Podcast: The History of the 1892 Bishop's Palace in Galveston, Texas

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While roaming around Galveston Island, whether you have lived here for decades or it is your first time experiencing the historic charm of the Broadway mansions, one victorian structure is sure to capture your attention. Today, most people know the Walter Gresham Home as the Bishop's Palace on 14th Street and Broadway. The Gresham Home is an expansive 19,000-square-foot Victorian-era castle that is staggeringly ornate. Designed for the lawyer, investor, and politician Mr. Walter Gresham and his family by one of Galveston's most well-known architects, Nicholas Clayton, the structure is one of the nation's most significant architectural achievements. This intricate Victorian-era castle has been cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in the United States.

The home that exemplifies Galveston's late 19th-century opulence took over five years to construct. From the foundation to the Gargoyle-topped roof took between 1887 and 1893. Galveston's plentiful businessmen thrived on the island during its late 19th-century economic boom and hired architects from around the world to design and build mansions along Galveston's busiest throughway, Broadway Avenue. Once completed, the Gresham Home was a residential trophy second to none on the island and stood as a beacon of riches and accomplishment.

The home is estimated to have been built for $250,000 and constructed with granite, limestone, and sandstone, while the interior exhibits elaborate hand-carved woodwork.

The home stood virtually unfazed during The 1900 Storm as nearly every home immediately to the south crumbled to the forces of the most deadly hurricane in U.S. history. First-hand accounts from survivors recall over 200 Galvestonians fleeing their destroyed homes sought refuge at the Gresham Home. The city was ravaged by the destructive hurricane that killed over 6000 people and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

The Catholic Diocese of Galveston was searching for a suitable home for the Bishop. Walter Gresham died in 1920, and his family sold the expansive house to the Roman Catholic Diocese, which became the home of Bishop Christopher Byrne.

The catholic church made a few changes to the home, some of which can be seen today while you tour the mansion, including the transformation of one of the bedrooms into a consecrated Chapel. The Chapel can be identified from the outside by the colorful stained glass on the second floor.

The Catholic Diocese of Galveston combined with Houston, and the home was no longer a feasible headquarters for a Bishop's mission. The Catholic diocese opened the home to the public for tours in 1963. The structure was declared a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1967. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and is included in the East End Historic District National Landmark designation. It became apparent that the Catholic Church was not in business to run a museum, and the Galveston Historical Foundation took over the management and restoration of the home.

The Gresham Home, also known as the Bishop's Palace, is beautifully maintained and operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation.

While exploring Galveston, be sure to take the opportunity to examine this extraordinary exhibition of the island's opulence and economic prominence for yourself. And note that the Gargoyles are no longer on the roof; the cast iron creatures now welcome visitors into the property as you walk up the front stairway.

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."