Podcast: Defense of The Queen City, Not Too Little, But a Little Too Late

More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:

Tune in every Friday for a brand new episode of the Galveston Unscripted podcast.

It can be hard to imagine that one of the most important cities in Texas would be sitting on a low-lying sandbar that is prone to major weather events. However, city leaders were focused on all of the advantages that Galveston held, such as the port, beach, and dynamic citizen base and refused to abandon those attributes in an hour of misfortune. Bolstering the island's defenses, and building a seawall to protect Galveston's assets had been debated for at least 2 decades prior to the Great Storm, now, the necessity was on full display for the world to see.

The only way for Galveston to move forward, was to move up. Build a protective barrier and elevate the island.

In conjunction with building of a seawall to protect from the power of Hurricane waves and storm surge, engineers from around the country would draw up plans to raise the entire urbanized portion of the island to defend from bayside surge and flooding.

In order to tackle these major projects at one time, the logical decision was made to add a 3rd major project into the mix. The ship channel and the entrance to Galveston Bay was to be dredged to make way for larger vessels to call the port, and the mud from the dredge project would be used as fill for the monumental grade-raising project.

In 1902, the construction of the Galveston Seawall began. The initial Seawall extended from sixth street to 39th street, a little over three miles. The project utilized a rail line with specialized and custom-built machinery, for concrete and pile driving. The outer face of the Seawall was built in a curved fashion to carry heavy waves upwards. Astonishingly, Each foot of the sea wall contains over 40,000 pounds of concrete with heavy stone rip rap placed in front of the wall to break up the waves. The first seawall project was completed in 1904.

The initial grade-raising project began in 1903 and required digging canals through the island and building customized dredges. The grade raising was accomplished in square quarter-mile sections and involved enclosing each section in a dike and then lifting all structures and utilities such as streetcar tracks, fire plugs, and water pipes. Around 2000 buildings, homes, and churches were raised and put on stilts using hand-turn jack screws. The sand fill was transported to residential districts through a 20-foot deep, 200-foot wide, 2.5-mile long canal using four self-loading hopper dredges. After the fill was discharged in the areas to be raised, new foundations were constructed on top of the elevated surface. This monumental task was completed in 1911.

The grade raising and seawall project were designed for flood water to drain from the 17-foot-high seawall into the Harbor in the event of an inevitable hurricane. Prior to this grade raising, the highest point on the island was 8 feet above sea level, which had proven to be an inadequate elevation for Galveston's metropolitan prominence. The grade raising not only reinforced the Seawall but also made way to improve drainage and sewage systems. This was one of the largest civil projects in the United States in the early 19 hundreds.

Galveston's post-storm facelift proved its worth during major hurricanes in 1909, and 1915. The city only faced minor damage in comparison with the 1900 storm.

Although Galveston never saw the port or business district return to its pre-1900 glory, the city rebuilt and re-defined itself in the years following the storm. Post-1900 storm Galveston is even responsible for inventing a form of Government that is used around the world today. In 1901, during the rebuilding period, a group of business leaders requested that the Governor of Texas appoint a commission of five leaders to take charge of reassembling the city's imperative economic operations.

Some city leaders opposed this plan, as it was viewed as undemocratic. The plan was altered to provide for popular city election of two of the five commissioners. This form of Government is now known as a City Commission and went into effect in Galveston 1 year after the storm. This structure of government spread rapidly throughout Texas and other states between 1901 and 1920. Normally, most or all of the commission seats are elected positions. Eventually, a City Council form of Government overshadowed this style, even in Galveston.

The Great Storm of 1900 not only destroyed the city of Galveston, but changed the course of Texas History. In the years following the storm, the commercial center and major seaport in the region relocated to Houston.

Galveston was not able to fully recover to its former glory, but today, wears a badge of resilience that can not be denied.

Click the image above to listen to more episodes of Galveston Unscripted podcast.


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."