Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within a land area of . Located within the metropolitan area, the city is the seat and second-largest city of Galveston County in population.
Named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, Galveston's first European settlements on the island were constructed around 1816. The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 by the Congress of Mexico following its successful independence from Spain. The city served as the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution and later served as the capital of the Republic of Texas.
During the 19th century, Galveston became a major U.S. commercial center and one of the largest ports in the United States. Galveston is known for the hurricane that devastated the city in 1900. The natural disaster that followed still counts as the deadliest in American history.
Much of Galveston's modern economy is centered in the tourism, health care, shipping, and financial industries. The University of Texas Medical Branch campus with an enrollment of more than 2,500 students is a major economic force of the city. Galveston is home to six historic districts containing one of the largest and historically significant collections of 19th-century buildings with over 60 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Exploration, settlement and 19th century
Galveston Island was originally inhabited by members of the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes who used the name "Auia" for the island. The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were shipwrecked on the island or nearby in November 1528, calling it "Isla de Malhado" ("Isle of Doom"), and there began his famous trek to Mexico. During his charting of the Gulf Coast in 1785, the Spanish explorer José de Evia named the island Gálvez-town or Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez. The first permanent European settlements on the island were constructed around 1816 by the pirate Louis-Michel Aury as a base of operations to support Mexico's rebellion against Spain. In 1817, Aury returned from an unsuccessful raid against Spain to find Galveston occupied by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Lafitte organized Galveston into a pirate "kingdom" he called "Campeche", anointing himself the island's "head of government." Lafitte remained in Galveston until 1821 when he and his raiders were forced off the island by the United States Navy.
In 1825 the Congress of Mexico established the Port of Galveston and in 1830 erected a customs house. Galveston served as the capital of the Republic of Texas when in 1836 the interim president David G. Burnet relocated his government there. In 1836, the French-Canadian Michel Branamour Menard and several associates purchased of land for $50,000 to found the town that would become the modern city of Galveston. As Anglo-Americans migrated to the city, they brought along or purchased African-American slaves, some of whom worked domestically or on the waterfront, including on riverboats.
In 1839 the City of Galveston adopted a charter and was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas. The city was by then a burgeoning port and attracted many new residents among the flood of German immigrants to Texas in the 1840s and later, including Jewish merchants. Together with ethnic Mexican residents, these groups tended to oppose slavery, support the Union during the Civil War, and join the Republican Party after the war.
During this expansion, the city had many "firsts" in the state, with the founding of institutions and adoption of inventions: post office (1836), naval base (1836), Texas chapter of a Masonic order (1840); cotton compress (1842), Catholic parochial school (Ursuline Academy) (1847), insurance company (1854), and gas lights (1856).
In the late 1890s, the government constructed Fort Crockett defenses and coastal artillery batteries in Galveston and along the Bolivar Roads.
By the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston had a population of 37,000. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade in Texas, and one of the largest cotton ports in the nation, in competition with New Orleans. During this golden era of Galveston's history, its progress as a city continued with numerous "firsts": the opera house (1870), orphanage (1876), telephone (1878) and electric lights (1883).
During the post-Civil-War period, leaders such as George T. Ruby and Norris Wright Cuney, who headed the Texas Republican Party, promoted civil rights for freedmen, helping to dramatically improve educational and employment opportunities for blacks in Galveston and in Texas.
In February 1897, Galveston was officially visited by the USS Texas (nicknamed Old Hoodoo), the first commissioned battleship of the United States Navy. During the festivities, the ship's officers were presented with a $5,000.00 silver service, adorned with various Texas motifs, as a gift from the citizens of the state.
Hurricane of 1900 and recovery
On September 8, 1900, the island was struck by a devastating hurricane. This event holds the record as the United States' deadliest natural disaster. The city was devastated, and an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people on the island were killed. Following the storm, a long, high seawall was constructed to protect the city from floods and hurricane storm surge. A team of engineers including Henry Martyn Robert (Robert's Rules of Order) designed the plan to raise much of the existing city to a sufficient elevation behind a seawall so that confidence in the city could be maintained.
