Galveston County

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 7, 2021

Galveston County is located on the Gulf Coast of Texas eighty miles southwest of the Louisiana state line, east of Brazoria County, and west of Chambers County; it is bounded by the Gulf of Mexico on the southeast. The county comprises mainland, Galveston Bay, and Galveston Island. The island, a slowly eroding bank of sand measuring three miles at its greatest breadth and twenty-eight miles at its greatest length, extends two miles southwest along the Gulf. Other barrier islands include Pelican Island, four miles out from Galveston, which was described in 1815 as a "narrow strip of marsh" and subsequently grew from shell deposits into an island four miles long and a half mile wide. Bolivar Peninsula is a slender strip of mainland northeast of Galveston Island and almost in line with it. Both Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island form natural storm barriers for Galveston Bay, which constitutes nearly half of the county's almost 450-square-mile area. The entrance to Galveston harbor, between Bolivar Point and Galveston Island, is about 1½ miles wide. Galveston, the county seat, is located at roughly the geographical center of the county (29°18' N, 94°47' W) on the Coastal Plain. Other towns in the county include Texas City, Port Bolivar, Clear Lake Shores, Crystal Beach, Jamaica Beach, Kemah, Hitchcock, Alta Loma, Dickinson, League City, La Marque, Algoa, Arcadia, and Friendswood. Altitudes in Galveston County range from a maximum height of thirty-five feet above sea level in the northwest sea level; the flat surface near the coast slopes gently to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The mainland coastline is indented with small bays, inlets, and marshes. Principal streams in Galveston County include Clear Creek, which forms the boundary between Galveston and Harris counties and empties into Clear Lake; Dickinson Bayou, which drains into Galveston Bay; and Highland Bayou, empties into Jones Bay and drains the western part of the county. Land in the area includes layered sand and clay and deep, sandy loams. The county has nearly 400 miles of beach. Many towns tap the Beaumont Clay, a water-bearing formation that underlies the county, for water supplies. The city of Galveston obtains its water from artesian wells. Drainage districts control flooding problems throughout the county. Grassland vegetation predominates, though live oak, water oak, magnolia, hackberry, and other trees grow along the creeks and bayous. The local water abounds with a variety of fish, including Spanish mackerel, red snapper, flounder, pompano, spotted sea trout, redfish, tarpon, oysters, and shrimp. The climate is humid, subtropical, and marine. Tropical disturbances in late summer and early fall are common. Hurricanes in 1900, 1915, 1961, and 1983 caused major damage, though construction of the Galveston seawall in 1902 lessened the effect of later storms. Rainfall averages 47.06 inches annually, and the growing season lasts for 320 days a year. The county's economy historically derives from its location as an important hub of land and sea transportation on the Gulf. Galveston is the oldest deepwater port west of New Orleans, and the community is noted for many "firsts" in Texas.

Evidence suggests that some Indian groups lived in the area as early as 10,000 B.P. and that exploitation of marine resources on the coastal margin occurred during the Late Prehistoric period. Bone-tempered pottery from this time has been excavated at campsites in the Galveston Bay area. An Atakapan burial ground roughly 5,000 years old was discovered near Caplen on Bolivar Peninsula, and flint artifacts were exhumed at the site. Archeologists have located shell middens begun some time after A.D. 100, and believe many other sites along the shore were damaged or destroyed by winds and tides. Numerous sites inland, small and showing few traces of pottery, suggest that early inhabitants pursued a mobile life style. The Karankawa Indians, a group of five nomadic, linguistically related groups including the Cocos, Cujanes, Karankawas proper, Coapites, and Copanos, later occupied the area from Galveston Bay to Corpus Christi Bay in late spring and summer. A Karankawa burial site was discovered at Jamaica Beach in 1962. Other Indian inhabitants included Coahuiltecans, Atakapan-related groups such as the Deadoses and Akokisas, small groups of Lipan Apaches and, in the 1770s, a Tonkawa group known as the Mayeyes. The Indian name for Galveston Island was Auia. Indian inhabitants began to leave when European settlers arrived, and most had retreated from the area by 1850.

Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers knew Galveston Island as Isla de Malhado, the "Isle of Misfortune," or Isla de Culebras, the "Isle of Snakes." In 1519 the Alonso Álvarez de Pineda expedition sailed past Galveston Island en route from the Florida peninsula to the Pánuco River. Pineda may or may not have actually seen the island, however, Spain lay claim to the entire Gulf Coast, including Galveston Island, based on the 1519 Pineda expedition. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, accompanying the Narváez expedition in 1528, was shipwrecked on what may have been Galveston Island, and is credited with naming the island Malhado. In 1685 French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, challenged Spanish control in the area and may have named the island San Louis for Louis XIV of France, but did not establish settlements. Eighteenth-century Dutch buccaneers may also have visited, but these explorers, like later revolutionaries and privateers, left little evidence of their passage. In 1783 José Antonio de Evia, a Spanish navigator, surveyed the channel and named the bay Galvezton for Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez, who befriended the United States in the Revolutionary War. The island maintained its designation under the Spanish as San Luis for a time, but had become known as Galveston Island by 1820.

American presence in Galveston County began in 1815 when Henry Perry and Warren D. C. Hall, former members of the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, landed at Bolivar Point in September with three ships and 200 men. Perry named the point for Simón Bolívar, the "Liberator," who commissioned him to attack Spanish commerce on the Gulf and direct expeditions against the Spanish in Mexico. The period from 1815 to 1821, however, was dominated by freebooters, filibusters, and pirates, notably the Frenchmen Louis Michel Aury and Jean Laffite. Aury arrived with thirteen ships on September 16, 1816, and established a base on Galveston Island. In 1816 he was joined by Francisco Xavier Mina, who established an earthwork fort and then set out to invade Mexico. Roughly a thousand inhabitants populated the island by 1817. Jean Laffite, who was appointed governor of Galveston Island by the Republic of Mexico, established a community at the site of the present Sealy Hospital in Galveston; he named it Campeche after a town on the Yucatán coast. The fort he constructed in 1817 lasted only a year before it was destroyed by a storm, but by 1819 "Campeachy," in Anglo settlers' orthography, had a population of between 1,000 and 2,000. Laffite was also appointed governor of the island by the provisional government of American merchant James Long, who promised land for recruits if they supported his filibustering campaign to drive royalists from Texas and planned to set up a new republican government and attract immigrants with the offer of large land grants. Long's effort to establish a civil government at Nacogdoches failed, and he established new headquarters at Fort Las Casas at Bolivar Point in September 1819. From there he launched an expedition in 1821 to capture La Bahía, but was captured himself, sent to Mexico City, and killed. Jane Wilkinson Long, his wife, spent a harrowing time at Fort Las Casas during his absence. Laffite, hunted by the United States government for plundering an American vessel, burned Campeche and left the coast in 1821.

Settlement proceeded slowly while the area remained part of Mexico (see ANGLO-AMERICAN COLONIZATION). In 1822 an unaffiliated group of eighty American colonists from the schooner Revenge settled on the part of the mainland that later became Galveston County, and in 1827 the first American colonists settled on Galveston Island near Offat's Bayou. Mexican jurisdiction over the Galveston port continued from 1824 until the Texas Revolution, but colonization had been organized under the Mexican empresario system, and it was Stephen F. Austin who in 1825 encouraged the Mexican government to establish a provisional port at Galveston and to build a customhouse with a garrison for protection. Since the island's sole importance was its proximity to the harbor, its customhouse and military posts controlled the area, but these arrangements eventually led to friction between Anglo settlers and Mexican authorities over the issue of land titles and other matters. John Davis Bradburn, sent by the Mexican government in 1830 to establish a garrison at Anahuac, on the northeastern edge of Galveston Bay, aroused opposition from the colonists that prompted the Anahuac disturbances and led to the arrest of William Barret Travis and others. David G. Burnet and Lorenzo de Zavala acquired contracts to settle families in the area in accordance with the Mexican colonization laws and on October 16, 1830, formed a stock company called the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company to promote their effort. They succeeded in bringing settlers to Texas only after 1835, however, when Mexico had surrendered control of the area. In 1834 Michel B. Menard purchased the first claim on the site of future Galveston, and commercial traffic began to move through the port thereafter. During the revolution, Texans fortified Galveston and the Texas Navy berthed in its port. The ad interim government under David G. Burnet took refuge on Galveston Island in April, 1836, and made Galveston the temporary capital of the new republic. News of the battle of San Jacinto reached Burnet at Galveston, Mexican prisoners were interred there, and in 1836, after the Consultation instituted a new Galveston customs district, a new customhouse was established. Congress made Galveston a port of entry in 1837. Fort Travis protected the port from 1836 to 1844.

Galveston County was formed in 1838 under the republic from Harrisburg, Liberty, and Brazoria counties and organized in 1839. The county was organized in 1839. The first county courthouse, at Saccarappa, a community named for a river in Maine by settlers from that state, was located at the eastern end of Galveston Island. Before the Civil War, goods flowed into Galveston from across the county and the region. By 1839 steamers that furnished supplies to much of Texas plied the distance between the port and New Orleans, and construction of the Galveston wharves began in that year. The antebellum port shipped cotton and cottonseed oil, with less important quantities of sugar, molasses, cattle, hides, and pecans, while Galveston finance and commission businesses supported the region's agriculture and commerce. Exports to foreign countries exceeded a million dollars in 1839, and in 1856 included 4,590 hogsheads of sugar and 7,878 barrels of molasses. The city's development and importance is measured by the fact that Galveston had the only legitimate labor unions active in Texas before the Civil War. Galveston itself soon developed a sophisticated and cosmopolitan society. Fleeing the revolutions in Europe, large numbers of immigrants began to arrive at the port in the 1840s and 1850s. Copies of the early Texas Almanac, printed at Galveston, served as Bibles for the new citizens. Since the city was usually the first Texas port of entry and received United States and foreign news before other places, it had two newspapers by 1838. The Galveston News, the earliest Texas newspaper still published in 1995, also had a considerable circulation on the mainland. Major construction in the city occurred in the 1850s, and German immigrants skilled in trades helped to construct many of the city's architectural landmarks. Growth declined, however, with the first yellow fever epidemic in 1839, a second wave in 1844, and six outbreaks from 1847 to 1867. A girls' school, Galveston University, the Female Collegiate Institution (Galveston Seminary), and the University of St. Mary's opened at Galveston between 1838 and 1854, and early efforts to educate the poor began in 1855. County participants in the Mexican War included the Galveston Riflemen in the first Regiment of Texas Infantry, the Guards, Fusiliers, Artillery, and Coast Guards. The Wigfall Guards were Irish, the Turner Rifles Germans. The inauguration of a ferry service from Virginia Point to Eagle Grove on Galveston Island improved transportation in 1838, but rail transportation soon replaced water transport. The Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad was chartered in 1853 and completed to Houston in 1859. A fourteen-mile canal constructed in 1857 connected Oyster Creek, West Bay, and the Brazos River, and ultimately became part of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The first bridge from Galveston Island to the mainland was completed in 1859.

When Texas joined the Union, Galveston was the largest city in Texas, with a population of 3,500. By the eve of the Civil War, however, the county had only nine manufacturing establishments, and Houston had begun to overshadow Galveston as the state's largest port. Houston drew investment away from Galveston and competed for cotton traffic from the interior. Though as late as 1860 two-thirds of Texas cotton was shipped from Galveston and exports totaled eleven million dollars, Houston ultimately became the central railroad terminal and shipping center of Texas.

Slavery in Galveston County began before 1820, when Laffite and Aury pursued the slave trade by seizing slave ships headed for the West Indies or the United States. By 1850, when slave markets operated at Galveston, the county's population included 3,785 Whites, 30 free Blacks, and 714 enslaved people; ten years later the population had increased to 6,707 Whites and 1,520 slaves, but only 2 free Blacks remained. An illegal slave trade developed by the Civil War, and debate over a law forbidding the importation of African slaves in the 1850s became a crucial issue in the county. Secession split the leading families. Though the German population was generally Unionist, the county ultimately voted in favor of the Confederacy. During the ensuing war a number of Galveston county military groups supported the Confederate cause, including the Galveston Artillery, organized in 1840, the Galveston Rifles, and the JOLOs, a militia group of ship captains who watched the harbor for warships. The blockade of Southern ports was extended to Texas in July 1861, and Galveston was captured by Northern forces in 1862. The first recorded use of a railroad car for mobile artillery occurred when Galvestonians defending the harbor mounted a heavy gun on the railroad track and pushed it along while firing on ships. Nonetheless, despite fortifications, the port proved indefensible. Galveston Island homes were closed up, and people and warehouses moved to the mainland. Thomas William House and William Marsh Rice were among those who moved their headquarters to Houston. Declining cotton prices decreased the value of slaves, and many were placed by their owners on inland plantations. Though Confederate military and naval forces under Gen. John B. Magruder recaptured the city at the battle of Galveston, a yellow fever epidemic in 1864 left it forsaken. On June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) Union major general Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, raised a flag symbolizing the restoration of Union control, and proclaimed freedom for the slaves.

Owing to its location and strong Union faction, Galveston County got through Reconstruction more smoothly than some other counties, though occupation forces remained until 1870. A significant concentration of military forces was headquartered at Galveston, including four White infantry companies and one Black infantry company. Citizens clashed with White soldiers of the Seventeenth Infantry in 1866, and in 1867 the local police force was discharged and replaced with African Americans and others. By 1868, however, as troops were reassigned to the frontier, only two White infantry companies remained. E. M. Gregory, assistant Freedmen's Bureau commissioner for Texas, established a bureau headquarters in the Galveston customhouse on September 5, 1865. With tuition eliminated and eight bureau teachers active in Galveston city schools, school attendance increased by 400 percent in 1867, despite the schools' poor condition and the return of yellow fever in that year. The county's Black population increased as Blacks from Northern cities flowed into the state. The first Black newspaper printed in Texas, the Representative was published by editor and proprietor Richard Nelson at Galveston from 1870 to June 1872. Black political involvement began when George T. Ruby served as county representative to the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69. Norris W. Cuney served as state sergeant-at-arms in 1871 and had strong influence on party control in the 1880s and 1890s. Galveston businesses revived, and the port city's population nearly doubled within a year after the war. With removal of the blockade and reestablishment of the customhouse in 1866, exports for shipment to foreign countries poured in, and a building boom began. By 1867 Galveston educational facilities included a Catholic college, a convent school, a German Lutheran school, an English commercial school, a male academy, three female schools, and the newly established Galveston Medical College. Efforts to establish a public school system in the county began in 1870, when 2,478 White and 631 Black children enrolled. Trade resumed, and by 1867 total exports from the port amounted to almost $23 million; domestic trade amounted to a third more than exports. On the mainland, residents produced vegetables, raised stock, and ran businesses, while Bolivar Peninsula residents harvested oysters and raised Sea Island cotton until the 1880s. In 1870 the county population included 12,053 White and 3,236 Black residents. The county received an economic boost in 1873 when the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway bypassed Houston to avoid a yellow fever epidemic, the Mallory line established service to New York, and cotton traders organized the Galveston Cotton Exchange. By 1874 Galveston, at that time the "New York of the Gulf," had become the state banking center and the site of numerous wholesale houses. Ninety-one manufacturing establishments operating in 1870 were joined before the close of the century by flour mills, cotton, woolen textile, and bagging mills, an iron foundry, a rope factory, and other manufacturers. Exports increased from $14.8 million in 1870 to more than $26.6 million in 1881, briefly interrupted by a longshoremen's strike in 1877. Foreign cotton exports in 1875 totaled 233,496 bales, up from 16,417 in 1866.

In 1880 Galveston was still the largest city in Texas, with 530 businesses, 147 saloons, 10 hotels, and a combined wholesale and retail trade valued at $30 million. That year the port shipped 490,921 bales of cotton and received almost a half million dollars in imports. The county population of 24,121 included 5,586 Blacks, 6,135 Germans, and significant numbers of English, French, Italians, Scots, and Irish. Farmers on Bolivar Peninsula grew watermelons, truck crops, and livestock from the 1880s to the 1930s, when most farming ceased there. The 1880 census reported 164 farms with holdings of 8,323 beef cattle and 901 dairy cows. Manufacturing had nearly doubled over the previous decade; in 1880, 172 establishments employed 649 workers and produced products valued at over $2 million. Transportation improvements continued to promote county growth throughout the 1880s and 1890s. The Galveston and Western (Little Susie) Railway on Galveston Island was completed, and construction of the Electric Pavilion, an elaborate beach bathhouse designed by Nicholas J. Clayton, marked the beginning of a growing resort industry on the coast. Congressional legislation in 1890 for completion of Galveston's deepwater port benefited numerous new inland factories. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston opened in 1891. By the end of the decade, a wagon bridge had been built to the mainland, and C. J. and N. C. Jones's Gulf and Inter-State Railway, chartered in 1894, linked Bolivar Point and Beaumont. The line prospered until after 1910, when Houston, Corpus Christi, and Beaumont took over a large part of Galveston's tonnage. Construction of Fort Crockett and United States Coast Guard installations at Fort San Jacinto and a second Fort Travis further stimulated local growth.

