Mardi Gras 2019 is Tuesday, March 5th
Galveston, Texas History & Culture
The People and Events That Made Galveston Famous
Populated by Native Americans, and variously explored and claimed by France, Spain, and Mexico, Galveston’s complex history, spanning nearly five centuries, is that of a rich, multi-layered society steeped in Gulf Coast culture, with a dash of Southern hospitality, and a healthy dose of “Texas” thrown in for good measure.
If not exactly founded "because" of the oil and gas industry, the Galveston of today certainly owes much of its growth to Texas oil and gas exports, and to the development of the Gulf Coast offshore drilling industry.
Galveston Through the Years
Though early explorers set foot on Galveston island in the 16th century, when the area served as hunting and fishing grounds for Native American Akokisa and Karankawa tribes, Galveston wasn't officially founded until 1786,when it was named after Bernardo Gálvez, a Spanish colonial governor.
Then in 1817, when Galveston was officially owned by Spain, the privateer Jean Lafitte set up shop in Galveston (calling it Campeche). At a time when Mexico was fighting for its independence from Spain, Lafitte accepted a commission to sink as many Spanish ships as he could. Little did anyone realize the role shipping would play in the life of Galveston.
Through much of the 19th century Galveston was the biggest city in Texas, and was the most active port west of New Orleans. Trade through its port brought "society" and culture to Galveston. According to Galveston.com, the settlement that had once been little more than a hunting and fishing camp and a pirate's lair, now counts the following among its "firsts": Texas' first post office, first opera house, first hospital, first golf course, and first country club.
Sadly, in 1900 more than 1/3 of the city was destroyed and 6,000 residents were killed as The Great Storm seemingly washed away the soul of the city. Galveston languished over the next eight decades. Then, in 1980, local businessman George Mitchell and his wife championed a successful revitalization campaign that developed land, reintroduced Galveston’s Mardi Gras, and Galveston, which already played a role in the oil & gas industry, moved forward as a key player in the offshore industry.
Galveston’s Oil, Gas, and Offshore Services
Strategically positioned at the choke point where Texas oil and gas products come down to meet the sea, Galveston is ideally positioned to serve the shipping needs of the Texas oil and gas industry.
Galveston is also ideally situated to service and serve as a land base for offshore drilling rigs. Personnel and supplies are ferried by boat and helicopter to hundreds of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. For these installations, Galveston is quite literally a lifeline, just as the rigs themselves have brought life to Galveston.
In fact, the offshore industry is so vital to Galveston that a retired jackup offshore drilling rig has been converted into the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center located on a canal just north of downtown. The museum’s fascinating and comprehensive exhibits are more than just educational/historical. They speak to Galveston’s roots, to the strong local work ethic, inventive nature, and perseverance of its people.
While Galveston is a city built on the backs of hardworking folks in the oil fields, shipping and offshore drilling industries, the city owes much of its development to a pair of influential families. The history of Galveston has been, at least partially, penned by the Moody and Mitchell families.
Galveston’s Moody Family
After completing his education, William Lewis Moody Jr. went to work in the family's Galveston based cotton business. Over the course of his career in business, “W.L.” Moody would start an insurance company, a bank, a hotel company, and purchase the Galveston Daily News.
In the 1940s, Moody and his wife, Libbie organized the Moody Foundation, charged with benefiting “future generations of Texans”. The Moody Family is also responsible for the creation of Moody Gardens, a sprawling garden oasis that includes an indoor tropical rainforest with wandering birds and other creatures, an aquarium, 3D and 4D theaters, and a seasonal Festival of Lights.
While W.L Moody Jr. was a driving force during the middle of the 20th century, during the latter part of the century, another family would join them in elevating Galveston's stature.
George P. Mitchell and the Rebirth of Galveston
Born in 1919 to the owner of a Galveston shoeshine stand, the story of George P. Mitchell is that of a local boy made good. As the founder of a pioneering independent oil & gas company, Mitchell proved to be, not just forward thinking, but he also had the resources to capitalize on new ideas. In later years, he turned those talents toward land development, and eventually philanthropy.
In the 1980s Mitchell spearheaded a campaign to reinvigorate Galveston. His efforts have included development in the Arts & Entertainment District, and bringing back Mardi Gras Galveston, which had floundered and been mostly non-existent, after Carnival celebrations were suspended during World War II.
With its complex history as a socio-economic crossroads, Galveston has carved out a unique niche in Southern, Gulf Coast, and Texas cultures. You feel it in the pride of work in the oil and gas industry, and get caught up in its infectious fervor at every Mardi Gras celebration.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
Galveston Feature Stories
Galveston: Art & Architecture - Tree Sculptures, Artist Boat, and Bishop's Palace
Galveston's Dining Delights - Dining Culture & Local Favorites in Gulf Coast Texas
Mardi Gras Galveston - Enjoy the Parties and Parades During Carnival in Galveston