Saving Galveston: A history of the Galveston Historical Foundation
Schmidt, Sally Anne
Boles, John B.; Hobby, William P.
Doctor of Philosophy
The history of the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) reveals how innovative Galvestonians looked to the past to create a future for their distressed city and inspired the development of one of the nation's leading local historic preservation organizations. Galveston, an island city fifty miles south of Houston, flourished economically and culturally as Texas's leading city during the nineteenth century. By 1900, islanders had built a city filled with handsome commercial and residential structures that reflected Galveston's significant status. The city rebuilt following the devastating Hurricane of 1900, but it never recovered its past glory. With the opening of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914 and the overall growth of Houston, Galveston's prominence slipped away. In 1954 a group of preservation-minded men and women organized the Galveston Historical Foundation to prevent the destruction of the second oldest house on the island, the Samuel May Williams House. Influenced by past Galveston historical societies, GHF's volunteer leadership worked to raise awareness of the city's historical and architectural treasures. Many born-on-the-island Galvestonians did not initially see the purpose of saving dilapidated houses and abandoned commercial buildings, and they had to be persuaded. Little-by-little GHF leaders succeeded and the preservation movement found a foothold on the island. With the hiring of the Foundation's first executive director, Peter Brink, in 1973 and the establishment of a revolving fund to save commercial properties on the Strand, GHF began to materially impact the island's physical, cultural, and economic landscape. The subsequent work of the Foundation in the 1970s and 1980s was not easy, but it resulted in the evolution of Galveston from a run-down, second-rate, beach town into a popular destination for historically-minded tourists. It also helped begin the positive transformation that occurred in Galveston's residential neighborhoods and inspired homeowners (of all economic backgrounds) to maintain their property. As GHF worked to revitalize the city, the Foundation itself transformed from a small, volunteer-led historical society into a professionally-managed, nationally-recognized, non-profit institution.