Gales of Galveston

The Bishop's Palace in Galveston Texas

From the moment we crossed on to Galveston Island, Texas, Glen Campbell’s voice was stuck in our heads.

We didn’t even know the words past “Galveston, Oh Galveston,” but that didn’t stop the tape loop in our craniums.

Once we found our campground and parked BAMF, we got to Googling and found a copy of the song to relieve our brains. Thank you “The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour” YouTube page!

Jimmy Webb wrote the song during a visit to the island, conjuring up the story – a Spanish-American War soldier dreaming of his girl back home in Galveston – while sitting on the beach.

He chose that time period because of its importance in the city’s rich history. With the song still ringing in our ears, we mounted up on our trusty two-wheeled steeds and headed out for a first hand look at that history.

Surfers in Galveston Texas

The story of a seafaring town begins at the harbor, so did we. A natural haven for ships, the port was first ruled by pirates.

After helping Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans in The War of 1812, pirate Jean Lafitte set up shop on Galveston Island. He declared himself the head of the government of his new pirate kingdom, Campeche. Arrrgh! That had to be a wild thing to behold.

In 1821, the United States Navy ran Lafitte off and the newly liberated Mexican government officially established The Port of Galveston. Mexican rule was short lived, as The Republic of Texas broke away in 1836 and used Galveston as their major naval base and briefly it was the capital of the republic.

When Texas joined the Union, the U.S. Navy took over this important strategic spot.

The Strand in Galveston Texas

Throughout the 1800s Galveston grew to be one of America’s busiest ports. With all of this hustle and bustle, a booming town sprouted up.

The area near the harbor known as The Strand became the city’s main business center, so active it was known as the “Wall Street of the South.”

By the twentieth century prostitution and ignoring prohibition had given Galveston a new moniker, “Sin City of The Gulf,” and things were wild once again. The townsfolk seemed to embrace the misconduct, referring to their island as the “Free State of Galveston.”

The Strand is now one of Galveston’s six historic districts, and is the entertainment hub of the city. Bars, clubs, restaurants and, of course, the ever present crap shops make it more Bourbon Street than Wall Street, perhaps proving that wild is its natural state.

One big reason for the change in The Strand’s business focus was The 1900 Storm when Galveston was nearly destroyed. This hurricane was the deadliest in American history, a sad tally that holds to this day. Our next stop was the memorial for this disaster.

The Great Storm in Galveston

David Moore sculpted the ten foot tall bronze statue in memory of the over six thousand that perished. Titled “The Great Storm,” the monument was unveiled on the hurricane’s 100th anniversary in 2000.

From the memorial, we decided to check out the remaining damage from the most recent storm to batter the island, Hurricane Ike. Even though the day was foggy and cool, a ride along the beach is always high on our agenda.

We rode along the huge seawall that was built after the 1900 tragedy, so when Ike roared ashore in 2008 most of the damage was confined to beachside structures. The Flagship Hotel, which sat out over the water, still stands in ruins and many of Galveston’s famous piers are sadly gone forever, but most of the damage has been cleared or rebuilt.


The waterfront businesses tucked safely behind the seawall all seem to have come back, one in particular caught our eye. Salsas proudly advertised “WELCOME CHEERLEADERS BALL HIGH THURSDAY NIGHT.”

Not wanting to know what the sign was referring to, we declined the invitation. Bringing “Sin City of The Gulf” back, we suppose.

Our ride continued through the East End Historic District at the center of the island. There are several stalwart structures that have survived many a storm tucked away there, perhaps the most stunning being The Bishop’s Palace.

The Bishop's Palace in Galveston Texas

This ornate Victorian house, built in 1887, was originally known as Gresham’s Castle, after the first owner, Walter Gresham.

In 1923, the Catholic Diocese of Galveston bought the house, located next door to Sacred Heart Church, and used it as the bishop’s residence. The Galveston Historical Foundation provides guided tours on weekends, but we made due with peeking in the windows

Reward $50 for dog's paw, $500 for hand of thief

A much less famous home in the district tickled us more than any million dollar mansion could. Attached to a three pawed wooden dog out front, a sign had been erected: “Reward $50 For Dog’s Paw / $500 For Hand of Thief.”

Wanting to be a part of justice, Texas style, we kept an eye peeled for a wooden paw, or better yet, the thief of the wooden paw the rest of the way.

David & Veronica,

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10 thoughts on “Gales of Galveston”

  1. David and Veronica,
    I was in grade school when Galveston first played. And while I thought it was a compelling and sentimental song, I mainly just like the music and the way Glen Campbell said Galveston. But lately I’ve been listening to some songs around that time and rediscovered Galveston again and have done some digging into the writing of the song and Jimmy Webb. What you’ve writing here is really excellent, and I enjoyed the whole description of your visit to the town. Most interesting was the little paragraph about how Jimmy Webb wrote the song on the beach at Galveston, and that it was really originally about a soldier during the Spanish-American war. Lotta people think it was regarding the Vietnam war, I can understand that given the time the song came out. But the actual origin gives it more of a timelessness.
    Great job! Will look for more of your writings .

    1. Thanks Fred. Jimmy Webb is such a great writer, and Glen Campbell seemed to be the perfect voice for a lot of his stuff.

  2. Just found your site & absolutely love the concept! Looking forward to giving it a whirl when I retire. Happy Traveling!

  3. Greetings from Galveston Island, near Texas 🙂 The dog with the missing paw, is actually carved from a tree that Hurricane Ike destroyed. We have these tree carvings all over the island. Ike’s surge of water came from the bay side, not the ocean side. Sadly, most of the Island was under water. But we have pretty much recovered. Hope you enjoyed our island enough to visit again.
    Just found your site, and though we’re not empty nesters yet, I can totally see my husband and I following in your footsteps.

  4. Haha! The Salsa's sign made me laugh. The high school there is Galveston Ball High School. I grew up not far up the freeway in Clear Lake…home of the Johnson Space Center. Enjoyed reading your article sitting here on Martha's Vineyard! When you make out this way, let me know. Only a few months until our Empty Nesting begins…woohoo!

  5. Even though I've been in Houston for 4 months, I still haven't made it to Galveston. Thanks for this article – renews my commitment to getting over there!

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