there are several things that make it unique — even to the country.

Drive down the city’s main street — Second Street — and be prepared to share the road with something a little larger than the average vehicle.

A train carrying coal and chemicals comes through this city three times a day. The high school plans an alumni weekend for every graduating class on the same day, and there is a candy factory near the center of town. With a population size just under 2,000, St. Marys still has a lot of things that make it unique to the state.

It is home to the only island in West Virginia that can be walked, run, driven or biked to; there’s no need for a boat to get to this nature preserve, because a bridge connects the city to this part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Take a drive or walk down the gravel road that leads to the end of the preserve and stumble upon scenic views of the Ohio River. In addition to being located right at the mouth of Middle Island Creek, it’s also the longest creek in the state.

J. McGoldrick, executive director for the Pleasants County Development Authority, said the city soon will add another achievement to the running list of things that make St. Marys great.

“We are building the first 21st century high school in this part of West Virginia,” he said.

The $26 million school will be designed with a $9 million athletic complex that will include an Astroturf field, making it the only Single A school in the state with such a football field, McGoldrick said.

The county also is home to coal, gas and a soon-to-be completed water-powered electricity plant.

Jody Murphy, executive director of the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce, said he has never seen anything quite like alumni weekend for St. Marys High School.

Each store front in the city is decorated for a specific class of graduates, and the parade that goes through downtown is made up of a variety of alumnus.

“I’ve been over three-quarters of the state and I have never seen that,” Murphy said of the half-century-old tradition.

St. Marys also is the only town to life flight residents on the county commission’s tab. McGoldrick said this is paid for through surplus revenue.

With a small population but large industrial base, St. Marys has a lot of excess revenue to put into its infrastructure. The city is also home to Smith Candies, a shop located right downtown, which adds to the charm of St. Marys.

Mike Smith and his wife, Julie, bought the originally Parkersburg-based business in 1999 before moving it to his hometown of St. Marys.

The candy shop was founded in the 1950s and Smith said he continues to make the candy the same way it was made back then. The company makes about 100,000 pounds of homemade rock candy each year, he said.

Distributing his candy and new chocolates to 150 stores all over the state, Smith said the store in St. Marys is a way for him and his family to “give back to the community.”

Designed for those with a sweet tooth in mind, the store is constructed with clear panes that separate the retail from the factory — giving guests a behind-the-scenes look at just how the edible, colorful rocks are made.

“Everything is handmade here,” Smith added.

To view the operation in full-swing, stop by the St. Marys storefront Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but be prepared to treat your nose to a smell that will have your nose wanting more.

Smith said the smell of his candies being made has been picked up from across the small, idyllic town.