victorian architecture
Credit: Galveston Island CVB

 

In the late 1800’s Galveston was a cosmopolitan port city, flush with prosperity. The wealth generated from exporting cotton was reflected in the fashions of well-heeled residents, and in the adorned aesthetic of Victorian architecture. Millionaire mansions lined Broadway and grand estates dotted the island. It was a gilded era that earned Galveston’s Avenue B - aka The Strand - the nickname ‘Wall Street of the South’.

hurricane wreckageVerkin Photo Company Collection, 1900-1945, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Like a tale too good to be true, Galveston would suffer great calamity at the height of its grandeur. In September 1900 a hurricane devastated the island; a storm still regarded as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. The carnage was total, both in terms of lives lost and physical destruction. The splendour of Galveston never quite recovered though, sealing its golden age firmly in the past. Luckily for today’s nostalgic traveller though, there are plenty of opportunities to be glamoured by the city’s legendary lore and glitzy past. Here are twelve ways to relive Galveston's golden days.

 

Meet Galveston’s Pirate Founder

Jean LafitteRosenberg Library, Galveston, Wikicommons

As they say, how can you resist a town whose first known European settler was a pirate?

Jean Lafitte was a swashbuckling privateer who was surprisingly said to be “cultured and debonair”. He established the colony of Campeche (on Galveston Island) and was later forced to leave…but not before first torching his town.

Travellers can learn all about the notorious founder at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast. It's an interactive experience that will have the young and young-at-heart diving headlong into pirate culture. 

 

Tour Galveston’s Darling Dollhouses


Many of Galveston’s treasured mansions have been lovingly preserved. Some have New Orleans-style galleries, many have gabled roofs, and others are skirted by handsome, wrought-iron fences. Here are 5 unmissable homes and palaces: 

Bishops Palace

Moody Mansion At Night GalvestonGalveston Island CVB

Address: 1402 Broadway Street
Websitegalveston.com/bishopspalace


Ashton Villa

Ashton mansion galvestonGalveston Island CVB

 Address: 2328 Broadway Avenue J
Websitegalveston.com/ashtonvilla 

The Moody Mansion

Moody MansionGalveston Island CVB

Address: 2618 Broadway Avenue J
Websitemoodymansion.org 

Michael B. Menard House

Michael B. Menard HouseGalveston Island CVB

Fun fact: Michael Menard, a founding father of the City of Galveston, was actually Montreal-born. Click the link below to learn more about the Canadian and his role in shaping Galveston. 

Address: 1605 33rd Street
Website: 
galveston.com/menard 


East End Historical District

East End Historic DistrictGalveston Island CVB

  

Wander the Historic Strand District

Wander the Historic Strand DistrictGalveston Island CVB

It would be a folly to visit Galveston without strolling the Historic Strand District. Not only is it brimming with modern day boutique shopping, dining and entertainment, but the district is steeped in picture-perfect Victorian architecture. Pass an afternoon perusing art galleries, museums, historical exhibitions, and antique shops, or kick up your feet and tour the district by trolley or horse-drawn carriage. (We suggest doing both!)

 

Toast to Celebrity Tourists of Yore

electric seawall galvestonGalveston Island CVB

The original Tremont House of 1839 “was one of the island’s most fashionable destinations” and we’d argue that today’s Tremont House still is.

How did The Tremont House earn its reputation? Hosting an admirable guest list, to start: American presidents, French and British foreign ministers. And then of course there were the grand balls, social engagements and military homecoming banquets.

In an all too familiar Galveston narrative, the original hotel was destroyed, burnt to the ground in a neighbourhood blaze in 1865. It was rebuilt in 1872, replete swanky style and posh patrons...until the infamous hurricane of 1900. The second Tremont House lay battered, its restoration hampered by a stagnating American economy. Sitting in disrepair it was condemned in 1928.

In 1981 the vision for the third Tremont House was undertaken (though relocated) to where it stands today, an iconic reminder of Galvestonian resilience. Given its history, to say that The Tremont House institution is ‘historic’ is an understatement; The Tremont House’s legacy is landmark.

Tremont Lobby Piano Palms BarGalveston Island CVB

Nostalgic visitors will swoon over a stay at The Tremont House. Dream dreams of grand ballrooms and stage coaches while tucked between fine linens.

Those who want the Tremont pomp without the price tag can swing by for a drink. Pull up a stool at the wood-panelled Toujouse Bar or take your aperitif in the lobby beneath towering, pencil-thin palms. Alternatively, you can elevate your experience by sipping a digestif on the Rooftop Bar. Yes, its trendy decor is ultra-modern, but you have to respect an artfully poured old-fashioned with a side of city views. 

 

The Grand 1894 Opera House

Grand 1894 Opera HouseFlickr/Allen Sheffield (CC BY 2.0)

New wealth demanded ways to spend its money and places to flaunt it, and Galveston quickly developed a penchant for arts and culture. At its epicentre was The Grand 1894 Opera House, Texas’ first venue for opera. Costing $100,000 to build, ‘The Grand’ is an inspired space that simply must be appreciated in person. Luckily, it survived the devastation of the 1900 hurricane.

Grand 1894 Opera HouseFlickr/Allen Sheffield (CC BY 2.0)

Today’s time travellers can experience an evening out at The Grand just as turn-of-the-century Galvestonians did. Ascend the staircase, trace its U-shaped auditorium and sink into a blue velour mezzanine seat. Or if you’re feeling spendy, enjoy the performance from the high perch of one of the opera house’s eight ornate boxes. 

 

Visit Eerie Reminders of the Past

SS Selma Shipwreck GalvestonGalveston Island CVB

For the offbeat traveller a visit to Point Bolivar Lighthouse, Broadway Cemetery or the SS Selma offers insight into colourful local history. 

Broadway CemeteryGalveston Island CVB

Broadway Cemetery is the final resting place of many infamous Galveston residents. Decorated with mausoleums and shifting tombstones, it’s also hauntingly beautiful. Tour it independently or let a local operator indulge you with local knowledge. 

The ferry ride to Point Bolivar is a scenic one, and a free one too. Admire the lonely lighthouse that once sheltered 125 souls in the 1900 hurricane. 

Boats cruising through Galveston Bay will no doubt take notice of the shipwrecked SS Selma. In a former life she was once used as a bootlegging store by prohibition-shirking rum runners. 

 


Are you a traveller fascinated by Galveston's golden era? 
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