Fortunes were reversed temporarily, if catastrophically, when the Galveston hurricane of 1900 killed thousands of people and destroyed much of the city. Recovery was swift, however, and by 1910 citizens had developed the commission form of city government, constructed a seawall, and raised the grade throughout the city. Construction of Hotel Galvez in 1911 foreshadowed growing tourism in the county. At the same time, Galveston took on a new role as a port of entry. When the federal government replaced state administrations in processing immigrants at the turn of the century, efforts began to redirect the flow of immigration from the Northeast to Texas. Pelican Island became federal property, and the government constructed an immigration center and quarantine station there. In the Northeast, Jacob H. Schiff presided over the Galveston Movement, which tried to offset Taft administration efforts to restrict immigration. Between 1906 and 1914 nearly 50,000 immigrants arrived at Galveston, including Bohemians, Moravians (see CZECHS), Galicians, Austrians, Romanians, Swiss, English, Poles, Italians, Dutch, and some 10,000 Jews. By 1915 Galveston was considered a "second Ellis Island." The flow of immigration ceased in World War I, and the immigration center was demolished in 1972.

Between 1900 and 1930, Galveston County continued to prosper. Railway access improved in 1912 with construction of a causeway, and an interurban railroad (see ELECTRIC INTERURBAN RAILWAYS) carried passengers from 1911 until 1936. Oil production began at High Island, and a rice mill and brewery opened at Galveston. The promise of new industry came mainly, however, from the opening of the Houston Ship Channel, which had developed after 1839 from efforts to clear debris on Buffalo Bayou, and the gradual extension of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. During World War I the Texas Naval Militia of Galveston was the first county unit to entrain for the war, and Fort Crockett housed servicemen. Galveston shipped roughly a quarter of the Texas cotton crop in 1917 and handled food and war materials destined for Europe. In spite of this, and the fact that the port shipped $585 million in foreign tonnage and half that much in coastwise tonnage as late as 1923, the port declined as shippers moved to Houston, where tonnage soon surpassed these amounts. The county population reached 53,150 in the 1920s and continued to climb thereafter. With the arrival of Prohibition, Galveston became a center for gambling, crime, and bootlegging. It also attracted out-of-towners, who responded to advertising campaigns for local resorts and were drawn to the era's first competitions for bathing beauties at Galveston beaches. In this period, Ku Klux Klan activity developed in the county and centered at League City. Railroad extensions connected Galveston to markets in the West and drew industrial imports from factories in the East and in Europe. The Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, International-Great Northern, Gulf and Interstate, and a portion of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico offered service in the period. Scarcely a mile of unimproved highway remained in the county, though surfaces of dredged shell from the bottom of Galveston Bay continued to distinguish its highways. The first paved highway to Houston was opened in 1928, and the Bolivar Ferry began carrying cars from Galveston to Point Bolivar in 1930. In agriculture, county farmers propagated fruit and truck crops including berries and magnolia figs. Dairying and cattle raising continued, though farming gradually replacing livestock except in grassy salt marshes ideal for grazing. The Texas Sugar Refinery at Texas City produced sugar for export (see SUGAR PRODUCTION), and a gas-cracking plant there reflected the area's growing petroleum industry.

With the onset of the Great Depression, Galveston began a decline in relation to other Texas cities that lasted until the 1970s. Though few Galveston County banks failed, cotton firms rapidly departed for Houston, and manufacturing firms dwindled from 305 in 1900 to only ninety-seven in 1930. The port shipped grain for export; shipping, insurance, resorts, and seafood, including shrimp and oysters, dominated the county economy. Sixty boats operated from the port. A truck and trailer company, an iron foundry, marine repair shops, and meatpacking, coffee-roasting, and broom and mattress factories hired local workers at Galveston. Nevertheless, four petrochemical plants built at Texas City accounted for half of all industrial employment in the county from 1938 to 1956. During World War II, Galveston was fortified in case of German attack, and navy blimps were housed at Hitchcock. The county's chief wartime production came from the Todd Shipyard at Pelican Spit. New residents drawn to employment at this and other wartime industry increased the population over the decade by almost 40 percent. An influx of Mexican farm laborers reached a total of 1,262 by 1940, and by the war's end a majority of the population had been born outside the county. By mid-decade the overall population reached a high of 100,000, of which 78 percent were White and 22 percent Black. As Galveston continued to decline, longshoremen and shrimpers responded to low wages with strikes. Manufacturing firms continued to close, and by 1947 only sixty-six remained.

