In 1900 Galveston was a major seaport on the gulf, boasting 40,000 inhabitants. It was linked to the mainland by the railroad and some of the locals made a fabulous living in trade and commerce. Beautiful mansions were built up and down Broadway, demonstrating the wealth and power of these movers and shakers. Al Jolson, John Philips Sousa, and the Marx Brothers performed at its Opera House. But then came the storm. Hurricanes weren't named in those days, but the storm of 1900 changed the future of Galveston forever. If the weather reports from Cuba had been taken more seriously, the loss of life might have been much less, but when those first swells rolled into people's yards, their children went out to play in them. Today the hurricane would rate as a Category 4 with winds topping 150 mph and a storm surge of nearly 20 feet. As the water rose, people climbed to the tops of those beautiful homes, but eventually they were battered by debris and knocked from their foundations. Nearly 6,000 people died that night.
Those that survived loved Galveston and its mild climate and struggled to rebuild. A 17 foot seawall was built ultimately ten miles long and fill was brought in to raise the city behind it. But soon Houston fifty miles inland became the powerhouse and Galveston became a shadow of its former self.The population has hardly increased since 1900. In 2008 we watched the mayor of Galveston on TV, weeping as she surveyed the devastation left by Hurricane Ike. One has to wonder if it is worth it to build and rebuilt after every storm. But clearly the locals here feel that it is. Today we had to look long and hard to find signs that such a storm came through here eighteen months ago. People are restoring the restorations that they had made to the classic old homes. One neighborhood looked especially devastated and we guessed that poor folks had lived there before Ike and did not have the wherewithal to rebuild. But for the most part, tourist attractions and local homes and businesses looked as they did when we were here last three years ago.
People have learned. Newer homes stand ever higher and higher on stilts that protect the precious contents when those huge waves come surging in. Some folks enclose the bottom floors and the houses appear much larger than they really are. That bottom level is a good place to park your vehicle out of the sun. No garage is needed in this lovely climate. A lovely neighborhood near our campground also boasts swimming pools in addition to the ever present boat houses. Some are for sale, but most look occupied and loved. Their yards are small and their sale prices large. Location, location, location.