I Still Dream of Galveston

Galveston is one of the oldest and most historic cities in Texas.

1859 Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
1859 Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its time as a major 1800s-era shipping port, through the devastating Hurricane of 1900 and up until modern day, Galveston has played a major role in shaping Texas history.

Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the US. From soft sandy beaches to famous 19th century architecture, the island is surrounded with incredible history and unique beauty.

Running parallel to Galveston Beach and the Gulf of Mexico is the island’s famous Seawall that stretches for more than 10 miles and rises 17 feet above mean sea level. The Seawall was built to protect Galveston from hurricanes, following the Hurricane of 1900 that devastated the island.

Moody Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moody Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Seawall is as much a playground as it is a protective barrier for the City against the ever changing tides of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you enjoy biking, strolling, or just people watching, the Seawall is the place to visit.

A premier Texas destination, Galveston never disappoints with its unlimited attractions. Our favorites follow.

1859 Ashton Villa: The first of Galveston’s great Broadway “palaces”,  Ashton Villa set the standard for the magnificent homes that followed. It was the first brick house to be built in Texas.

1892 Bishop’s Palace: Galveston’s grandest and best-known building, is an ornate delight of colored stone, intricately carved ornaments, rare woods such as rosewood and white mahogany, stained-glass windows, massive sliding doors, bronze dragons and other sculptures, and impressive fireplaces from around the world—including one lined with pure silver.

Ocean Star Drilling Rig & Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ocean Star Drilling Rig & Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1885 Moody Mansion: A portrayal of early 20th century family life among Galveston’s elite.

Grand 1894 Opera House: Among the nation’s finest historical theaters, the Grand 1894 Opera House, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as “The Official Opera House of Texas”.

Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship Elissa: With two floors of exhibits, historic photos, and displays, the Texas Seaport Museum highlights the history of the Port of Galveston that includes its rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration. Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company.

Strand Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Strand Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pier 21 Theater: The Pier 21 Theater features two theatrical presentations about Galveston’s historic past: The Great Storm and The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte. The Great Storm documentary details the 1900 hurricane which killed 6,000 and changed the Island’s history.

Ocean Star Drilling Rig & Museum: Three floors of models and interactive displays illustrate the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. The Ocean Star was a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, and as such it was towed from place-to-place to drill test wells in the quest for oil and gas.

Strand Historic District: 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.

Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship Elissa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship Elissa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Railroad Museum: Located in the former Santa Fe Union Station, the Galveston Railroad Museum depicts the city’s rail heritage. One of the five largest in the country, the Railroad Museum features more than 20,000 railroad items, including three steam engines, three diesel engines, 15 passenger/business/ex­press cars, 14 freight cars, three cabooses, and the stream­lined Texas Limited passenger train.

Moody Gardens: The 242-acre Moody Gardens is part theme park, part educational and rehabilitative facility, part pleasure garden. Amidst the profusion of tropical plants gleam three glass pyramids—pink, blue, and white—housing a 10-story rainforest, one of the world’s largest aquariums, and an educational Discovery Museum. The complex also includes a 3D theater, 4D Special FX theater, and 3-D Ridefilm theater, Palm Beach with white sand and freshwater lagoons, 19th century style Colonel Paddlewheeler with one-hour narrative cruises, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and a luxury hotel.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.

—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum

Three floors of models and interactive displays illustrate the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. Scale models of production platforms, actual drill bits, and remotely-operated vehicles as well as videos and exhibits explain drilling, geology, seismic, well servicing, and production.

The Ocean Star was a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, and as such it was towed from place-to-place to drill test wells in the quest for oil and gas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following a leisurely tour inside the museum, visitors can take the skywalk out onto the drill floor of the rig, or visit the exhibits on the pipe deck from the first floor of the museum.

