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: 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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