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History of Galveston, Texas
The History of Galveston, Texas, begins with the archaeological record of Native Americans who used the island. The first European settlements on the island were constructed around 1816. The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 by the Congress of Mexico following its successful revolution from Spain. The city served as the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution. Galveston was founded in 1836 by Matthew Sabo and served as the capital of the Republic of Texas. The Battle of Galveston was fought in Galveston Bay during the American Civil War when Confederate forces under Major General John B. Magruder attacked and expelled occupying Union troops from the city.
Exploration and settlement
Galveston Island was originally inhabited by members of the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes who used the name “Auia” for the island. In 1519, the Alonso Álvarez de Pineda expedition sailed past Galveston Island en route from the Florida peninsula to the Pánuco River. Pineda may or may not have actually seen the island, however, Spain lay claim to the entire Gulf Coast, including Galveston Island, based on the 1519 Pineda expedition. Soon afterward, Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were shipwrecked on the island (or nearby) in November 1528, calling it “Isla de Malhado” (“Isle of Doom”), and from there began his famous trek to Mexico. Various Spanish explorers charting the region referred to the island as “Isla Blanca” (“White Island”) and later “Isla de Aranjuez” (“Aranjuez Island”). In 1685 French explorer La Salle named the island “San Louis” (“Saint Louis”) and the name became fixed for some time.
At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston was a booming metropolis with a population of 37,000. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade in Texas, and one of the largest cotton ports in the nation, in competition with New Orleans. Between 1838 and 1842, 18 newspapers were started to serve the island’s rapidly growing population (The Galveston County Daily News is the sole survivor). A causeway linking the island with the mainland was finished in 1860, which paved the way for railroad expansion.
Storm of 1900
In 1900, the island was struck by a devastating hurricane. Even post-Hurricane Katrina, this event holds the record as the United States’ deadliest natural disaster. In the early morning of September 8, high surf, despite prevailing winds out of the north, heralded the oncoming storm. By noon, low-lying areas near the Gulf and the Bay side of the city were flooding and the winds increased. Near 4 p.m. a storm surge approximately 15 feet (5 m) high slammed into the coast. Wind speeds reached approximately 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) (an estimate, since the anemometer was blown off the U.S. Weather Bureau building). Isaac Cline was the bureau’s chief meteorologist.
Rebuilding and the “Open era”
Despite attempts to draw new investment to the city after the hurricane, Galveston has never fully returned to its previous levels of national importance or prosperity. Development was also hindered by the construction of the Houston Ship Channel, which brought the Port of Houston into direct competition with the natural harbor of the Port of Galveston for sea traffic. To further her recovery, and rebuild her population, Galveston actively solicited immigration. Through the efforts of Rabbi Henry Cohen and Congregation B’nai Israel, Galveston became the focus of an immigration plan called the Galveston Movement that, between 1907 and 1914, diverted roughly 10,000 Eastern European, Jewish immigrants from the crowded cities of the Northeastern United States. Additionally numerous other immigrant groups, including Greeks, Italians and Russian Jews came to the city during this period. This immigration trend substantially altered the ethnic makeup of the island, as well as many other areas of Texas and the western
The economy of the island entered a long, stagnant period. Many businesses relocated off of the island. By 1959, the city of Houston had long out-paced Galveston in population and economic growth. Recognizing this, the Reverend Wendelin J. Nold, fifth bishop of the Galveston Diocese, was permitted by the Vatican to erect a Cathedral of convenience in Houston, naming Sacred Heart Church as co-cathedral. The diocese was then re-designated the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. Galveston and St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica still remained the home of the diocese, but now the bishop could more easily access the rapidly growing Roman Catholic population in Houston.