A Magical Island Kingdom ™
The Rest of the Story
The Galveston Historical Timeline
The first recorded inhabitants of Galveston Island were the Karankawa Indians. They enter the historical record in 1528 when Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, and his ship-wrecked party, were stranded on the Island for six years. Although the tribe practiced cannibalism, they only ate their enemies, so de Vaca ended his stay in Galveston without becoming their dinner.
In 1685 a French expedition, led by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established Fort St. Louis on Garcitas Creek near Matagorda Bay. La Salle claimed the whole Texas coastline for King Louis, even though he did not set foot on The Island. That was the full extent of the French influence in the area.
A few years later, what would become Texas was once again under Spanish rule and control. Spanish colonial governor, Bernardo de Galvez, sent Jose de Evia on an expedition to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas Coast to New Orleans. On 23 July 1786, de Evia mapped a bay along the Gulf Coast, and named it Galveston Bay, in honor of de Galvez. Unfortunately, Bernardo de Galvez died the same year, so he never had a chance to visit the area. In later years, The Island and The City took their names from the bay named after Governor de Galvez.
The first European settlement on this island was Campeche. It was founded by the Pirate Jean Lafitte, and his band of merry men, in 1817. When the United States government told them to leave, in 1821, for attacking an American ship, they threw a big party and burned the whole place to the ground! Certainly something of that defiant pirate spirit remains today, and the Jolly Roger still flies over some of the bars on The Seawall!
In 1836, a group of entrepreneurs discovered the world-class deep-water port, and by 1839, the City of Galveston was incorporated. This port was an unparalleled economic engine that created great wealth and prosperity for The Island. By the mid to late Nineteenth Century, Galveston was one of the richest cities in the world, on a per capita basis! It was an island port and trading center that was very much like Hong Kong, in its heyday!
Millionaire's mansions lined Broadway, grand houses were scattered throughout the neighborhoods, and the middle class and working class lived quite well in their charming homes, too! It was a very nice lifestyle for everyone.
Unfortunately, much of the "magic" was destroyed when the 1900 Storm (hurricane) damaged a good deal of the City, and killed 6,000 residents (about 15% of the population). This event is still the worst disaster in American history! However, the resilient inhabitants rebounded by building a Seawall, raising the height of The Island behind it, with a massive dredging project, and rebuilding the city!
What the Storm didn't destroy, the competition from the new port in Houston eventually did! The Houston Ship Channel opened in 1914, but the Directors of the Port of Galveston believed that few ships would travel 60 miles further north to save a "few dollars". Unfortunately, they were wrong, and more and more ships sailed past Galveston for the cheaper rates that Houston offered. As the years went by, those who ran the Port still refused to offer competitive rates, and the Port of Galveston continued its long decline!
As Houston began to dominate the region, Galveston was temporarily rescued by its status as an "Open City". This was a time when illegal gambling, and other vices, flourished in The Island's world-class nightclubs, and other "adult entertainment" venues. This brought tourist dollars pouring into The City's economy, that offset declining revenue from The Port. However, the era of "Las Vegas on the Gulf" ended in 1957, when the new sheriff shut down the clubs, and another period of economic decline began.
Ironically, the decline of The Port, and the closing of the Open City was probably what saved the unique environment that exists today! If The Port had continued to prosper in the 20th Century; when WWII was over, many of the old buildings, probably would have been torn down and replaced by skyscrapers, office buildings and new subdivisions. Galveston easily could have become a smaller version of Houston! If the Open City had not been closed down, the character and nature of The Island could have gone in a much seedier direction.
Galveston needs enough economic activity to keep it going, but too much will not be good for its soul. If it began to grow again around a vibrant port, and/or became a posh tourist destination, it would force it to change in ways that would not maintain the current ambiance and way of life. It has to retain the delicate balance that allows enough economic activity to prevent it from becoming an economic backwater, but yet does not generate so much growth that it forces it to become a modern 21st-Century city. There are only so many people who can live here, and visit this Island Kingdom, without changing its character. So far, the population remains about the same as it was over 100 years ago, and that's about right!
The closing of the Open City ushered in difficult times in the 1960s and 1970s, and Galveston was in a steep decline! With little activity at The Port, and tourism mostly limited to day trippers on the beach, economic activity was anemic. This left hundreds of buildings to decay and fall apart! Residents eventually became appalled by the crumbling historical infrastructure, from The City's grander days, that was on the verge of disappearing. Finally, a few visionaries saw the value of saving what had been built in the 19th Century, so historical preservation and rehabilitation became a serious business.
This is what saved and created what exists today; the remains of a small 19th-Century Southern city, upgraded with today's conveniences, and integrated with modern structures. This cityscape, on the eastern end of Galveston Island, is situated at the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico, miles of beaches, a very active ship channel, and a working harbor. All of these elements inspired an eccentric and quirky population to create a Magical Island Kingdom, with a rich and diverse live music scene, theaters, art galleries, nightclubs, restaurants, and antique shops. Only in such a place can a very unique way of life flourish. One that is like no other!
The magic was back!!
