Galveston Island is located two miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston County. Galveston Island is part of the string of sand barrier islands along the Texas Coast. Karankawa Indians used the island for hunting and fishing. The island is also believed to be the location of the shipwreck landing of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1528. Galveston Bay was named in honor of Bernardo de Galvez, the viceroy of Mexico, in 1785. Mapmakers began applying the name Galveston to the island after the bay was named. Jean Lafitte established a pirate camp called Campeachy on the island, where he disposed of contraband and provide supplies for the freebooters. By 1821, the U.S. forced Lafitte to vacate the island. In 1825, Mexico designated Galveston a port of entry and established a small customshouse in 1830. The port served as a harbor for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution, and the last point of retreat for the Texas government. After the war, Michael B. Menard and a group of investors obtained ownership of over 4,500 acres at the harbor, and founded the town. After platting the land in gridiron fashion, Menard and his associates began selling off the parcels of land in 1838. In 1842, The Galveston News was founded, and is still the longest running newspaper in Texas.
The city surged due to the strength of the port, agriculture and immigrants flocked to the island. In 1860, he Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad built a bridge to the island. But business collapsed during the Civil War when the port was occupied by Federal troops and and a blockade was put in place. After the war ended, Galveston quickly recovered. However, in 1867, Galveston was plagued with yellow fever, affecting approximately three-fourths of the population, killing about twenty people per day. The threat of disease did not end until 1873, after strict quarantines were put into place. Despite dark times, Galveston became the largest city in Texas by 1870, and again in 1880.
- First to use electric lighting
- First telephone
- First baseball game
In 1900, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history struck Galveston. The storm of 1900 brought wind gusts of 120 miles per hour, flooded the city, battered homes and buildings with floating debris, and killed an estimated 6,000 people in the city. Another 6,000 people are estimated to have died on the nearby coast. After the hurricane, the city and county constructed a 17-ft seawall on the Gulf side of the island, raised the grade level, and built an all-weather bridge to the mainland.
Galveston recovered but was destined to be a medium-size city after the storm.