After the war, the city of Galveston purchased the port's existing facilities, which had been privately owned since their founding in 1854, and began to modernize. Elsewhere in the county, prosperity increased as eight oilfields with 272 oil wells produced more than 4.6 million barrels of oil by 1944. Tin smelting centered at Texas City, and coastwise shipping concentrated there. Outgoing products included sulfur, cotton, wheat, and metal, while incoming products included tin ore, sugar, tea, bananas, bagging, and steel products. In rural parts of the county, settlement centered around 900 small farms and ranches that produced rice, hay, pecans, figs, potatoes, strawberries, citrus fruits, and other fruit and truck crops, as well as dairy products and increasing numbers of beef cattle. In 1940 beef cattle numbered 14,457, largely Brahmans, and dairy farms owned 5,800 milk cows. By 1944, rice culture occupied 16,000 acres. In the 1950s the opening of the Gulf Freeway to Houston and the initiation of "Splash Day," an annual spring youth celebration at Galveston, drew tourists and vacationers to the coast, but the city continued to decline because of limited water supplies and a lack of space for new industry. Gambling and crime increased, and houses fell into disrepair. By the end of the decade, however, these conditions initiated efforts by the state to clean up the city and develop Pelican Island. Galveston dedicated its Mary Moody Northen Center for the Performing Arts, and the fortunes of the community began to improve. Domestic trade reached a postwar peak in 1950 at almost 1.5 million tons, and ninety steamship lines served the Galveston port. In 1951, foreign shipments, largely of cotton, sulfur, and grain, totaled 5.2 million tons. Manufacturing began to recover. Eighty-seven manufacturing establishments employed 24 percent of the workforce, primarily at oil refineries and chemical plants. Wholesalers handled beer, glass, chemicals, foods, hardware, and ship supplies. Farming remained important in mainland communities, and farmland in the county increased between 1954 and 1959, when 590 farms occupied 104,312 acres of county land. Of these, 255 were commercial; and 12 percent of the farmers were tenants. Farm production in 1953 included beef cattle, dairy products, and 340,000 barrels of rice.

In the 1960s Galveston County again suffered from a major hurricane when Carla came ashore. The late 1950s and 1960s were characterized, however, by industrial expansion and development projects that gave rise to new resort communities on the mainland and Galveston Island. A group of Houston oilmen purchased Pelican Island, and other investors targeted Fort Crockett for development. Galveston constructed a bridge to the mainland across San Luis Pass, thus increasing its access to three causeways and six railroads, and completed a new county courthouse. The population increased, primarily within a fifteen-mile radius of the port, and La Marque became a bedroom community for Texas City and Galveston. Mineral reserves formed the bulk of the tax base in five of the nine county school districts. Farmers continued to produce small amounts of fruits, vegetables, rice, beef cattle and dairy products, but farming was negligible and manufacturing was confined largely to ship repair and maintenance and eight petroleum plants, including Union Carbide, Wah Chang, Monsanto, Amoco Chemical, Marathon Oil, and Texas City Refining. The seafood industry grew as the shrimping fleet increased to almost 300 boats (see SHRIMPING INDUSTRY). In 1966 Galveston shipped almost 1.8 million bales of cotton and more than three million tons of exports. New industry included Shell Oil facilities for servicing offshore operations, and development of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center at Clear Lake on the Galveston-Harris county line. League City, just across the lake, was incorporated in 1960. The Texas Maritime Academy and Galveston College opened, and the University of Houston converted Camp Wallace into an engineering and electrical research facility.