A former offshore drilling rig, the Ocean Star was built in 1969 at the Bethlehem Steelyard in Beaumont, Texas. The Ocean Star, with its large (210 feet x 170 feet) A-frame mud mat, was designed to work primarily in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ocean Star was a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, and as such it was towed from place-to-place to drill test wells in the quest for oil and gas. Since its 234-foot-long legs had to reach the ocean floor, the Ocean Star was limited to working in a maximum depth of 173 feet. This depth left enough space for the required air gap (space between the rig and the ocean) of 25-30 feet. During its working life, the Ocean Star drilled about 200 wells.

Entering the Ocean Star you’ll learn how oil workers board the rig by way of a “Billy Pugh” personal basket. The remainder of the first floor highlights the sub-sea operations in offshore drilling.

An aquarium showcases two aspects of the offshore industry: a scale model depicting the Ocean Star’s legs and mud mat and the Rigs to Reef program, in which the offshore industry benefits marine life by converting obsolete platforms into artificial reef habitats.

The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center is docked at Pier 19 in Galveston. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across from the aquarium is the Mitchell Energy Theater where you’ll view a 15-minute film “The Story of Offshore”.

Visitors continue their tour by proceeding to level 2—discovery and production. The purpose of a drilling rig is to drill a hole miles deep in the ocean floor in hopes of finding oil or gas. The Ocean Star’s role was merely to find oil. Once oil is found, a production platform is built to produce the oil.

As you continue through this level, you’ll learn how geological and seismic evidence are used to determine where oil and gas are likely to be found.

You’ll continue your tour by proceeding to level 3—life on a rig. Except for the control room, level 3 was added when the Ocean Star was converted into a museum. As well as affording a bird’s eye view of the seascape, this level has various models of rigs and ships used in the offshore industry.

You’ll conclude your tour by passing through the control room and crossing the skywalk onto the drill floor where the actual drilling work occurred. Standing under the 147-foot-high derrick gives one a sense of what it must be like to work on such an extraordinary piece of equipment.

Admission: $8; seniors $5

Location: Pier 19, Harborside Drive

The museum features three floors of models and interactive displays illustrating the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Information: (409) 766-STAR (7827)

Website: oceanstaroec.com

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: The Moody Heritage

Following are more of our favorite Galveston attractions…

Moody Gardens

The Rainforest Pyramid is now open after $25 million in enhancements. (Credit: drclue.com)

Surprises abound at Moody Gardens, a 242-acre wonderland just off Interstate 45 northeast of Offats Bayou. Lush gardens surround the 242 acre complex, which features three shimmering glass pyramids rising from the coastal flats that contain fascinating exhibits plus 3D IMAX Theatre.

The Aquarium Pyramid, the largest and arguably most remarkable exhibit of the three pyramids, boasts 1.5 million gallons of aquatic environments and houses about 8,000 specimens of marine life from the North and South Pacific, South Atlantic, and Caribbean. Sharks, sea turtles, eels, and thousands of beautiful tropical fish swim overhead as you navigate through an underwater tunnel completely surrounded by the exhibit’s one-million gallons of water.

Sharks In Depth, the latest exhibit in the Aquarium Pyramid, explores the mysterious and often-misunderstood world of sharks, from where they live and what they eat, to how they are designed for their environments.

The Rainforest Pyramid is now open after $25 million in enhancements that takes you closer than ever to the over 1,000 species of exotic plants and animals from the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and the Americas that populate the multi-level 10-story glass pyramid.

Your journey starts through the Rainforests of the World on a new walkway overlooking the endangered giant Amazon River otter exhibit before entering the pyramid at the canopy level, letting you explore the rainforest from the air and giving you a better opportunity to spot the birds, sloths, white-faced saki monkeys, cotton-top tamarins, and other free-roaming tree-dwellers.

Scarlet Macaw at the Moody Gardens Rain Forest Pyramid. (Credit: Dee Ann Pederson/art.com)

The canopy walkway also includes one of Moody Gardens’ most beloved features— a walk-in butterfly exhibit that lets you mingle with several species of beautiful butterflies.

