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Galveston Island History for Homeschoolers

It’s easy and fun to meet Texas history requirements in Galveston! The Island offers many hands-on opportunities for homeschooled students to learn Galveston history. 

Galveston is a town of many Texas “firsts.” Chartered in the early 19th century, Galveston emerged as the largest port in the Southwest. During its early years, people from all over the world settled on the Island and left a colorful history behind. Take a tour around Galveston and you’ll soon discover that its history is everywhere you look.

How was Galveston Island formed?

Galveston history began with a battle between the French and Spanish. The first European, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, arrived in Galveston in 1528. His ship sank and left him stranded at sea. He found a home in the swampy land that was already inhabited by the Akokisa and Karankawa Indians. Then, in the late 1600s, French explorer Robert Cavalier La Salle claimed the area for King Louis and named it St. Louis. In 1786, Spanish colonial Governor and General Bernardo de Galvez ordered a Spanish explorer named Jose de Evia to chart a course from the Texas coast to New Orleans. He named the area he explored in Texas “Galveston Bay,” in honor of Galvez. The island and city eventually took on the name Galveston.

Galveston wasn’t settled until 1817 when pirate Jean Lafitte established a colony called Campeche. However, the Island’s beginnings still don’t end there! Lafitte was forced to flee the island, and burned his town behind him. Present-day Galveston was finally founded by early pioneers, Samuel May Williams and Michel Menard. Students can still see the homes built by those pioneers today.

Does Galveston get hurricanes?

Both triumph and tragedy have shaped Galveston history. Like several cities along the Gulf Coast, Galveston has an unfortunate history with devastating hurricane landfalls. On September 8, 1900, the “Great Storm” came on-shore, and took this bustling town by surprise. The powerful hurricane claimed the lives of more than 6,000 residents and destroyed 3,600 buildings. The Great Storm is still the deadliest natural disaster to impact the United States. 

Today, homeschool students can visit the Pier 21 Theater which shows family-friendly documentaries about the Great Storm, pirate adventures of Jean Lafitte, and Galveston's immigration station. This is an excellent place to learn more about Galveston history!

Port of Galveston Immigration

Americans called Galveston the “Ellis Island of the West.” Between 1835 and 1935, the U.S. documented over 200,000 immigrants who entered the country through the Port of Galveston Immigration Station. Most of the immigrants moved on to other destinations, but many of them made Galveston their home. You can see the different cultural influences around the island, especially in the architecture of the Island’s historic homes.

1892 Bishop’s Palace

Also known as the Gresham House, this house is one of the most significant Victorian homes in the country. Galveston architect, Nicholas Clayton, designed this 19,082 square foot mansion to be built entirely of stone. It was one of few structures that survived the Great Storm of 1900. Owners, Walter and Josephine Gresham opened their homes to hundreds of survivors needing refuge. The 1892 Bishop’s Palace works with the Galveston Historical Foundation to offer TEKS-aligned field trips. These field trips focus on Galveston history, math, and science.

History of Mardi Gras! Galveston

Galveston celebrated Mardi Gras for the first time in 1867 with a masquerade ball and Shakespeare performance. In 1871, two Mardi Gras societies (Krewes) planned fancy night parades, elaborate costumes, and spectacular masquerade balls. These events prompted the birth of the large carnival celebrations you can see on the island today. Mardi Gras! Galveston events are a big part of life in Galveston. Today, these events draw as many as 250,000 spectators. What a great way to have fun while immersing yourself in a unique piece of Galveston history!

Juneteenth Galveston

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston with the proclamation that the Civil War had ended! Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln 2 years prior, most slaves in Texas were unaware of their freedom. It wasn’t until Union troops arrived in Galveston and Major General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 in 1865 that the reconstruction era in Texas truly began. Newly freed slaves met the official announcement from General Gordon Granger with a lively public celebration, which is still celebrated today. Current Juneteenth celebrations feature a variety of fun activities and great food, but there is a constant focus on education. This big celebration captures an important moment in Galveston history in June of every year.

Galveston Railroad

The Galveston Railroad Museum (housed in the former Santa Fe Railroad Station) is a great place for a homeschool field trip. The museum features an abundance of information about the history of railroading and trains. The museum invites guests to tour their 5 acres of trains, take a ride on a real caboose, and have lunch in its dining cars.

Fun Facts about Galveston History

Galveston was the first Texas city with light.

Galveston was the first city in Texas to light its streets with gas lamps in 1856. In 1883, it became the first Texas city with electric lights.

Galveston had the first telephone in Texas.

Colonel Belo, the founder of the Galveston Daily News, installed the first telephone in his Galveston office in 1878.

Galveston was home to a sweet inventor.

Gail Borden, who once served as Galveston’s first customs inspector, invented condensed milk. What a delicious piece of Galveston history!

 

Make historic Galveston a part of your homeschool curriculum! There are so many exciting places for homeschool parents and kids to visit. For your convenience, most museums and tour companies provide curriculum and activity sheets for students. Whether you choose to take part in the vibrant celebrations, or prefer a quiet walking tour in one of the Island's historic districts, your whole group will enjoy learning Galveston history any time of the year. Take a look at our 3-day and 7-day homeschool field trip itineraries for more ideas to help you plan your trip to Galveston.

Book a Trip to Galveston

Ready for a visit? Stay the night and turn your homeschool field trip into a getaway for the whole family. Sand `N Sea vacation rentals are family-friendly and fully-equipped with everything you need for a stress-free homeschool stay in Galveston. Our large rentals are perfect for groups of homeschool families traveling together. Book yours today!

 

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