Every town and city has a name, and each name has a story behind it. For all those who’ve ever wondered, “How did Galveston get its name?” and about all the stories surrounding it, sit down and get comfortable.
The Man Behind The Name
Despite being the town’s namesake, Bernardo de Galvez never once set foot on the island or in the town itself. Galvez was a colonial governor who commissioned a survey of the Gulf Coast of what is today Texas all the way to present-day New Orleans. The man commanding the survey, Jose de Evia, charted what was later called Galveston Bay in July 1786 and named the nearby island the same, both in honor of Galvez. Later the same year, Galvez died.
A Bad Part Of The Gulf
Although Spanish and French explorers had been to the island prior to de Evia’s survey, the first European settlement on the island didn’t come about until 1817, when the pirate Jean Lafitte established Campeche as a base for smugglers and buccaneers to drop off loot and pick up fresh supplies. After a few years, the U.S. Navy attacked Campeche, forcing Lafitte to flee and leaving the small smuggler’s haven in flames.
It wouldn’t be until after the Texas Revolution that Galveston proper became officially incorporated in 1839. A quarter-century would pass before a new set of smugglers, in the form of Confederate blockade runners, would use Galveston as their base of operations. After the Civil War, the port’s rough character would remain intact for almost a century, with both prostitution and later Prohibition-defying saloons. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Texas Rangers would come in to finally clean up the town.
A Fresh Coat Of Paint
It wasn’t all pirates, booze and floozies in Galveston. A lot of residents were determined to make Galveston their home and keep it going. After the Civil War, the Port of Galveston helped welcome thousands of immigrants to America for almost 60 years. In the wake of regular outbreaks of yellow fever and a devastating hurricane in 1900, Galveston rebuilt and strengthened itself, putting in improvements, such as the seawall that remains standing to this day, as well the first electrically lit building in Texas, the Galveston Pavilion.
When Galveston was starting to fade in the 1980s, local residents and merchants banded together to help revive and revitalize the town. Thanks to the efforts of the Galveston Historical Society, more than 2,000 buildings in the Strand and Historic Downtown areas have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, the city worked to bring Mardi Gras back to the island in style by commissioning architects from around the world to create distinctive Mardi Gras arches. Even Hurricane Ike in 2008 wasn’t able to bring Galveston down.
From Spanish explorers to French pirates, European immigrants to Texas Rangers, Galveston has had quite a colorful history. And the future may be even more exciting.