And the pink-hued Discovery Pyramid offers a unique peek into the world of science, from the heavens to the earth. Spectacular traveling exhibits from around the country provide interactive demonstrations showcasing the world of science that surrounds you.

The current exhibit, “Bones: An Exhibit Inside You”, was originally developed by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The exhibit features exciting and interactive activities to teach visitors about bones. It examines bone biology, keeping bones healthy, and how bones are a part of cultures all over the world.

Admission: $49.95 (includes admission  to Aquarium Pyramid, 3D Theater, 4D Special FX Theater, Ridefilm Theater, Discovery Museum, and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat); two-day pass $64.95; discount available when purchased online

Location: One Hope Boulevard

Admission: (800) 582-4673

Website: moodygardens.com

Moody Mansion

Purchased by W.L. Moody six days after the 1900 storm (reportedly for “ten cents on the dollar”), this imposing 28,000-square-foot limestone and-brick mansion has 32 rooms filled with opulent furnishings and heirlooms from one of Texas’s most powerful families. Mr. and Mrs. Moody and their four children celebrated the first of more than eighty Christmas seasons in the house in December of that year. Built in 1895, the mansion remained home for Moody family members until 1986.

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas.

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The furnishings are all original to the family and to the house. Each room on the main floor is decorated in a different style. The house was meticulously restored in the late 1980s and first opened to the public in 1991.

When W.L. Moody died in 1954, Time magazine proclaimed him one of the 10 wealthiest men in the country. Moody’s philanthropist daughter, Mary Moody Northen, made her social debut in the mansion’s ballroom in 1911 and lived here until it was damaged by hurricane Alicia in 1983. It was subsequently restored with 1900- era furnishings.

During Hurricane Ike, five feet of water covered the main floor; however tours of Moody Mansion were able to be resumed the following Thanksgiving weekend.

Admission: $8.00; seniors $7

Location: 2618 Broadway

Phone: (409) 762-7668 or (409) 765-9770

Website: moodymansion.org

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

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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I Dream of Galveston: Opera House, Flight Museum & more

Following are more of our favorite Galveston attractions…

The Grand 1894 Opera House

The Grand 1894 Opera House. (Credit: runtrails.net)

One of the few remaining theaters of its era in Texas, The Grand, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As further recognition of its importance to the citizens of Texas, in 1993 the 73rd Texas Legislature proclaimed The Grand “The Official Opera House of Texas”.

The eclectic roster of entertainers who have performed here includes Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, the Marx Brothers, Bill Cosby, and Ray Charles.

After a stint as the largest theater in Texas, the opera house underwent a $7 million award-winning restoration in the 1970s that reclaimed its original splendor.

The Grand presents a full schedule of performing artists year-round.

Location: 2020 Post Office Street

Information: (409) 763-7173 or (800) 821-1894

Website: thegrand.com

Lone Star Flight Museum

Blue Angel at Texas Aviation Hall of Fame/Lone Star Flight Museum at Galveston. (Credit: Will Auen/blueangels.org)

A huge hanger houses an extensive and impressive collection of restored WWII
fighters, bombers, and other aircraft, including a replica of the famous B-17
Thunderbird “Flying Fortress”, which returned from an unheard of 116 bombing
missions.

The Aviation Hall of Fame, home of the Lone Star Flight Museum, is located on a former military airbase that is now operated as a general airport. The Hall of Fame, which opened in 1999, houses a rare collection of historically significant aircraft, including fighters, bombers, and liaison trainers that have been restored to flying condition by volunteers. More than 40 aircraft are on display.

The Texas Aviation Hall of Fame/Lone Star Flight Museum complex is located next to Moody Gardens at the Galveston International Airport at Scholes Field.

Admission: $8.00; seniors $5.00

Location: 2002 Terminal Drive

Information: (409) 740-7722 or (888) FLY-LSFM (359-5736)

Website: lsfm.org

1838 Michel B. Menard Home

One of the founders of the City of Galveston, Michel B. Menard arrived in Texas in 1829. He was born near Montreal in 1805 and entered the fur trading company of John Jacob Astor at the age of 14. Menard arrived in Nacogodoches in the 1830s and began speculating in Texas land.

