8_Texas_Seaport_Museum_w_ELISSAGalveston Then and Now



When studying the history of Texas, it is indisputable the importance of Galveston in shaping what Texas is today. A proud state, being one of the first of seven states that seceded from the Union, Galveston is richer in history than any place in the great state of Texas.

Prior to the Civil War, Galveston was one of the largest slave markets west of New Orleans. This booming city with a natural harbor became an important place for the Union efforts to control and also the Confederates trying to defend it. Dating back to the early 1500’s, the island was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva and prior to that it was a summer fishing ground for Native Americans.

In the early 1800’s, the island was used as a safe haven for the illegal slave trade because it avoided US laws against it as it was Spanish Texas until the 1850’s. After Texas’ independence and later United States annexation, Galveston still had more than a thousand slaves and in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the closure of 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline closed to block shipments of food, clothing and weapons. He later sent the carrier USS South Carolina which was met with little resistance.

Galvestonians were suffering from the blockade and that summer was very difficult for not only Galveston but all of Texas. On New Year’s Eve in 1862, led by General John Bankhead Magruder, the Confederates attacked the Union fleet in Galveston. It appeared, at first, to be a failure, but soon the tide turned and the Union fleet was forced to surrender. The loss of Galveston was considered one of the Union’s greatest defeats. Later, after the fall of New Orleans and Mobile Bay in Alabama, Galveston remained the only port in Confederate hands. By 1865 after much suffering and the yellow fever epidemic, the war finally ended in July of 1865.

In the early 1900’s there were over 50,00 new immigrants who came to Galveston from Europe and Asia. At that point in time, Galveston was,by far, the most worldly place in all of Texas. Prohibition had also made Galveston an entry point and distribution for illegal alcohol. By World War l Galveston was the leading cotton port in the world. It also was a large importer of sugar and exporter of wheat.

In the forties, insurance and banking magnate, William Lewis Moody, Jr. and his wife Libby established The Moody Foundation and laid the roots for what is now Moody Gardens and many other civic programs the foundation has supported. In the forties and fifties Galveston stagnated and Houston became larger in population and business activity. Houston businessman George P. Mitchell,also of The Woodlands fame, started a restoration and preservation of the Strand in Galveston. Much of the city’s beauty and historical standing can be attributed to Mitchell and Moody.

Since the late 1990’s and through Hurricane Ike, the property values have grown due to the increasing demand for second homes. Galveston is again flourishing despite its’ constant threat of storms.

Early_AV_copy  Ashton_Villa

Left: The 1859 Ashton Villa, first of Galveston’s great Broadway mansions, has long been at the center of the Island’s social life.

RIght: Saved from demolition in 1971 by GHF, 1859 Ashton Villa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.


The Strand now a vacation destination. Then Hutchings Sealy and Co Bank Building 24th and Strand

Here is a look at some of the famous storms that reshaped the island over the years:


1900 Galveston Hurricane

Overall, Galveston has had a relatively small number of direct hits, but some of have been devastating and changed the landscape of the island. The 1900 Galveston Hurricane is still considered to be the granddaddy of all hurricanes and remains the deadliest on US record. This of course happened before the technology was available to forecast and warn the occupants of impending danger. As a result, when this category 4 hurricane with winds 145 miles per hour made landfall on September 8 it is estimated 6,000- 8,000 people perished and 10,000 people left homeless, by what is also called the Great Storm by Galveston locals.

1915 Hurricane

Also a category 4, this made landfall in mid August and the 21 foot waves were slowed by the newly built Galveston Seawall. Two to four hundred people perished on the island and there was still a lot of destruction, but minor in comparison to its predecessor.

Hurricane Carla 1961

This ranks as one of the most intense tropical cyclones with wind gusts as high as 170 miles per hour and made its direct hit south of Galveston in Port O’Connor, Texas. There were 43 fatalities as a result of Carla.

Hurricane Alicia 1983

This hurricane ended what was the longest hurricane drought in us history after a three year drought. It was a category three and was in the end responsible for 23 deaths and $2 billion in damages. it was also the first hurricane that The National Hurricane Center issued landfall probabilities.

Hurricane Ike 2008

Only categorized as a category 2 when landing in Galveston, this immense storm was responsible for a total of over 29 billion in damages making it now third costliest ever behind Sandy and Katrina.

Real Estate

The Galveston population has fluctuated over the years and now stands at roughly 50,000 residents. Many of the homes are second homes. According to the Galveston Association of Realtors, the average price of a home on the island is $175,000 with a median price of $132,000. Average rental rates for a 900 square foot apartment is $725.00. Home prices on the west end of the seawall are almost double the east end of Galveston. After Ike in 2009, prices were about 20% lower due to the storm and as much to the “great recession”. Rentals in the peak season vary from $3,000 a week to as much as $8000 and are back to or are exceeding pre Ike levels.


Top Rated

Hotel Galvez & Spa

Built in 1911 by Bernardo de Galvez, for whom the city was named, Hotel Galvez is a Four Diamond AAA rated and is one of the finest places on the Gulf Coast. It features great views of the ocean, a heated outdoor pool and fresh Gulf Coast seafood at the grill.

2024 Seawall


Newer and all Encompassing

Moody Gardens Hotel

Located on the grounds are the famed Rainforest and Aquarium Pyramids, an IMAX theater and the bayside Moody Gardens Golf Course. There is a luxurious spa and free yoga classes on the weekends.

7 Hope Blvd.


Location and Conventions

San Luis Resort

522 Seawall Blvd.


Lighted tennis courts and recognized by Texas Monthly as having one of the state’s “Best Pools” featuring the H2O Lounge. Great views of the ocean and just recently opened a Grotto’s restaurant inside the hotel.


Tremont House

2300 Ships Mechanic Row


Originally built in 1839, it has hosted such guests as Sam Houston, Ulysses S. Grant and Buffalo Bill to name a few. European style design with high ceilings and French doors. It also was home to refugees seeking shelter after the Storm of 1900.


Gaido’s is a must dining experience for anyone visiting the island. Located on the seawall, Gaido started serving when people still arrived by horse and buggy. They have had time to perfect it and they have. Luigi’s for Italiano. This is the real deal located on the Strand. Fancy and intimate. Check out the Luigi Piccola Tavola room for groups up to twelve people.

Saltwater Grill is across the street from the Opera House and reservations are recommended. Nothing fancy, but the food.


The Grand Opera House was built in 1894 and proclaimed the “Official Opera House of Texas”. They have some great entertainers and shows..Go to thegrand.com. Located at 2020 Post Office. For military enthusiasts or history buffs check out Colonel Bubbies Surplus and pick up that official US Navy pea coat you have been needing for the winters. Located at 2202 Strand St. Galveston Arts Center (2502 Market St.) is non-profit that hosts 25 exhibits a year of contemporary art. Also home to Art Works which supports local artists.