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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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Galveston Island, known as the gateway to the American West, is home to one of the most significant private collections of artifacts, documents, and artwork related to Texas and the American West, the Bryan Museum. The museum, located in the Lost Bayou district, is housed in the Gothic Revival structure of the former Galveston Orphans Home.
The Galveston Orphan's Home was established in 1878 by journalist George B. Dealey as the Island City Protestant Orphans Asylum. The original wooden building, like many of the orphanages on the island, was created due to the influx of orphans from the American Northeast. In the late 19th century, children who were orphaned due to overpopulation, poverty, and disease were loaded onto trains and sent across the United States from the East Coast. These children were adopted along the way at various places in the farm belt along the railroad routes in the American Midwest. The orphan boys were usually the favorite pick because they could be tasked with manual labor, and the girls were generally selected to handle housework. The trains and the orphans not chosen along the route typically ended up in Galveston, as it was the last major stop to the southwest. The children that unfortunately didn't get selected during the stops along the way from the East Coast became residents of the orphanages on the island.
In 1894, a new orphanage building was constructed on 21st Street between Avenues M and M 1/2 with funds allocated toward the construction by philanthropist Henry Rosenberg. The building was designed by German architect Alfred Muller in a Gothic Revival style and was dedicated on November 15, 1895. The building was intended to create a religious and homelike impression for the children living there.
This building was heavily damaged during the 1900 hurricane, but no children or citizens of Galveston who sought refuge in the building were harmed. The main structure collapsed, leaving the building completely uninhabitable, displacing the children to a children's home in Dallas. Some of the earliest video to be recorded were by Thomas Edison's aides showing the extent of the devastation to the Orphan's Home and the surrounding neighborhood.
The public rallied to support the devastated orphanage, with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst hosting a charity bazaar in New York City to benefit the home that raised $50,000 for its reconstruction. Prominent guests included Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The new building, designed by regional architect George B. Stowe in the Renaissance Revival style, was rededicated in 1902.
The Orphan's Home supported children from around the country and Galveston County through World Wars and The Great Depression until the late 1970s. The building sat vacant for decades until it was purchased and restored to become the Bryan Museum, one of the country's largest private collections of Texas and Americana artifacts and documents.
The collection at the museum was accumulated over 40 years, covering a time span of 2,500 years. It is known for being one of the most comprehensive and noteworthy of its kind.
Roughly half of the bricks in the front walk are from the original 1894 brick structure discovered on the grounds during the museum restoration process. Along with the brick, toys and objects from the orphanage were found and are now displayed within the museum. The building features as many original materials and features as possible.
Visitors to the Bryan Museum will not only have the opportunity to view the exhibits but also connect with the history of the building itself. The museum's location in the former Galveston Orphans Home adds an additional layer of historical significance to the collection. The building has a rich history and has played a significant role in American and Galveston History.