The 1838 Michel B. Menard House, Galveston’s oldest surviving residential dwelling. (Credit: galvestonhistory.org)

Because land was only granted to Mexican-born Texans at that time, many of Menard’s land deals were made by Juan Seguin, a Mexican citizen who eventually fought under Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. Seguin purchased 4,600 acres at the eastern end of Galveston Island on behalf of Menard in December 1836. With this claim, Menard formed the Galveston City Company with Samuel May Williams and other prominent Texas businessmen in 1838. Galveston was incorporated a year later.

The house, built in 1838 and the oldest on the island, is in the Greek revival style. The furniture and furnishings, with few exceptions, all date from the first half of the 19th century.

Michel Menard died in 1856 and his descendants occupied the house until 1879. In 1880, the house was bought by Edwin N. Ketchum, police chief during the 1900 Storm. The Ketchum family owned the home until the 1970s.

During the early 1990s, the house was in such disrepair, it was threatened with demolition by the City of Galveston. The current owners purchased the house and spent years researching, repairing, and reconstructing it. Through a partnership with Galveston Historical Foundation, the house is operated as a museum and is available for private events.

Location: 1604 33rd Street

Information: (409) 762-3933

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

The universe is filled with wonder and magical things.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston.

—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Galveston Ferry & Railroad Museum

Following are more of our favorite Galveston attractions…

Galveston Island Ferry

Aboard the Galveston Island Ferry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive aboard or park and walk onto the free ferry between Galveston and Port Bolivar. Ferry service has been a part of the Texas transportation system since the 19th century when the skiff, The Tarpon, began operating from Galveston Island.

The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry is the bridge between two segments of State Highway 87. South of I-10, State Highway 87 is the only highway around Galveston Bay. The free ferry service provided by TxDOT is the only way motorists can cross the waterway between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.

Throughout the year, more than 8 million people use the TxDOT ferry system.

This 2.7 mile ride (approximately 18 minutes) to Port Bolivar provides an excellent view of Galveston’s harbor, Seawolf Park, SS Selma, and opportunity to feed the flocks of gulls which usually sail with the ferries.

The ferries run 24 hours and follow regular, seasonal schedules.

Information: (409)795-2230

Location: Galveston Ferry Landing

Website: dot.state.tx.us

Aboard Galveston Island Ferry looking across to Seawolf Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Railroad Museum

Located in the former Santa Fe Union Station, at the end of Strand on 25th Street, the Galveston Railroad Museum depicts the city’s rail heritage.

One of the five largest in the country, the Railroad Museum features more than 20,000 railroad items, including three steam engines, three diesel engines, 15 passenger/business/ex­press cars, 14 freight cars, three cabooses, and the stream­lined Texas Limited passenger train. Three baggage cars and a coach have been remodeled, and now house pro­tected exhibits of railroad artifacts and photographs. Ex­hibits of railroad china are also on display.

When renovations were complete in 1982, the Museum opened its doors to visitors. Since then, well over a million visitors have toured the Museum.

The state’s first steam locomotive, the “General Sherman,” arrived at the Port of Galveston in 1853. Railroads became the lifeblood of Texas commerce, with an ever-expanding network of rail arteries serving to link major areas. As the largest, most cosmopolitan city in the southwest, Galveston in the late 1800s was the heart, pumping cotton, sugar, and other goods onto and off of rail cars at its thriving port.

During its railroading history Galveston Island has been headquarters of and/or served by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe, the Galveston, Houston and Henderson, the Gulf and Interstate, the M-K-T, the Texas and Pacific, the Burlington-Rock Island, Missouri Pacific, and the Southern Pacific.

This Galveston Island Railroad Museum poster depicts a very small sampling of the extraordinary collection of restored engines, cars, and railroad memorabila showcased here. (Credit: galvestonimagespastandpresent.com)

Even today railroads play a part in Galveston life. The port is served by the Union Pacific and its subsidiary the Southern Pacific, and by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroads. These lines carry grain, sugar, sulfur, and other commodities daily.

