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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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On the eve of splintered dreams and eminence engulfed. September 8th, 1900. A day that changed the Texas coast, and the course of Galveston Island's distinct economic position and seemingly endless prosperity forever. A powerful hurricane, which struck Galveston with very little notice, left the island in splinters.
The city's potential was no match for the momentum of a hurricane with the storm surge exceeding the highest point on the island and winds at over 145 miles per hour. This hurricane is now known as the Great Storm of 1900 and is, to this day, the deadliest natural disaster in United States History. On September 7th, 1900, the day prior to the Great Storm the city was in the swing of Summer.
The 7 decades leading up to this day, The island city of Galveston had grown from a small settlement on the coast of the newly formed Republic of Texas into one of the wealthiest cities in the United States. The Island had experienced hurricanes, even severe storms that caused destruction, but nothing that had deterred Galvestonians from continuing their lives on a barrier Island on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
The Impression of the general public as well as numerous experts was that Galveston Island was an unrelenting powerhouse that would soon be a major metropolis of the Southern United States. Affluent residents and Wealthy tourists from all over the country visited Galveston to bathe and play in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The city, although a fraction of the population, was considered a premier cosmopolitan city comparable to San Francisco or New Orleans, or some of the prominent cities in the North East of the United StatesIt seemed as if nothing could stop the influx of fortune. With a population of over 37,000. Galveston boasted being the third richest city in the United States per capita.
Throughout the late 1800s, with plentiful growth, wealth, and prosperity, The Island was home to numerous firsts in the state of Texas, such as first electricity and first telephones.Its natural deepwater channel made Galveston the most important seaport in Texas.
By the turn of the 20th century, Over a thousand ships were passing through the Port of Galveston and roughly 60% of the state's cotton crop was exported through the port.As the population of the United States expanded towards the West Coast, Galveston's capacity for imports provided a means to bring commodities, materials, and people as close to the American West as possible.
Multiple major rail lines started or ended on the booming island. Significant efforts were being made to expand the capacity of the Port of Galveston to compete with a rapidly growing port city 52 miles north, that city is named houston. The island was also the gateway into Texas for immigrants from all over the world. Galveston was, without a doubt, the most economically robust city in Texas. Major Hotels, elegant Bars, and delectable Restaurants could be found throughout the city and plenty of locals and visitors alike, were more than willing to keep them busy. Daily trains from both Houston and Beaumont would make their way into the bustling city on the Gulf.
The Beaumont Line would travel across the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry, which utilized a vessel with the capability to hold passenger rail cars. The Rail Ferry would cross the Galveston Ship Channel and land on the North east side of Galveston Island. The Houston line would cross a wooden railroad bridge into the north side of the island. Galveston was bustling all the way up until disaster struck.Isaac Cline, head of the Texas Section of the United States Weather Bureau believed that due to Galveston's unique position in the Gulf of Mexico, the island was in a safe zone from major hurricanes.
In those days, Storm forecasting was done through the National Weather Bureau in Washington D.C. and many weathermen were not trained to forecast events such as hurricanes. In 1900, The ability to track hurricanes was possible, but rudimentary communication by telegraph from the branches of the weather service back to Headquarters in D.C.To add layers of complexity to the centralized control of forecasting; Due to strained relations, The National Weather Bureau had cut all ties with the Cuban weather service.
Cuba would suffer from this same storm 3 days before it struck Galveston,and the National Weather Bureau would not take heed from the Cuban telegraphs warning of a major storm entering the Gulf of Mexico. The Weather Bureau, lacking pertinent information from Cuba, believed the storm had instead tracked near Cuba and then turned North East and was headed back into the Atlantic Ocean. Days before the impending storm, it was business as usual in Galveston.
The characteristics that made the city attractive as a vacation destination and a pleasant place to live, left it vulnerable to imminent disaster. However, you would be hard pressed to find many people who believed this low lying island with exceeding luxuriance could fall into complete catastrophe.This idea was about to be put on trial. The highest natural elevation on the island was around 8 feet above sea level.
On The evening of September 7th 1900, the tide seemed high, and the waves were a little more aggressive than usual, Isaac Cline, The Chief of the Texas Branch of the National weather Bureau, was well aware that something was off as most Galvestonians went to bed without an inkling of an idea that it was going to be the last time they would be cozy in their barely higher than sea level homes.
For the next day was September 8th, 1900...