NOTE: Many places of interest in Galveston were affected by Hurricane Ike that hit the coast down in September 08. Some of the more famous landmarks on the island are either gone completely or remain closed due damages sustained. Please verify with the city's official tourism department for repair and cleaning updates.
Galveston, Texas is an island city on the Texas Gulf Coast. Galveston is approximately twenty eight miles long and three and a half miles wide. The city is home to 58,000 residents. A seawall was constructed in 1903 along the Gulf side of the island and spans a twenty mile stretch of the city’s coast line. The Port Bolivar Ferry provides access from the mainland on the island’s southern side.
The first settlers of Galveston were Native American tribes. However, the discovery and colonization of the city itself are attributed to two Spanish explorers. In November of 1528, Cabeza de Vaca wrecked his ship in the vicinity of the island on his way to Mexico. As a result, he referred to Galveston as "The Island of Doom". In 1785, a second Spanish explorer, Jose de Evia, re-discovered Galveston while charting the Gulf Coast. He named the island Galvez Town, in honor of the Count of Galvez, Spain.
It wasn’t until 1816 that the first settlements were constructed in Galveston, courtesy of a Spanish pirate rebelling against Spain. The following year another pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte moved his operations to Galveston after being driven out of New Orleans. Lafitte remained in control of Galveston until 1821. Lafitte was forced off the island under a cover of darkness by the US Navy. Rumors have circulated that, in his hurry to vacate the island, left his treasure behind, buried somewhere along the coast.
In 1836, four thousand acres were purchased by Canadian native Michel Menard for $50,000. In 1838, Menard began selling off plots of land to investors and Galveston was incorporated as a city in 1839. By the end of the nineteenth century, Galveston was known far and wide as the Jewel of The Gulf Coast. By this time, Galveston had 37,000 residents and was already one of the largest cotton ports in the country. The mid and late 1800s were a grand time to be in Galveston, as the city was home to several ‘firsts’ in the state. Some of these ‘firsts’ included the first post office in 1836, the first gas lights in 1856, and the first opera house in 1870.
In September of 1900, Galveston was all, but obliterated by a deadly hurricane, which still holds the record as the deadliest disaster to ever occur in the United States. An estimated 8,000 residents lost their lives in the pre-dawn storm, including ninety orphans and ten nuns who were washed away in the fury of the storm when the orphanage they were in crashed into the sea. Bodies littered the surrounding areas for months after the storm. At the time of landfall, Galveston was a flat city, unprotected against the Gulf. After the 1900 storm, parts of the city were raised nearly seventeen feet and a seawall was constructed to act as a barrier against future storms.
Despite years of prosperity and progress, history repeated itself in the fall of 2008 when another ferocious hurricane made landfall near Galveston. The timing of the second storm was very eerie - just a week past the 108th anniversary of the first. Although the damage was great the second time around as well, with many of the city’s famous landmarks being washed away in the rising swells, it was not nearly as horrific as in the first storm - before the implementation of the seawall.
Despite the major set backs of the 2008 hurricane, Galveston continues to thrive as a popular tourist destination. Commerce in the historic downtown Strand District is again healthy. Souvenir shops, eateries, bars, and boutiques continue to welcome visitors who flock to the island to soak up the sun and surf. The Strand District is also the location of Galveston’s annual Mardi Gras celebration and Dickens On The Strand holiday event.
The majority of the buildings in the Strand District are also survivors of the 1900 Storm. Many are marked with plaques and historic photos of what they looked like in their heyday. Other survivors of the 1900 Storm remain popular points of interest in the city today as well.
The Bishop’s Palace and the Moody Mansion are two former residences of prominent families in the city’s history.
Fishing and swimming are still popular activities in Galveston, despite the loss of several of the fishing piers. Moody Gardens and Schlitterbahn Water Park top the list of the most visited attractions on the island today.