History and Mother Nature have not always been kind to Galveston Island.
Europeans first arrived in 1528, when a crew of shipwrecked Spanish explorers spent months alternately living with and fleeing from the local Karankawa tribes as they sought out Spanish settlements in present-day Mexico. Jean Lafitte, the notorious pirate, founded the first European settlement here in 1817 (albeit a lawless and bacchanalian one). The party ended when Lafitte was chased off and the town of nearly 1000 burnt behind him. Needless to say, stories of buried treasure still abound…
Developers arrived in the mid-1830s, and after incorporation in 1839, Galveston quickly became the nation's third-busiest port, a jumping-off point for setters heading west. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest city in Texas, boasting a long list of state firsts: first opera house (1870), first electric lights (1883) etc, etc.
But all that changed with a string of misfortunes that would eventually topple the city's dominant place on the Texas coastline. In 1885 a massive fire spread through the Strand District, consuming 42 city blocks and destroying more than 500 buildings and residences. Then on September 8, 1900, a hurricane still known as 'The Great Storm' devastated the island. The town never regained its status, ceding port traffic and population to nearby Houston. The island lost even more with the construction of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914, allowing ocean-going ships to bypass the Port of Galveston and head further inland. It took until the 1970s for the beaches' potential to bring back large-scale investment, but the local economy was humming along again by the 2000s. Then Hurricane Ike hit in September of 2008. It has been a slow journey to rebuild – again – but today the island's industries have once again hit their stride.