Galveston: A Texan City Thriving Despite Disaster

A Look Into The 10 Year Reconstruction Of A City Following A Hurricane

During the nineteenth century, Galveston was a thriving city known as a foremost center for commerce and boasting one of the largest ports in the United States. As a coastal city, located just 50 miles off the coast of Texas on Galveston Island, the port of Galveston was established in 1825 putting the city itself squarely on the map. That is, until 1900, when disaster struck.

On September 8, 1900 the winds howled and the rain battered down as a category 4 hurricane hit landfall, striking the unprepared island. With estimated winds of 148 miles per hour, the Hurricane of 1900, became the deadliest hurricane in United States history and the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

"Up until 1900, Galveston was the most cosmopolitan city in Texas" notes Jami Durham, Historian of Property Research and Cultural History at the Galveston Historical Society.  On that fateful day in September 1900, "we experienced the worst natural disaster in our nation's history in terms of loss of life" continues Durham who has been with the historical society for almost twenty years.

Galveston was ravaged with an estimated death toll of between 6,000 and 8,000 lives lost just in the city alone. Many were drowned or crushed as the waves pounded the island.  "It is estimated we lost one fourth of our population in that storm and one third of the city's buildings and structures were destroyed" notes Durham.

The city understandably struggled to recover with thousands of bodies to depose of, homes and structures to rebuild, and the monumental task of making sure a hurricane never struck Galveston in the same capacity again. Many morgues were constructed with the hope that loved ones would be able to indentify family and friends. The realization quickly set in that "there was no one left in many cases to identify bodies" said Durham. "The final step were funeral pyres that burned through November of 1900. The majority of bodies were burned to save the city from disease."

Galveston thrived despite tragedy and chaos. "It took us ten years to recover from that storm" said Durham and recover they did. A sea wall was constructed and the grade of the island was raised behind the sea wall to protect Galveston. "The sea wall was one of the most daring engineering feats of the time" said Durham. It was a seventeen foot sea wall and took ten years to complete.

A House Turned Upside Down By The Hurrican Disaster [Texas]
Helpers Searching For Survivors Through The Rubble [Texas]
Child Helps Clean Up Disaster [Texas]

Other improvements included constructing an all weather bridge to the mainland to replace the ones destroyed in the hurricane. Most dramatically, perhaps, was the raising of the city itself. Dredged sand was used to raise Galveston almost 17 feet higher than the city had been previously. Over 2,100 structures and homes were raised in the process. The seawall and raising of the city proved effective when a storm, similar in strength and track to the storm of 1900, raged the island once again in 1915. Despite 12 foot surges, only 53 people on Galveston Island lost their lives in comparison to the thousands of lives lost in 1900.

Today, despite its tragic background, Galveston is thriving once again due to tourism, health care, shipping and financial industries. People flock to Galveston to learn not only about its heartbreaking past, but to experience the natural beauty of the island. With so much to see and do, Galveston has once again put itself squarely back on the map.

One whimsical attraction that draws in the crowds is the Haunted Mayfield Manor that highlights the tragic events of 1900. Located in the 1885 Butterowe Building, the haunted manor is home to the fictitious Dr. Horace Mayfield said to have gone crazy by tragedies he experienced at the hands of the storm. "It is a twelve room haunted house attraction open year round. The crazy Dr. Mayfield is the resident and host of the house while you're in the haunt" notes owner Joyce McLean.

Since opening in September 2011, the haunted manor chronicles the events leading to Dr. Mayfield's insanity when he is said to have lost both his beloved fiancée and his parents to the raging storm. The haunted house invites you to see his madness in action. The manor itself is housed in one of the temporary morgues used after the Storm of 1900 adding to the intrigue and mystery of the haunt.

"Galveston is considered one of the most haunted cities in America due to lots of tragedies lingering here" said McLean who helps keep that honor alive with her haunted manor drawing in the crowds especially during Halloween, summertime, and spring break times.

Despite the tragic events leading up, surrounding, and after that fateful day in September 1900, Galveston has proven it can not only survive, but thrive. "It is a testimony to the survival of Galvestonians and to city leaders how Galveston came back from the storm of 1900" said Durham. RV adventurers and travelers should take careful note as this beautiful, haunted city continues its reign.

Jamie Chase Galvin

With an undergraduate degree in English and a masters in Counseling Psychology, Jamie works as an academic advisor and has also written for various publications including Sterling Meetinghouse. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and her very talkative 4-year-old daughter


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