The New International Encyclopædia/Galveston
GAL′VESTON. A city, port of entry, and the county-seat of Galveston County, Tex., on Galveston Island, at the mouth of Galveston Bay, 50 miles southeast of Houston; on the Southern Pacific, the International and Great Northern, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe, and other railroads (Map: Texas, G 5). Regular steamship communication is maintained with important European, Mexican, and Cuban ports, and there are also lines to China, Japan, and South America, as well as several coastwise lines. The street-railway system comprises 35 miles of track.
The city, including Pelican Island, has a total area of nearly 13 square miles, and is built toward the inland side of the island, while along the outer side extends, for a distance of 30 miles, a hard and level beach. Galveston is the seat of Saint Mary's University (Roman Catholic), opened in 1854, and of the medical department of the State University. It has two Roman Catholic academies, the Ball High School (one of the city's principal buildings), and a fine library in course of erection, which is to be endowed with $400,000. There are two orphan asylums, a home for friendless children, and an old women's home, and two well-equipped hospitals, Saint Mary's and the John Sealy, the latter used in connection with the State Medical College. Other notable structures are the county court-house, custom-house and post-office, city hall, railroad depot. Young Men's Christian Association Building, Masonic Temple, and several of the business buildings. There are here three forts, a life-saving station, a State quarantine station, an office of the United States Marine Hospital Service, and the State branch of the United States Weather Bureau. A railroad bridge, two miles long, connects with the mainland.
Galveston, with an admirable location for a commercial centre, has also improved means for handling its important commerce. Both by rail and water transportation facilities are excellent. By means of rock jetties, 12 miles long, completed by the Federal Government in 1896 at a cost of $8,000,000, the channel between the island and the mainland has been deepened to afford an average of 27 feet. Terminal tracks, aggregating 50 miles, extend to the wharves, of which there are now 6 miles. There are four export grain elevators, with a total storage capacity of 3,750,000 bushels, and one clearing and conditioning elevator, a coal elevator, marine works, creosoting works, etc.
Galveston in 1901 ranked third among ports of the United States in exports (value, $106,526,508), a gain of $14,000,000 over 1900; and thirty-sixth in imports (value, $1,048,866). Since the improvements in the harbor, the export trade has substantially increased, though, on the contrary, imports have decreased. The city alternates with New Orleans as the largest cotton-exporting centre in the United States, is the first in the amount of cottonseed products, and eighth in wheat. In value the leading exports for 1901 were: Cotton, $85,857,145; oil cake and meal, $5,568,449; cottonseed oil, $1,502,307; wheat, $11,476,205; flour, $462,607; lumber, $479,457. The live-stock trade is now comparatively unimportant; the lumber exports have fallen off because of the unusual demand at home; and imports of coal have suffered considerably, owing to the discovery of Beaumont oil, which is being used largely for fuel. Galveston is the centre of an extensive wholesale and jobbing trade. The manufacturing interests are important and varied; the products include rope, bagging, beer, cement, pipe, ice, iron, sash, doors, blinds, cotton oil, flour and meal, etc.
The government, under a charter of 1876 (last revised in 1893), is vested in a mayor, chosen biennially, and a city council, the members of which, though elected one from each ward, are voted for by the entire city. The executive appoints the recorder and the city clerk, and nominates, subject to the consent of the council, a number of other municipal officials. The boards of water commissioners, health, public works, and school trustees, the hospital board, and police and fire commissioners, are chosen by popular vote. The water-works and electric-light plant are owned and operated by the municipality. Population, in 1890, 29,084; in 1900, 37,789.
Early in the nineteenth century the site of Galveston was a favorite resort for pirates, who established themselves here under the leadership of the notorious Jean Lafitte (q.v.). They were driven from the locality in 1820, but soon reëstablished themselves, and in 1827 were again driven away by the United States authorities. A permanent settlement was made in 1837, and two years later the first charter of incorporation was obtained. On October 8, 1862, during the Civil War, a Federal force took possession without opposition; but on January 1, 1863, the Confederates under Magruder captured the city and secured 350 prisoners. In November, 1885, there was a destructive fire, and on September 8, 1900, occurred the most terrible disaster resulting from purely natural causes in the history of the North American continent. A West Indian hurricane, lasting eighteen hours—the wind veering in every direction and reaching a maximum velocity estimated at 135 miles an hour—swept over the city, and the streets were flooded to a maximum depth of 16 feet above mean low tide. Within a period of five hours, but chiefly between 7 and 9 o'clock p.m., 6000 lives were lost, and property, including 7000 buildings, valued at $18,000,000, was destroyed. Help poured in from all parts of the country, and much of the suffering was thus alleviated, though a large part of the city had been totally destroyed. The municipal government was placed in the hands of five commissioners, two elected and the others appointed by the State Governor, and the work practically of creating a new city was begun, with the present results as detailed above. During 1901 nearly $4,000,000 was expended for permanent improvements. A committee of eminent engineers in 1901 made plans and specifications for a breakwater, estimating the cost of a sea-wall at $1,250,000, and attendant filling in of the city to a commensurate grade at $2,250,000. In the same year the city received from the Federal Government an appropriation of about $1,000,000, 90 per cent. of which went for reconstruction of the fortifications. Other improvements projected for the immediate future are the repair of the jetties and the widening and deepening of the channel.