Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987 Page: 7
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Over thirty community
the Dickens Festival
as an opportunity for
raising funds for their
non-profit charity or
1895 Hutchings-Sealy Building on The Strand and the
1873 Washington Hotel Building on Ship's Mechanic Row,
both undertaken by George Mitchell.
These lovely iron front structures, making up the only
commercial district in Texas designated a National Historic
Landmark, provide a fitting setting for a festival which
celebrates the 19th century ties of the island of Galveston,
Texas to London. In the latter half of the last century, the
thriving city of Galveston was the largest port west of the
Mississippi. Cotton was king, and the Strand, home to mercantile
houses and bankers, was known as the Wall Street
of the Southwest. It was not surprising that Galveston grew
to be the largest city in the new state of Texas.
Galveston's continued growth was not to be, however;
the devastating storm of 1900, coupled with the dredging
of the ship channel to Houston dimmed the city's bright
future. The Victorian treasures of such noted architects as
Nicholas Clayton gradually became warehouses and flophouses,
sad reminders of a prominent past gone forever.
Galveston's heritage was just down for the count, not
down and out. The Junior League of Galveston County led
the way by restoring two of the important buildings. Later,
Galveston Arts opened the Arts Center. And, in 1973,
Galveston Historical Foundation established The Strand
Revolving Fund. Using real estate transactions with
facade easements retained by the Historical Foundation,
joint planning with the city for public improvements, and
marketing through national publicity and special events, a
broad coalition of citizens, governmental officials and
developers have propelled the district into a second life.
Juxtaposed with a working waterfront, home berth for the
Tall Ship ELISSA and the paddlewheeler COLONEL,
The Strand is a premiere visitor attraction today. There is
no better time to see and enjoy The Strand than during the
special Dickens weekend.
The gentle tones of handbells ring in the holiday season during
Galveston Historical Foundation's Dickens On the Strand. The
Handbell Festival is the world's largest outdoor handbell concert,
featuring hundreds of Victorian-costumed performers around the
Just as Charles Dickens melted the icy heart of mean
old Ebenezer Scrooge with the visits of the Spirits of
Christmas, Galveston Historical Foundation's (GHF)
Dickens on The Strand kindles the holiday spirit each
year with all the sights, sounds, tastes and fond memories
of Christmas past. Everyone working with the event,
whether vendor, volunteer or entertainer, gets into the
Dickens spirit by wearing a Victorian costume.
Dressing for Dickens has become almost an event in
itself. In fact, GHF sponsors an evening Dickens fashion
show each October to give hints for putting together a
simple costume, information on authentic Victorian styles
and even provide the essentials for sale, such as top hats
and bonnets. Area costumers and seamstresses urge customers
to place their orders early. Many long-time Dickens
volunteers including Galveston's mayor, Jan Coggeshall,
are already on their second or third Dickens costume!
Houston radio station KIKK sponsors a Dickens costume
contest. Visitors compete in 10 categories, such as
best elegant lady's costume or best working class man's
costume. Dickens characters have a special category all
their own, which produces many a Scrooge and some
wonderful Mr. Bumbles or Fagins. The children coming as
Oliver Twist types have an easy time putting on scarfs and
gloves with the fingers cut out, pants legs turned up for
knickers with knee socks, and, of course, a cap. Costumes
range from handmade replicas to authentic antiques, and
judges have quite a difficult job on their hands. Everyone
in costume is a winner, as free admission is given to all
who add to the fun of Dickens in this way.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987, periodical, Autumn 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45439/m1/7/: accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.