In the 1970s preservation efforts were made to reclaim historical landmarks in Galveston, including the Strand, once known as the "Wall Street of the South." Texas A&M College of Marine Science and Maritime Research opened at Galveston, developers built shopping malls, and revitalization began. The county economy was divided chiefly into five sectors: waterborne commerce, petroleum and petrochemical products, medical services, financial services, and tourism. Industry included oil and gas extraction, petroleum refining, shipbuilding, construction, and food packaging. Though Houston remained the more important regional import center, Galveston excelled in exports, chiefly container shipping and the export of grain and cotton to foreign countries. The shrimpers, 200 to 300 strong, harvested eight million pounds of shrimp annually, while the coastal area grew further as a resort and recreation center for Houston residents and other tourists. By the 1980s, Galveston County was one of the most densely populated counties in the state. The population rose above 200,000 for the first time in 1982; residents included 36,328 Blacks and 23,557 Hispanics, along with others primarily of German, English, and Irish descent. More than 65 percent of the population had graduated from high school, and more than 15 percent were college graduates. In 1982, 38 percent of the land was in farms or ranches and 15 percent of the farmland was under cultivation. Livestock and livestock products accounted for 62 percent of agricultural production on the county's 438 farms; the principal crops included rice, hay, soybeans, watermelons, oranges, and pecans. Tin smelting, oil refining, metal fabrication, and chemical production continued at Texas City; oil and gas, clay, and sulfur were produced at a variety of other locations. Businesses in the county numbered 3,479. The area recovered from the effects of Hurricane Alicia in 1983, and expansion of tourist facilities continued. The Homeport project initiated by the United States Navy was abandoned in 1990, but the Galveston area remained a center for medical services and marine research.

Politically, Galveston County residents have voted consistently for Democratic candidates, with few exceptions. Republican candidates won a majority in 1896 (William McKinley), 1956 (Dwight D. Eisenhower), 1972 (Richard M. Nixon), and 1984 (Ronald Reagan). In 1982, 98,887 registered voters lived in the county. As of 2014, 314,198 people lived in the county; about 58.3 percent were Anglo, 13.7 percent African American, and 23.5 percent Hispanic. The Galveston County Fair is held annually in May. Special events in Galveston include a Battle of Galveston Re-Enactment, the Festival on the Strand, the Rainbow Festival, the International Seafood Gumbo Cookoff, and Dickens on the Strand. The Village Fair is held at League City, the Strawberry Festival at Dickinson, the Fishing Tourney and Annual Shrimp Boil at Texas City, the Blessing of the Fleet at Seabrook-Kemah, the Good Ole Days Celebration at Hitchcock, and the Heritage Festival at Santa Fe. Historical sites in the county include the Rosenberg Library at Galveston and the Salt Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

Maggie Abercrombie, Sketch of Galveston County (1881). A. Pat Daniels, Bolivar! Gulf Coast Peninsula (Crystal Beach, Texas: Peninsula, 1985). Joseph O. Dyer, The Early History of Galveston (Galveston: Oscar Springer Print., 1916). Galveston: The Commercial Metropolis and Principal Seaport of the Great Southwest (Galveston: Land and Thompson, 1885). Galveston County, Texas: An Economic Base Study (University of Houston Center for Research on Business and Economics, 1965). Samuel Butler Graham and Ellen Newman, Galveston Community Book: A Historical and Biographical Record of Galveston and Galveston County (Galveston: Cawston, 1945). Charles Waldo Hayes, Galveston: History of the Island and the City (2 vols., Austin: Jenkins Garrett, 1974). Dolores Kenyon, From Arrows to Astronauts (Houston, 1976). Bernard Marinbach, Galveston: Ellis Island of the West (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983). David G. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986). Ray Miller, Ray Miller's Galveston (Houston: Cordovan Press, 1983). Andrew Morrison, The Industries of Galveston (Galveston?: Metropolitan, 1887). Bradley R. Rice, "Galveston Plan of City Government by Commission," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 78 (April 1975). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Jessie O. Webb, The History of Galveston to 1865 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1924).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana J. Kleiner, “Galveston County,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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April 7, 2021

Galveston County
Currently Exists
Place Type
Altitude Range
0 ft – 40 ft
Civilian Labor Counts
People Year
163,153 2019
Land Area
Area (mi2) Year
378.4 2019
Total Area Values
Area (mi2) Year
873.8 2019
Per Capita Income
USD ($) Year
51,785 2019
Property Values
USD ($) Year
34,630,149,074 2019
Rainfall (inches) Year
50.8 2019
Retail Sales
USD ($) Year
4,274,409,748 2019
Temperature Ranges
Min (°F) Max (°F) Year
48.6 89.6 2019
Unemployment Percentage Year
9.7 2019
USD ($) Year
1,492,939,636 2019
Population Counts
People Year
342,139 2019
Great Texas Land Rush logo
Adoption Status: ⭐
This place has been adopted and will not be available until August 31, 2022
Adopted by:
Charleen Mullenweg
Dedication Message:
In honor of Kathleen Mullenweg