Saturday, May 21, 2022

2020-11-01: Visiting Some History, Geocaching and a Pirate on Galveston Island, Texas

After our first week in West Columbia, Texas, we had gotten settled in at the Plantation Oaks Resort RV Park. And we had a week at the new jobsite up in Guy, Texas to begin our next solar construction project. Today, however, was a fun day! We drove over to Galveston Island for some history, some geocaching, and to find a pirate. So who's up for an adventure? Let's go see what we can find!

Our first stop down along the Gulf of Mexico coastline was in Freeport at the mouth of the Brazos River. There was a geocache there called Bryan Beach 4x4 (GCEA24). And when in the GeoJeep, it just calls out to go and find it! Well we did check out the beach but the geocache was nowhere to be found. First hidden way back it 2003 and I guess it frequently washed out to sea. It is now archived since the cache owner has gotten tired of replacing it.

We did spot something sticking up out of the water though. Looks to be a mast from a sailboat. I wonder what happened there. Hmmm, could be an interesting hiding spot for a geocache of the Difficulty 5 / Terrain 5 category!

From the northeast end of Galveston Island at the Fort San Jacinto Historic Point, you can see some of the many cargo ships that come and go through the port.

Also at the Fort San Jacinto Historical Point was our next geocache (GC8V700). There were a lot of muggles (non-cachers) walking by and huge rocks making for many hiding places. I didn't spend much time looking because of those things and ended up DNF'ing that one too.

This part of Galveston Island has had many forts since the early 1800's. Basic Spanish and French forts were established from 1816-1818. Those were replaced by small sand forts and batteries by the Republic of Texas from 1836 to 1844. After Texas statehood and the start of the Civil War, the Confederate Army built sandbag breastworks and an earthen battery named Fort Point in 1863. All traces of these early fortifications were destroyed by the strong winds and tides which regularly reshaped the sandy tip of the island.

A more substantial fortification called Fort San Jacinto was built here by the U.S. Army in 1897. After the fort was destroyed in the hurricane of 1900, the seawall was extended northward in 1921 to protect this area. The fort was rebuilt and new gun emplacements were added for the defense of Galveston during World War II. The fort was decommissioned in 1956 and only one concrete base of the 90-mm guns remains today.

Moving in a few blocks away from the coastline to find some of the historical buildings on Galveston Island, there's the Sacred Heart Church. The earliest Catholic services in the Galveston area were conducted in 1838. The Sacred Heart Church was established as the fourth church on the island in 1884. The original building was destroyed in 1900 Hurricane. This current building was constructed in 1903-04.

Next door to the church is the Bishop's Palace and a virtual geocache (GCH1CG). The Bishop's Palace matched the architecture of the original Sacred Heart Church which was swept away in the Great Storm. Construction lasted from 1886 to 1893 and was built as a private residence for Walter Gresham, a politician-turned-lobbyist during the mansion-building boom of the late-1800's. He had it made of Texas limestone accented with gray granite, pink granite, and red sandstone. This, combined with steel framing, helped it weather the Storm when so many thousands of other buildings were swept into the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1923 it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Galveston to become the official residence of the bishop. But only one ever lived there. Reverend Christopher Byrne stayed there until his death in 1950. In 1963, the Catholic Church opened it to the public, making it the first of the Galveston mansions to be turned into a museum.

The St Paul United Methodist Church was founded in the late 1860's and can trace it's history through two earlier Methodist congregations in Galveston. A second larger church building replaced the smaller first structure. This third and current sanctuary was constructed in 1902 to replace the previous which was also lost to the 1900 Hurricane.

The Isaac H. and Henrietta Kempner House. Isaac Herbert Kempner, at age 21 and the eldest of Harris Kempner's eight children, took over his fathers many businesses after his death in 1894. Isaac became an important businessman in his own right and after the 1900 Hurricane demonstrated exceptional civic leadership in his efforts to rebuilt Galveston's entire infrastructure. From 1917 to 1919 he served as Galveston city mayor.

In 1904, the Kempner's purchased three lots and in 1906 their two-story neoclassical style home was completed. In 1924 additional lots became available and a concrete and stucco wing was added. The house remained in the Kempner family until 1970.

The Carl and Hilda Biehl House. Carl Christian Biehl immigrated from Germany in 1905 and founded a shipping company on Galveston. In 1915, Biehl purchased one of the damaged homes and cleared the site to build a new structure for his family. Designed by Anton F. Korn Jr and completed in 1916. The construction consisted of brick and concrete to stand up to the hurricanes and strong winds common to Galveston. The house remained in the Biehl family until 2008.

The William and Adele Skinner House. In 1895, local banker William Skinner and his wife Adele bought this parcel for a home for their young family. The two-story Queen Anne style house was completed in 1896 and remains as one of the more ornate residential designs. This structure was one of the few survivors of the 1900 Hurricane.

This next house didn't have a historical marker and I couldn't find any history other than it was built in 1965. But it does fit in well with the other homes.

The last house I want to share with you is of the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte who settled here in 1817 with his buccaneers and ships, under Mexican flags, continued his assault against Spanish shipping in the Gulf.

Here he built his home, Maison Rouge (Red House), which was part of his fort, and upper story was pierced for cannon. It was luxuriously furnished with booty from captured ships. Leaving Galveston in 1821, upon demand of the United States, he burned his home, fort, and whole village, then sailed to Yucatan.

The walls that remain were built in 1870 over the old cellars and foundations of Maison Rouge. I'm curious as to what remains below the foundations and in the cellar. It would be cool to go down there and have a look around. This is also a virtual geocache.

That was it for our quick little return trip to Galveston Island. We visited here a few years ago in November of 2015 when it was a winter ghost town and most everything was closed.

Back on the mainland and headed to the RV Park in West Columbia, we made a short detour for another historical virtual geocache (GC2E13) in the town of Hitchcock, Texas. In an effort to defend U. S. coasts and shipping lanes against German submarine activity during World War II, the U. S. Navy established bases to house huge lighter-than-air (LTA) craft, also known as blimps were uniquely qualified for coastal defense and observation.

Because of its site on the flat Texas coastal plain, Hitchcock was chosen as the location for one of the nine new blimp bases. Construction began in 1942, and the facility was commissioned on May 22, 1943. The resulting military personnel build-up caused an economic boom in the community.

The Hitchcock base consisted of forty-seven buildings, including a massive hangar to house six blimps, administration buildings, warehouses, living quarters, and recreational facilities. Aircraft from the base, in addition to their regular patrolling duties, were also used to assist with hurricane relief efforts and war bond drives.

In 1944, after the blimps were no longer needed, the Hitchcock base was redesignated for other purposes. Following the war some of the buildings were used by private interests, and after hurricane damage in 1961 the blimp hangar was razed. All that remain are the towering hanger door supports.

Thanks for riding along today. Remember if you happen to find yourself on Galveston Island, there's more to see than the boardwalk on the beach.

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