Some residents have gone so far as to say that this Island Kingdom is "Paradise"; that there is no better place in the world to live! This place is many things, but "Paradise" is not the word that comes to mind; "Magical" is much better. The people who live here are bound together by the common vision and memory of what this place was, and what kind of life you could lead here in the Nineteenth Century, which allows them to experience some of The Island's storied past each day. They are surrounded by the pieces of that era that remain, and that sets the tone and atmosphere of their daily life. At the same time, they are able to fully experience and enjoy the good things that life offers in the Twenty-first Century. They are an island people with one foot in the 19th Century and the other in the 21st.
(Still more good stuff)
This is an island that was first settled by Cannibals, then by Pirates and finally by some of the world's greatest Traders and Entrepreneurs; quite an exotic legacy! Since these earlier times, the natives have been known as BOIs, i.e. Born on the Island. Some of today's BOIs are the leading caretakers and promoters of this unique place, but others do seem to take it for granted. The "Immigrants", who have made the conscious choice to live here, are known as IBCs, i.e. Island by Choice. Many of them appreciate The Magical Island Kingdom, more than some BOIs, because they naturally compare it to the places where they have lived in the "outside world", which serves to highlight how truly special it really is!
Part of the charm of The Magical Island Kingdom is its scale. The 19th-Century layout was set up for trolleys, carriages and horses, but the narrow streets still accommodate trucks and cars quite nicely! The only traffic problem imposed by the original design is that it does not allow adequate space for today's parking requirements. Surveyor and inventor Gail Borden (condensed milk) laid out the City's simple grid pattern in 1837. The Avenues are lettered, and run east and west; with Avenue A nearest the Harbor on the north side of The Island. The Streets are numbered, and run north and south; with 6th Street located where Broadway meets Seawall, near the East end of the Island. The numbers rise, west of this intersection. Since the Island narrows as it approaches 6th Street, some Avenues don't make it that far east. Over the years, many streets have acquired second names, as they have been used to honor local dignitaries. For example, 22nd Street is also Kempner, and Avenue P is also Bernardo de Galvez Avenue.
The people who live in the residential areas experience a unique and entertaining daily event, as they watch others pass by, from their front porches. This "parade" is made up of the usual vehicular traffic, but also includes many more pedestrians than seen in most places, as well as horse-drawn carriages, the Galveston Trolley and surfers on their way to "catch a wave"! Even in January, a few brave souls walk by with their wet suits on, and their surf boards tucked under one arm! These neighborhoods take you back in time. They are places where people walk to the stores, the neighborhood bars and the beach; sit out on their stoops, and stop and visit with their neighbors, in their yards, or on their porches.
Downtown Galveston is now protected as The Strand National Historic Landmark District. In the mid-to-late Nineteen Century, it was the most powerful banking and financial center between New Orleans and San Francisco. This thriving business district generated the tremendous wealth that built this city. It is THE place to go for many of the activities and experiences that are unique to the Magical Island Kingdom, and it is also the locale for many of the special events such as Mardi Gras, Dickens on the Strand, and the Lonestar Biker Rally.
There is a sense of timelessness down on The Strand. Nothing is more relaxing and enjoyable than strolling through the streets, or sitting outside at one of its many bars, coffee shops or restaurants and just letting the world drift by.
It could be argued that the historical infrastructure in New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah and Charleston each surpass that in Galveston, but these coastal cities are NOT located right on the beach! Their "nearby beaches" are at least a 30-60 minute drive away, and much more than that, during peak demand periods.
Galveston is the ONLY historic Southern city that is ON the beach, but is anything but just a "beach town". You get all the historical ambiance of a 19th-Century Southern city without having to drive miles to the nearest beach! Galveston has over 550 designated historical landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places and over 1500 historic homes. There are three historic neighborhoods: the East End Historic District, the Silk Stocking District and the Lost Bayou District. The Strand, is also a National Historic Landmark District.
Galveston has a major working port, but Mobile, Tampa, Savannah and Charleston all have busier harbors than Galveston, BUT far less ship activity. This is because all of the ships bound for Houston, Texas City and Galveston must pass through the Galveston Ship Channel, so it is the best place in the South to watch ships!
However, the Port of Galveston still misses out as thousands of ships each year sail past The Harbor on their way to Houston, but it is re-inventing itself as a major Cruise Ship Terminal. Cruising is breathing new life into the Port economy. The cruise ships are fun to watch at departure time, or out in the Channel; and they usually let out a few blasts on their fog horns as they slip away from the dock.
There are many special events to enjoy in The Magical Island Kingdom, like Mardi Gras, the Historic Home Tour, the Spring Air Show, the Lone Star Biker Rally, the Loft Tour, Dickens on The Strand, and artwalks, as well as year-round indoor and outdoor activities and entertainment! There is a real "festive" atmosphere that permeates the place, and just like the Pirates who settled The Island; everyone here loves to PARTY!
Hotels and Motels
The 1900 Storm
The Cadillac Caravan
Dickens on The Strand
The Grade Raising
Harvest Moon Regatta
Lone Star Flight Museum
Lone Star Biker Rally
The Ship Channel
Songs About Galveston
West of 39th Street
Galveston, Galveston Island, Galveston Texas, TX, Houston, Galveston County, 77550, 77551
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