Admission: $6; seniors $5

Location: 123 25th Street

Information: (409)765-5700

Website: galvestonrrmuseum.com

Note: After being closed for renovations, Galveston Railroad Museum is now open

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Find what brings you joy and go there.

Worth Pondering…
I still see her standing by the water
Standing there lookin’ out to sea
And is she waiting there for me?
On the beach where we used to run.
—Glen Campbell

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I Dream of Galveston: Must-see Attractions

Following are some of our favorite Galveston attractions…

1859 Ashton Villa

Ashton Villa was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house by 1861. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first of Galveston’s great Broadway “palaces”, 1859 Ashton Villa set the standard for the magnificent homes that followed. It was the first brick house to be built in Texas.

In this house, the most dominant figures were the daughters, Bettie and Mathilda.

The artistic and eccentric Miss Bettie Brown was mistress of the manor, and her life-size paintings still adorn the showy Gold Room.

Mr. Brown lived in the house until his death on Christmas Day, 1895 at age 74. Mrs. Brown died in 1907. The house went to Bettie, who lived here until her death in 1920. Mathilda who came back to Ashton Villa in 1896 after she divorced her husband Thomas Sweeney, inherited leaving it to her daughter Alice in 1926.

The house was sold to the Shriners, who used it as offices until 1970, when the house was taken over by the Galveston Historical Foundation, who opened it to the public in 1974.

Ashton Villa is still recovering from damage sustained from Hurricane Ike, after losing windows and suffering flooding.

Location: 2328 Broadway

Phone: (409) 762-3933

Note: Ashton Villa is closed until further notice

Bishop’s Palace

The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston’s grandest and best-known building, the Bishop’s Palace is an ornate delight of colored stone, intricately carved ornaments, rare woods such as rosewood and white mahogany, stained-glass windows, massive sliding doors, bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxury materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces from around the world—including one lined with pure silver.

The hand-carved staircase railing, which took six years to finish, demonstrates the meticulous workmanship found throughout the interior as well as the artistic craftsmanship on the exterior.

Built by lawyer Colonel Walter Gresham and designed by Nicholas Clayton, Galveston’s premier architect, this Victorian castle was cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America. The home was built from 1886 to 1892.

After the Galveston-Houston Catholic Diocese purchased the house in 1923, Bishop Christopher Byrne lived here—hence the name Bishop’s Palace.

If you can only visit one of Galveston’s architectural treasures, the exquisite Bishop’s Palace is the one to see.

Admission: Adults: $10

Location: 1402 Broadway

Information: (409) 762-2475

1861 Custom House

One of the oldest and most elegant public buildings in Galveston, the U.S. Custom House has been Galveston Historical Foundation’s headquarters since 1999. (Credit: galvestonhistory.org)

One of the oldest and most elegant public buildings in Galveston, the U.S. Custom House has been Galveston Historical Foundation’s headquarters since 1999.

The U.S. Custom House was begun in 1860 and completed in 1861. The Boston firm of Blaisdell and Emerson built it in 114 days, an unprecedented accomplishment at the time. The extensive use of fireproof cast iron was revolutionary and likely accounted for the survival from the 1885 Galveston Fire.

During the Civil War, the Confederate Army occupied the building. In 1865, the Custom House was the site of the ceremony officially ending the war in Galveston. The U.S. Government resumed occupancy that year after making extensive repairs.

Significant alterations were made in 1917 when the U.S. Custom House became the Federal Courthouse and a courtroom was created on the second floor. Continuing to serve as a courthouse and offices for federal agencies throughout the twentieth century, the U.S. Custom House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The building is not set up for visitors, although it is open for those who wish to do Galveston research, including information on the many historic residential homes.

Information: (409) 762-3933

Location: 502 20th Street

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

Read More