I Dream of Galveston: The Strand & Texas Seaport Museum

Today we conclude the series on our favorite Galveston attractions.

Strand Historic District

Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston’s Strand was the city’s primary commercial area during the second half of the 19th century, when its star was bright and full of great promise. A thriving, energetic, and prosperous district, the Strand developed alongside the shipping channel and port that helped make the city the largest metropolis in the state.

Remaining buildings, many of them restored in recent years, display the range of architectural styles popular during the Victorian period. Notable buildings include Hendley Row, adjoining buildings constructed from 1858 to 1859, now the oldest commercial buildings in Galveston; the 1870 J. S. Brown Hardware Company Building, at one time the largest hardware firm south of the Mason Dixon line; the Rosenburg Building which housed the largest dry goods store in Texas in the 1870s; and the 1884 W. L. Moody Building, built by cotton broker, banker and state legislator Colonel W. L. Moody.

Features that give the Strand its unique charm include the high curbs, the overhanging canopies that were meant to shade the streets, and the horse drawn carriages that pass slowly in the streets.

The Strand Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, is roughly bounded by Avenue A, 20th Street, the alley between avenues C and D, and the railroad depot. The Galveston’s Strand neighborhood was never revived after the devastation of the 1900 hurricane, but it was part of a restoration project in the 1970s.

Today, it remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. The Strand is also the center of Mardi Gras celebrations, Dickens on the Strand festivities.

The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this part of town are the Galveston County Historical Museum, the Mardi Gras Museum, the Railroad Museum, and the Grand  1894 Opera House.

The Strand, once the Wall Street of the Southwest, is one of the finest concentrations of 19th-century iron-front commercial buildings in the United States.

Website: thestrand.com

Texas Seaport Museum and 1877 Tall Ship Elissa

Indeed, the restoration of this graceful barque of 1877 (Elissa) is reckoned by many to be the finest restoration of an active sailing ship extant.

—Peter Stanford, President, National Maritime Historical Society

The Texas Seaport Museum tells the story of a rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration.

The museum holds two floors of exhibits, historic photos, and displays. First-floor exhibits show some of the people who worked on Galveston during the 19th century, when it was a busy seaport. In addition to sailors and ship owners, there were 13- and 14-year-old apprentices training to become officers in the merchant service.

On the second floor, an exhibit highlights Galveston’s importance as a port of entry for immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. The city was once known as “the Ellis Island of the West.”

The Texas Seaport Museum compiled a computerized list of immigrants to Galveston for the period 1846 through 1948. Visitors can use computer terminals in the exhibition area to view the list. The database includes the names of passengers and other information retrieved from ships’ passenger manifests. The names of more than 133,000 passengers are entered.

Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She sailed with a crew of about a dozen, hauled up to 430 tons of cargo in its belly, and carried nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. The 134-year-old tall ship, which after 32 years as centerpiece of the Texas Seaport Museum, has drawn tens of thousands of passengers who simply want to walk the decks.

Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In Elissa’s case, she is a ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, nine inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast.

At the end of its working career, it sat for years, minus its sailing rig, in a Greek scrap yard.

Marine archaeologist Peter Throckmorton saw it in 1961 and identified it as an old sailing ship. Plans were put into motion to try to save it. Eventually the Galveston Historical Foundation bought it for $40,000. Its hull, made of riveted iron, had to be patched with steel to make it seaworthy enough to be towed from Greece to Galveston, where it was restored.

Old pictures, plans, and documents were consulted during the five-year restoration, which cost about $4 million. Much had to be re-created, but most of the hull and framework are original.

Informational plaques aboard ship identify various features and give their history.

Admission includes self-guided tours of the Texas Seaport Museum and Elissa, a theater presentation, and access to the Galveston Immigration Database.

Admission: $8

Location: Pier 21, Number 8, Harborside Drive

Information: (409) 763-1877

Please Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin’
I still see her dark eyes glowin’
She was 21 when I left Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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