Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of 208 square miles. Located within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area, the city is the seat and second-largest city of Galveston County in population.
Named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, Galveston's first European settlements on the island were constructed around 1816. The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 by the Congress of Mexico following its successful revolution from Spain. The city served as the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution and later served as the capital of the Republic of Texas.
During the 19th century, Galveston became a major U.S. commercial center and one of the largest ports in the United States. Galveston is known for the hurricane that devastated the city in 1900. The natural disaster that followed still counts as the deadliest in American history.
Much of Galveston's modern economy is centered in the tourism, health care, shipping and financial industries. The 84-acre University of Texas Medical Branch campus with an enrollment of more than 2,500 students is a major economic force of the city. Galveston is home to six historic districts containing one of the largest and historically significant collections of nineteenth-century buildings with over 60 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Exploration, Settlement and 19th Century
Galveston Island was originally inhabited by members of the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes who used the name "Auia" for the island. The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were shipwrecked on the island or nearby in November 1528, calling it "Isla de Malhado" ("Isle of Doom"), and there began his famous trek to Mexico. During his charting of the Gulf Coast in 1785, the Spanish explorer José de Evia named the island Gálvez-town or Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez. The first permanent European settlements on the island were constructed around 1816 by the pirate Louis-Michel Aury as a base of operations to support Mexico's rebellion against Spain. In 1817, Aury returned from an unsuccessful raid against Spain to find Galveston occupied by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Lafitte organized Galveston into a pirate "kingdom" he called "Campeche", anointing himself the island's "head of government." Lafitte remained in Galveston until 1821 when he and his raiders were forced off the island by the United States Navy.
In 1825 the Congress of Mexico established the Port of Galveston and in 1830 erected a customs house. Galveston served as the capital of the Republic of Texas when in 1836 interim president David G. Burnet relocated his government there. In 1836, Canadian Michel Branamour Menard and several associates purchased 4,605 acres of land for $50,000 to found the town that would become the modern city of Galveston. In 1839 the City of Galveston adopted a charter and was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas. The city was by then a burgeoning port and attracted many new residents, Jewish merchants amongst them.
The Battle of Galveston occurred on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War when Confederate forces under Major General John B. Magruder attacked and expelled occupying Union troops from the city. In the late 1890s, the Fort Crockett defenses and coastal artillery batteries were constructed in Galveston and along the Bolivar Roads.
At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston had a population of 37,000. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade in Texas, and one of the largest cotton ports in the nation, in competition with New Orleans. During this golden era of Galveston's history, the city was home to a number of state firsts that include among others the first post office (1836), the first naval base (1836), the first Texas chapter of a Masonic order (1840); the first cotton compress (1842), the first parochial school (Ursuline Academy) (1847), the first insurance company (1854), the first gas lights (1856), the first opera house (1870), the first orphanage (1876), the first telephone (1878) and the first electric lights (1883).
During the post-Civil-War period, leaders such as George T. Ruby and Norris Wright Cuney, who headed the Texas Republican Party, promoted African-American civil rights helping to drastically improve educational and employment opportunities for blacks in Galveston and in Texas.
The city of Galveston is situated on Galveston Island, a barrier island that is made up mostly of sand-sized particles and smaller amounts of finer mud sediments and larger gravel-sized sediments on the Texas Gulf coast near the mainland coast. The city is about 45 miles southeast of downtown Houston. The island is oriented generally northeast-southwest, with the Gulf of Mexico on the east and south, West Bay on the west, and Galveston Bay on the north. The island's main access point from the mainland is the Interstate Highway 45 causeway that crosses West Bay on the northeast side of the island. A deepwater channel connects Galveston's harbor with the Gulf and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 208.4 square miles, of which 46.2 square miles is land and 162.2 square miles and 77.85% is water. The island is 50 miles southeast of Houston.
The western portion of Galveston is referred to as the "West End". Communities in eastern Galveston include Lake Madeline, Offats Bayou, Central City, Fort Crockett, Bayou Shore, Lasker Park, Carver Park, Kempner Park, Old City/Central Business District, San Jacinto, East End, and Lindale. Residential communities in the West End include Laguna Harbor.
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