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Galveston, Texas: Historic Houses

Author: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Located on the southeastern coast of Texas just under an hour's drive from Houston, Galveston Island's historic houses offer an absorbing window into the past.
Learn the sad story of this town's devastating loss in 1900 with a viewing of "The Great Storm" (Pier 21 Theater, 21st St./Harborside Dr., (409) 765-7834). It was the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, taking the lives of more than 6,000 residents.

After, walk to the nearby Strand National Historic Landmark District for a look-see at unique boutiques and antique shops, but take time to admire the several blocks of beautifully restored, ornate, 19th-century iron-front commercial buildings. And do take a ride on the historical trolley running from this area to the seawall (at 10.4 miles, this protective wall is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world!).

Though you'll see the exteriors of many interesting vintage homes as you drive through town, it is always exciting to see interiors. Galveston accommodates with a variety of historic homes open for public tours:

The 1838 Greek Revival Michel B. Menard Home (1605 33rd St., (409) 762-3933) is the town's oldest house and was home to Galveston's first Mardi Gras celebration (the town now has the largest celebration in Texas). It is furnished with an outstanding collection of Federal and American Empire antiques.
The intriguing Victorian Moody Mansion (2618 Broadway, (409) 762-7668) was built in 1895 of limestone and brick. Inside it features handcarved wood, stained glass, and coffered ceilings. Each room is decorated in a different style, and family heirlooms are displayed.
On this same street, the 1859 ante-bellum Ashton Villa mansion (2328 Broadway, (409) 762-3933) provides an intimate look at a local family that had several skeletons in their closets. It is filled with a fine collection of antiques, family heirlooms, and original art.
The town's grandest home, known as The Bishop's Palace (1402 Broadway, (409) 762-2475), is also on mansion-laden Broadway. Built in 1888 with a eye-popping exterior of native Texas granite, white limestone, and red sandstone, it features a gorgeous interior finished with a variety of exquisite woods. Highlights include a music room mantel and fireplace lined with silver, a marble fireplace from Italy, and damask wall coverings from London.
If seeing these homes makes you salivate for more, time another visit for May. The annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour is held then, and very special private homes are opened to the public.

Though it has no tours, the octagonal 1880 Garten Verein dancing pavilion (2701 Avenue O, (409) 762-3933) is worth seeing. Built as a social club for a group of local German business people, it continues to be used now for community social events.
And you'll definitely want to view an intimate performance in the magnificently restored Grand 1894 Opera House (2020 Postoffice, (800) 821-1894; www.thegrand.com). It has been the venue for such historical figures as Sarah Bernhardt and the Marx Brothers and also for such contemporary favorites as Bill Cosby and Bernadette Peters. All seats have an excellent view of the stage. At the very least, stop in for a self-guided tour.

Where to stay? To fit with the theme, check in at the historic 1911 Hotel Galvez ((800) WYNDHAM; www.wyndham.com). Completely refurbished to its original grandeur, it is in a prime location across the street from the beach and seawall. Facilities include a tennis court, children's playground, and pool with swim-up bar. Another charmer in this same lodging chain is the European-style Tremont House located in the Strand Historic District. Dating from the 19th century, it features a four-story atrium lobby and ornate birdcage elevators. Or stay in a historical home B&B (www.galvestonbedandbreakfast.com).

(Images courtesy of Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau)