Heritage, 2011, Volume 4 Page: 6
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Tom C. Doell
This issue of Texas HERITAGE has sev-
eral interesting articles about Galveston
and some of the island's important fami-
lies. One article is about the Moodys, and
another focuses on the Maceo clan and
their gambling establishments. A third
piece details the island's recovery in the
aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Most of us have been to Galveston to
enjoy its miles of sandy beaches. Nice ho-
tels and rental properties are readily avail-
able for lodging, and there is an abun-
dance of leisure activities. The city has a _
vibrant historic downtown district with
many shops and restaurants and is now served by two cruise
Galveston was discovered by Cabeza de Vaca in 1528.The
first settlers were pirates, and the island was occupied by Jean
Lafitte from 1817 until 1821 when the U.S. Navy removed
him and his raiders. In 1825, the Congress of Mexico estab-
lished the Port of Galveston, and five years later, a customs
house was opened. After adopting an official charter in 1839,
the City of Galveston was incorporated by the Congress of the
Republic of Texas.
Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New
Orleans and the largest city in the Republic. As such, the coast-
al community experienced rapid development: in 1836 a post
office was established, and the island became the site of the
Republic's naval base that same year; the city became home
to the Republic's first cotton press in 1842 and the state's first
insurance company in 1854; and Galveston subsequently wel-
comed gas lights (1856), an opera house (1870), the telephone
(1878), and electric lights in 1883.
By 1900 Galveston had become the biggest cotton port in
the country and the third busiest overall. Forty-five steamship
lines served the city, including the White Star Line, which
provided service between Galveston and Europe. The island
was also a destination for thousands of immigrants coming to
America during the 19th and 20th centuries.
To document this influx of settlers, the Texas Seaport Muse-
um has compiled the nation's only computerized listing of im-
migrants to Galveston. Museum staff transferred records from
passenger manifests provided by the National
Archives, books containing additional source
material, and isolated passenger lists pub-
lished in The Galveston Daily News. In total,
sN 1 the names of more than 130,000 immigrants
have been entered into the museum's database.
Information includes the names of passengers
and members of their traveling party, age, gen-
der, occupation, country of origin, ship name,
and dates of departure and arrival. Using that
database, I was able to find records of my Ger-
man ancestors, who arrived in Galveston in
My relatives and many others were witness
to the greatness of the island city in 1900. At that time, it was
reported that if population growth continued at its then ac-
celerated rate, Galveston would achieve the stature of New
Orleans, Baltimore, or San Francisco. This was not meant to
be, though, for in September of that year, Galveston was hit
by a massive hurricane, one that still stands as the most deadly
natural disaster to strike this country. More than 6,000 people
were killed-possibly as many as 10,000. One-third of the is-
land, almost 3,600 buildings, was destroyed. Afterwards, the
entire city was raised by eight feet or more and protected by
a new seawall, but Galveston never returned to its pre-storm
greatness. Seventeen years later, when Houston completed fur-
ther dredging to deepen its existing ship channel, much of the
port activity moved there-and along with it, the hope for the
island's economic revival.
But like a fighter who refuses to fall, Galveston's campaign
of renewal did finally succeed when decision-makers and citi-
zens focused on preserving the city's heritage by revitalizing its
historic downtown. This effort spread by prompting the pres-
ervation of the island's maritime and cultural history. Now,
with its bustling tourist business, luxurious historic hotels,
and beautifully preserved architecture, Galveston stands as a
symbol of survival and a shining example for the rest of the
Tom Doell is a businessman from Dallas. Send comments on this
column to: Texas Historical Foundation, P.O. Box 50314, Austin,
6 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 4 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 4, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254223/m1/6/: accessed September 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.