Although Galveston Island has been occupied since the early 1500s, the city was not created until 1836, when Canadian Michel Menard purchased a league and labor of land for $50,000 from the Austin Colony. Because of the need for more money to promote the town, Menard took on nine partners, forming the Galveston City Company. The first buildings were prefabricated houses from Maine, one of which still stands today. The Republic of Texas quickly made the fledgling city a port of entry, and the Strand area filled with wholesalers, cotton agents and merchants. The city flourished.
Galveston holds many firsts for the state of Texas: first post office, naval base, and bakery, first chapter of the Masonic Order, first cotton compress, insurance company, gas lights, electric lights, opera house, orphanage, telephone, medical college and school for nurses. One of Galveston s newspapers, the Galveston News, is the oldest daily newspaper in the state (now known as the Galveston County Daily News). Then disaster struck. On September 8, 1900, the deadliest hurricane in US history swept across the island, killing more than 6,000 people and destroying the majority of buildings in its path. Most people probably would have given up and left, but not the determined Galvestonians. They decided to rebuild, but to do so in a way to reduce the likelihood of such a disaster being repeated. Their answer was to build a seawall seven miles long and 17 feet high and to raise the grade of the entire town. The grade-raising took eight years to complete and involved jacking up homes and pouring four to six feet of sand beneath them. Residents used elevated wooden sidewalks to navigate the town during this process. The seawall project was not completed until 1962, and is a noted feat of engineering an example of how a city should respond after disaster. During the rebuilding period, Galveston lost most of its port business to Houston, but the resilient little city quickly recovered from that setback also. It turned its attention to tourism and made a name for itself as a playground for the wealthy. Tourists continue to flock to this marvelously inspirational seaside community, the city that almost wasn t. It will inspire you, too.