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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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Much of Galveston's rich history stems from the Port of Galveston in one way or another. As long as there have been vessels calling the Port of Galveston, there have been maritime accidents and tragedies. Steadfast guardians of the turbulent waters around Galveston Bay emerged in the mid-19th century.
The history of the Coast Guard in Galveston is intertwined with the remarkable stories of bravery and dedication displayed by its predecessor services during times of disaster and peril. As the city of Galveston grew through the 19th century, so did the port. The United States Revenue Cutter Service began operating around the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1846.
The United States Lighthouse Service began operating in Galveston in 1856. And the United States Life-Saving Service in 1878. In the 19th century, all of these services had their origins and operated independently. Lighthouses were built around the entrance to Galveston Bay as early as 1856. This would aid navigation into the port of Galveston. It was coordinated and run by the United States Lighthouse Service. Galveston Bay was home to several lighthouses, including screw pile lighthouses placed out into the water along the ship channel and the Bolivar Point Lighthouse. These structures guided ships through treacherous waters, and their keepers played a vital role in maintaining these aids to navigation. During hurricanes like the 1900 storm, their keepers demonstrated unwavering commitment by continuing their duties in the face of adversity. Riding out the storm in the lighthouse.
The Revenue Cutter Service was established in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton. It operated as an armed customs enforcement service. It began operating along the Texas coast as early as 1846. The United States Life-Saving Service was a United States government agency that grew out of the local humanitarian efforts to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. It began operations in Galveston in 1878 and ultimately merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard in 1915. Before the Coast Guard was officially formed in 1915, the services protecting the shorelines of the United States are referred to as predecessor services.
The United States life-saving service established a presence in 1878 on Pelican Island. A foundation was laid for life-saving station #217. This station became a bastion of hope for mariners navigating the unpredictable waters of the Gulf Coast. The hurricane of 1900 obliterated the station, but the spirit of guardianship remained undaunted. In September 1900, a devastating hurricane, known as the 1900 Storm or the Great Galveston Hurricane, struck the Gulf Coast. The storm inflicted immense destruction and resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. Among the affected were the predecessor services. Despite the lack of technology and warning, these crews worked tirelessly to prepare for the approaching storm. When the hurricane struck, The small crew embarked on daring rescue missions using small boats, saving numerous lives from the flooded Galveston streets.
The Revenue Cutter Service, stationed at the port, played a critical role in enforcing laws, conducting search and rescue operations, and more. The crew demonstrated courage by assisting those in need during and after the storm. The hurricane's aftermath left a trail of devastation. Still, the stories of courage and selflessness in the face of danger stood out. These events underscored the commitment to the Coast Guard's predecessor services to protect lives and property, even in the most challenging circumstances.
Rising from the wreckage, a new station emerged in 1909, a testament to unyielding determination and dedication. This new station was intertwined with the tumultuous elements once again when the hurricane of 1915 struck Galveston, laying waste to its foundations. Adaptability became the hallmark of this station's legacy. The predecessor services sought refuge in the old immigration station on Pelican Island, officially becoming the Coast Guard in 1915. With vigilant eyes scanning the horizon, it stood watch over the seas. Equipped with two 32-foot picket boats that patrolled for signs of smuggling, a lifeboat ready to answer distress calls, a resilient surf boat, a power dory poised for action, and a 46-foot launch that was always at the ready.
After a couple decades of operation at the old immigration station, destiny beckoned the station elsewhere. In 1938, it found a new home at Fort Point on the extreme east end of Galveston Island. Here, its purpose gained new momentum. Their equipment has evolved from small boats to large, capable vessels and helicopters, from a volunteer basis to advanced military training.
For over a century, the United States Coast Guard has watched over the greater Galveston area through natural disasters, like Hurricane Carla in 1961, Hurricane Ike in 2008, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Conducting operations from small boat rescues, medical evacuations, port security, and significant maritime rescue missions. The Coast Guard and Galveston Island Beach Patrol even worked together for rescues closer to shore, from its humble beginnings on Pelican Island to its enduring presence at Fort Point.
The journey of Galveston's Coast Guard station embodies the essence of the Coast Guard's motto Semper Paratus. Always ready. This station's legacy is etched out of the fabric of Galveston's maritime history through trials and triumphs. A beacon of courage, a symbol of duty, and a guardian of the greater Galveston area.