Despite attempts to draw new investment to the city after the hurricane, Galveston never fully returned to its previous levels of national importance or prosperity. Development was also hindered by the construction of the Houston Ship Channel, which brought the Port of Houston into direct competition with the natural harbor of the Port of Galveston for sea traffic. To further her recovery, and rebuild her population, Galveston actively solicited immigration. Through the efforts of Rabbi Henry Cohen and Congregation B'nai Israel, Galveston became the focus of an immigration plan called the Galveston Movement that, between 1907 and 1914, diverted roughly 10,000 Eastern European, Jewish immigrants from the crowded cities of the Northeastern United States. Additionally numerous other immigrant groups, including Greeks, Italians and Russian Jews came to the city during this period. This immigration trend substantially altered the ethnic makeup of the island, as well as many other areas of Texas and the western U.S.
Though the storm stalled economic development and the city of Houston grew into the region's principal metropolis, Galveston economic leaders recognized the need to diversify from the traditional port-related industries. In 1905 William Lewis Moody, Jr. and Isaac H. Kempner, members of two of Galveston's leading families, founded the American National Insurance Company. Two years later, Mr. Moody further invested in Galveston by establishing the City National Bank, which would later become the Moody National Bank.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the city re-emerged as a major tourist destination. Under the influence of Sam Maceo and Rosario Maceo, the city exploited the prohibition of liquor and gambling in clubs like the Balinese Room offering entertainment to wealthy Houstonians and other out-of-towners. Combined with prostitution which had existed in the city since the Civil War, Galveston became known as the sin city of the Gulf. Galvestonians accepted and even supported the illegal activities, often referring to their island as the "Free State of Galveston". The island had entered what would later become known as the open era.
The 1930s and 1940s brought much change to the Island City. During World War II, the Galveston Municipal Airport, predecessor to Scholes International Airport, was re-designated a U.S. Army Air Corps base and named "Galveston Army Air Field". In January 1943, Galveston Army Air Field was officially activated with the 46th Bombardment Group serving an anti-submarine role in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1942, William Lewis Moody, Jr., along with his wife Libbie Shearn Rice Moody, established the Moody Foundation, with the purpose of "benefiting present and future generations of Texans." The foundation, one of the largest in the United States, would play a prominent role in Galveston during later decades, helping to fund numerous civic and health-oriented programs.
Post–World War II
The end of the war drastically reduced military investment in the island. Increasing enforcement of gambling laws and the growth of Las Vegas put pressure on the gaming industry on the island. Finally in 1957, Texas Attorney General Will Wilson and the Texas Rangers began a massive campaign of raids which wrecked gambling and prostitution in the city. As these vice industries crashed, so did tourism taking the rest of the Galveston economy with it. Neither the economy nor the culture of the city was the same afterward.
The economy of the island entered a long, stagnant period. Many businesses relocated off of the island during this period, however, health care, insurance and financial industries continue to be strong contributors to the economy. By 1959, the city of Houston had long out-paced Galveston in population and economic growth. Beginning in 1957 the Galveston Historical Foundation began its efforts to preserve historic buildings. The 1966 book The Galveston That Was helped encourage the preservation movement. Restoration efforts financed by motivated investors, notably Houston businessman George P. Mitchell, gradually created the Strand Historic District and reinvented other areas. A new, family-oriented tourism emerged in the city over many years.
The 1960s saw the expansion of higher education in Galveston. Already home to the University of Texas Medical Branch, the city got a boost in 1962 with the creation of the Texas Maritime Academy, predecessor of Texas A&M University at Galveston; and by 1967 a community college, Galveston College, had been established.
In the 2000s (decade), property values rose after expensive projects were completed and demand for second homes increased. Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island in the early morning of September 13, 2008 as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 miles per hour. The island has since re-established services and the population has returned but some damage remains.