The land upon which Galveston was built was part of the original Austin Colony until Michel Menard and his associates bought the site from the Republic of Texas. Town lots were made available in 1838, and the city was incorporated in 1839. Galveston's harbor became an active port with ships from all over the world importing goods.
Galveston Island has been a home to Akokisa Indians, the base of operations of the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte, a major immigration port, "the Wall Street of the Southwest," the richest city in Texas and the site one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, the great hurricane of 1900. The island recovered and became a major resort from the 1920s-1940s.
The city of Galveston (population 57,240) has one of the largest intact collections of turn of the century buildings in America, including two National Historic Landmark Districts, two additional National Register Historic Districts, and 61 individually listed properties. It actively promotes and protects historic places and maintains a vibrant heritage tourism industry in partnership with local preservation partners.
A number of preservation projects have had a major positive economic impact on the city. The economic benefits of these efforts have been documented in a 1996 case study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a 1999 study called “Historic Preservation Policy at Work for the Texas Economy.”
To support the productive reuse of heritage resources, one cent of the hotel/motel bed tax goes to the Arts and Historic Preservation Commission and tax reinvestment zones have been created throughout the city. Galveston recently adopted an updated historic preservation plan, and the city’s comprehensive plan incorporates detailed preservation objectives and strategies.
Galveston’s city government and the Galveston Historical Foundation partner to produce the annual “Dickens on the Strand” festival, raising funds to preserve and celebrate the architectural, cultural, and maritime heritage of the city. Over 50,000 participants enjoy tours of the Strand/Mechanic Historic Landmark District’s historic buildings and a host of special events recreating Victorian times.
Educational field trips and a camp exploring the island’s historic treasures are among the extensive offerings of the Galveston Historical Foundation, as are tour itineraries, exhibits, and even demonstration classes on preservation techniques. A partnership with the Galveston Independent School District produced “Galveston Island: Adventures Beyond the Classroom” a resource catalog for students, parents, and teachers that describes opportunities for heritage education at sites throughout Galveston. Thousands of schoolchildren each year participate in overnight educational programs on Galveston’s maritime heritage at the Texas Seaport Museum and attend reenactments of Pioneer Days and Buffalo Soldier Encampments.
The ELISSA, one of nine historic square-rigged vessels preserved in the United States, has received funding from the Save America’s Treasures program. In addition to being open to the public for tours, those interested can train and participate as working volunteer crew members, gaining a deeper understanding of Galveston’s maritime culture, seafaring practices, and maritime preservation.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2005.