1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Galveston

GALVESTON, a city and port of entry and the county-seat of Galveston county, Texas, U.S.A., on the Gulf of Mexico, near the N.E. extremity of Galveston Island and at the entrance to Galveston Bay. It is about 48 m. S.E. of Houston and 310 m. W. of New Orleans. Pop. (1890) 29,084; (1900) 37,789, (6339 were foreign-born and 8291 negroes); (1910) 36,981; land area (1906) 7.8 sq. m. It is served by the Galveston, Houston & Henderson, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio, the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fé, the Trinity & Brazos Valley, the International & Great Northern, and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railways, and by numerous steamship lines to Gulf ports in the United States and Mexico, and to Cuba, South America, Europe and the Atlantic ports of the United States. Galveston Island is a low, sandy strip of land about 28 m. long and 11/2 to 31/2 m. wide, lying from 2 to 3 m. off the mainland. The city, which extends across the island from Gulf to Bay, faces and has its harbour on the latter. The island was connected with the mainland before the 1900 storm by a road bridge and several railway bridges, which, a short distance W. of the city, crossed the narrow strip of water separating the West Bay from Galveston Bay proper; the bridge least harmed (a single-track railway bridge) was repaired immediately and was for a time the city’s only connexion with the mainland, but in 1908 bonds were issued for building a concrete causeway, accommodating four railway tracks, one interurban car track, and a roadway for vehicles and pedestrians. An enormous sea-wall (completed in 1904 at a cost of $2,091,000) was constructed on the eastern and Gulf sides of the city, about 5 m. long, 17 ft. above mean low tide (1.5 ft. above the high-water mark of the storm of 1900 and 7.5 ft. above the previous high-water mark, that of September 1875), 16 ft. wide at the base and 5 ft. at the top, weighing 20 tons to the lineal foot, and with a granite rip-rap apron extending out 27 ft. on the Gulf side. The entire grade of the city was raised from 1 to 15 ft. above the old level. Between the sea-wall and the sea there is a splendid beach, the entire length of which is nearly 30 m. Among the principal buildings are the city hall, the court-house, the masonic temple, the Federal custom-house and post-office, the Y.M.C.A. building and the public library. The United States government maintains a marine hospital, a live-saving station, an immigrant landing station, and the state and the Federal government separate quarantine stations. In addition to the Ball public high school, Galveston is the seat of St Mary’s University (1854), the Sacred Heart and Ursuline academies, and the Cathedral school, all under Roman Catholic control.

The government of the municipality was long vested in a council of ward aldermen, controlled by a “machine,” which was proved corrupt in 1894 by an investigation undertaken at the personal expense of the mayor; it gave place in 1895 to a city council of aldermen at large, which by 1901 had proved its inefficiency especially in the crisis following the storm of the preceding year. Government then seemed a business question and was practically undertaken by the city’s commercial experts, the Deepwater commission, whose previous aim had been harbour improvement, and who now drew up a charter providing for government by a board of five appointed by the governor of the state. A compromise measure making three members appointees of the governor and two elected by the voters of the city was in force for a time but was declared unconstitutional. A third charter was adopted providing for five commissioners, chosen by the people, dividing among themselves the posts of mayor-president and commissioners of finance and revenue, of water-works and sewerage, of streets and public property, and of police and fire protection, each commissioner being held individually responsible for the management of his department. These are business departments carefully systematized by their heads. The legislative power is vested in the commission as a whole, over whose meetings the mayor-president presides; he has a vote like every other commissioner, and has no veto power. The success of this commission government has been remarkable: in 1901–1908 the city, without issuing bonds except for grade raising, paid off a large debt, raised the salaries of city employees, paid its running expenses in cash, planned and began public improvements and sanitary reforms, and did much for the abolition of gambling and the regulation of other vice. The Galveston Plan and similar schemes of government have been adopted in many other American cities.

Galveston’s manufactories, the products of which in 1900 were valued at $5,016,360, a decrease of 12.4% from 1890 (value of products under “factory system,” $3,675,323 in 1900; $2,996,654 in 1905, a decrease of 18.5%), include cotton-seed oil refineries, flour and feed mills, lumber mills, wooden-ware factories, breweries, cement works, creosoting works, ship-yards and ice factories. There are extensive cotton warehouses, coal and grain elevators, and large wholesale supply depots. The Gulf Fisheries Company has its fleet’s headquarters and large packing-houses at Galveston. It is as a commercial port that Galveston is chiefly important. In 1907 it was the second port in the United States in the value of its exports (domestic and foreign, $196,627,382, or 10.22% of the total), being surpassed only by New York City; and was the first of the Gulf ports (having 45.43% of the total value), New Orleans being second with $164,998,540. Galveston’s imports in 1907 were valued at $7,669,458. Galveston is the greatest cotton-exporting port in the Union, its exports of cotton in 1907 being valued at $163,564,445. Other exports of great value are cotton seed products (oil and cake, $10,188,594 in 1907), Indian corn ($3,457,279 in 1907), wheat ($9,443,901 in 1906), lumber and flour. The electric lighting and water-supply systems are owned and operated by the municipality.

The harbour of Galveston seems to have been named about 1782 by Spanish explorers in honour either of José de Galvez, Marquis of Sonora, or his nephew Bernardo, governor of Louisiana; and in the early days of the 19th century was the principal rendezvous of a powerful band of buccaneers and pirates, of whom, for many years, the notorious Jean Lafitte was chief. After much difficulty these were finally dispersed about 1820 by the United States authorities, and in 1837 the first settlement from the United States was made on the site of the present city. The town was incorporated by the legislature of the Republic of Texas in 1839. On the 8th of October 1862 the city was taken by a Federal naval force under Commander William B. Renshaw (1816–1863). After a sharp engagement a Confederate force under General John B. Magruder (1810–1871) retook the city on the 1st of January 1863, one of the Federal ships, the “Harriet Lane,” falling into Confederate hands, and another, the “Westfield,” being blown up with Commander Renshaw on board. Thereafter Galveston remained in Confederate hands, although rigidly blockaded by the Federal navy, until the close of the war. On the 8th of September 1900 the city was seriously damaged by a West Indian hurricane, which, blowing steadily for eighteen hours, reached a velocity of 135 m. an hour. The waters of the Gulf were piled up in enormous waves that swept across a large part of the city, destroying or badly damaging more than 8000 buildings, entailing a loss of about 5000 lives, and a property loss estimated at about $17,000,000. Liberal contributions came from all over the country, and the state partially remitted the city’s taxes for 17 years. The city was rapidly rebuilt on a more substantial plan.