Fun Facts About Galveston

July 20, 2023

Paul Kay

Have you taken a vacation to Texas? You might have visited the larger cities like Dallas, San Antonio or Austin, but have you visited Galveston? You might have heard of Galveston from a song that Glen Campbell sang in 1969 and went to the top of the country western charts. It made number 4 on the Billboard hot 100 and was certified gold by the RIAA in 1969. He recorded it with the famous “Wrecking Crew” and later joined them before he became famous.

We have fun facts about Galveston in this post. Since you are a traveler, you are probably looking for destinations or vacations. Did you know that Galveston is really a barrier island off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico? The island was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, but it was not settled by Europeans until the 18th century. Did you know that Galveston was a base for pirates? More on that later. Before Jean Lafitte arrived, Galveston was well known to the native Americans.

Cabeza de Vaca Galveston

Galveston is a city, but it is also an island that is now attached to the Texas mainland by a very large bridge. Before the first Europeans landed in 1528, Galveston Island was the home to Akokisa and Karankawa Indians.  A Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca became shipwrecked on the Island and lived among the Karankawa for several years as a medicine man and slave. 

Bernardo de Galvez

They named Galveston for Bernardo de Galvez, a Spanish colonial governor and general. Galvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas coast to New Orleans. In 1786, de Evia charted an area near the mouth of a river and named it Galveston Bay. Later, the island and city took the same name.

Jean Lafitte

Pirates frequently visited the island. Jean Lafitte established the colony of Campeche on Galveston Island in 1817. They eventually forced Lafitte to leave and the governance transition to Michel Menard and Samuel May Williams who incorporated the city as Galveston in 1839.

Because of its unique port and extensive coastline access, Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in the state. There are a number of firsts Galveston celebrates as a Texas city. Galveston had the state’s first golf course, opera house, post office, hospital and many other firsts.

Maybe you heard of the city because of the tragic storm that hit the city in 1900. A terrific book on the subject was written by Erik Larson entitled Isaac’s Storm. At the time of the storm, Galveston had a population of 37,000 and was the fourth largest city in Texas following Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. One-third of the city was completely destroyed, more than 3,600 buildings. The storm killed 6,000 people and left 8,000 homeless. As a result of the storm, a 16-foot-high and 17-foot-wide seawall was begun; the first section was completed in 1904. Behind it, 2,200 structures were raised by an average of five feet. 

Galveston Hurricane 1900

The storm created an enormous setback to the town both in terms of people and infrastructure. Galveston could not recover quickly, and Houston dug a new shipping channel in 1917. During the prohibition years, Galveston became a gambling, drinking and bootlegging location. This lasted until 1957 when the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team – the real lawmen of Texas) put a stop to gambling and illegal behavior in general.

Galveston had to reinvent itself and with the help of Galveston oilman George Mitchell, a revitalization effort began. Most of these efforts started in the 1980’s.  The Galveston Historical Foundation went into high gear, encouraging preservation and restoration and currently more than 2,000 buildings in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Galveston thrives on tourism. Tourism accounts for more than 7 million visitors annually. It is the fourth busiest cruise port in North America. There are more than 80 year-round festivals, special events, sporting events and attractions. The island has than 6,000 hotel rooms, and two convention centers with more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. 

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

If you like beaches, there are plenty of them with about 27 miles of beach on either side of the island. Galveston has reinvented itself and you can visit and see plenty of things in a day. The above picture is of the historic Pleasure Pier. It was originally built in the 1940s and underwent extensive renovations in the 2010s. Today, it features a variety of attractions, including carnival rides, food and beverage options, and shopping. It offers views of the Gulf of Mexico and is a popular tourist destination for locals and visitors alike. You should try the Bolivar Ferry. We have a review of that in our post on Galveston attractions. You should also visit the famous Galvez Hotel which is quite historic in the city. We reviewed that hotel in our Galveston hotels post. We hope you get a chance to visit Galveston -you’ll love it.

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