The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 107
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approach" (p. 2) that uses Galveston to make a general point about the
importance of environment and technology in city building; and, on the
other hand, he stresses Galveston's uniqueness-" its distinct character"
(p. 3). The point of reconciliation between these two potentially contradic-
tory themes is that Galveston is distinctive because environment and
technology affected it in a unique way.
On balance, McComb's argument is well supported and convincing,
although a tighter organization and a less cluttered narrative would have
made the themes easier to follow, and a more explicitly comparative con-
text might have muted somewhat the claims of uniqueness. Savannah,
Charleston, and Mobile come to mind as port cities that, like Galveston,
declined partly because of competition from railroads and changes in the
cotton culture. Unlike Galveston, of course, they are upriver ports, bet-
ter protected from the fury and force of the sea.
Despite the fact that Galveston Island is a long, low, thin barrier island
with no bedrock-essentially a glorified sand bar, it provided the best
naturally protected harbor between New Orleans and the Rio Grande.
The island attracted early explorers and pirates and was destined to be
the site of the principal port and largest city in Texas until man could
combine technology with initiative to build better alternatives.
Arguably the most important event in the history of Galveston did not
occur in Galveston at all and is only mentioned briefly in this book. That,
of course, was the building of the Houston ship channel and port, which
is well covered in McComb's own Houston: A History and in Marilyn
McAdams Sibley's The Port of Houston. With the completion of the Bayou
City's man-made port around the turn of the century, Galveston's glory
years were over. The great storm of 1900, which killed an estimated 6,000
Galvestonians, did not cause the city's decline; it only confirmed in a grisly
manner the island's well-known vulnerability. In fact, the governmental
reform and sea-wall construction accomplished in response to the storm
probably kept the city from declining even more rapidly.
Moderate growth continued through World War II. Since then the
city has stagnated with a population of just over 60,000. By the end of
the 1970s six Texas ports exceeded Galveston in tonnage.
McComb explains how Galveston, having lost its shipping dominance
and having been denied significant industry for reasons of geography and
water supply, relied on government spending (several small military in-
stallations and the University of Texas Medical Branch) and tourism to
bolster the local economy. To keep the tourists occupied, the city elite
tolerated open prostitution, gambling, and illegal liquor sales until the
1950s. McComb's tales of this sin-city era are the liveliest part of the book.
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/133/: accessed August 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.