Louis-Michel Aury, a pirate, built the first permanent European settlements on the island about 1816 in support of Mexico’s uprising against Spain. When Aury returned after a failed assault against Spain in 1817, he discovered the pirate Jean Lafitte had taken over Galveston. Lafitte declared himself the “head of government” of the island and turned Galveston into a pirate “kingdom” he called “Campeche”. Lafitte stayed in Galveston until the United States Navy forcibly removed him and his band of raiders off the island in 1821.
The construction of the opera theater (1870), the orphanage (1876), the installation of telephone lines (1878), and the installation of electric lighting (1883) were all “firsts” for the city during the Reconstruction era. In 1870, the city had a total black population of 3,000, made up primarily of former slaves but also of people who were free men of color and educated before the war, having drawn freedmen from rural areas. 13 818 people, or about 25%, of the city’s population, were black in that year. The Geography of Galveston plays a significant role in shaping its culture and history.
A terrible hurricane hit the island on September 8, 1900. The city was destroyed, and between 6,000 and 8,000 people on the island were killed. A 10-mile (16-km) long, 17 foot (5.2 m) high seawall was built to protect the city from floods and hurricane storm surges after the storm. This event holds the record for the deadliest natural disaster in American history. The concept to elevate a large portion of the existing city to a suitable elevation behind a seawall so that faith in the city could be preserved was created by a team of engineers, including Henry Martyn Robert (Robert’s Rules of Order).
The island’s economy started to sluggishly decline. During this time, a lot of firms left the island, although the banking, insurance, and health care sectors are still very important to the local economy. By 1959, Houston had well outperformed Galveston in terms of population growth and economic development. The Galveston Historical Foundation started working to restore old buildings in 1957. The Galveston That Was, published in 1966, served as inspiration for the preservation movement. The Strand Historic District and other districts were progressively developed thanks to restoration initiatives funded by determined investors, including Houston industrialist George P. Mitchell. Over many years, the city saw the emergence of a brand-new, family-focused tourism.
After costly projects were finished in the 2000s, property values surged and wealthy people’s demand for second houses rose. For middle-class workers, it has become challenging to locate cheap homes on the island.
On September 13, 2008, early in the morning, category-2 Hurricane Ike with winds of 110 mph made landfall on Galveston Island. Buildings along the seawall sustained significant damage.
Following the hurricane, the island underwent reconstruction with investments in tourism, shipping, and higher education while maintaining a focus on healthcare. Of particular note were the addition of the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and the replacement of the railroad causeway’s bascule-type drawbridge with a vertical-lift type drawbridge to accommodate heavier freight.
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