1:19 AM / Tuesday September 26, 2023

21 Nov 2013

Only in Galveston (part two)

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November 21, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Water park.


By Renée S. Gordon


Significant sites and attractions are not confined to Galveston’s downtown Historic District. Unique restaurants, museums, lodgings, outdoor venues and historic locations are spread throughout the island as well as beaches and nature and birding trails.  


At the onset of the Civil War Galveston was Texas’ largest city with a population of 7,207, 23 percent of which were enslaved. Galveston voted overwhelmingly to secede on February 23, 1861 and six months later Union forces blockaded the port. In October1862, the Confederates evacuated and the Federal forces took possession of the city. On January 1, 1863, the Confederates retook the city and from then until the end of the war the Union blockaded the area and the population became dependent on blockade runners for supplies. When Mobile fell Galveston’s port took on a greater importance as one of the few Confederate ports still open and the sole one on the Gulf of Mexico. On May 24, 1865, the Lark became the last Confederate boat to run a Union blockade.


Galveston’s African American History Trail primarily focuses on post-Civil War sites and begins at the precise moment when the slaves heard General Order #3, the order telling them they were free. Galveston is where Juneteenth originated.  On June 19, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger entered the city and declared that the Civil War in Texas was ended and emancipated all the slaves in the state. (Slavery was officially abolished by the 13th Amendment’s ratification on December 6, 1865.)    


The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by the director of the Freedman’s Bureau took place at A.M.E. Church at 2015 Broadway on January 1, 1866. The original church was built in 1848 on land given to slaves to build a house of worship. The original church was destroyed by fire in 1886 and was rebuilt as Reedy Chapel. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1984 and the Emancipation Proclamation continues to be read there each year.


Jack Johnson, the son of a slave, became the first African American World Heavyweight Champion on December 6, 1908. He was born in Galveston where he honed his skills as a stevedore and was arrested because boxing was not legal in the city. A life-sized bronze statue was dedicated to the “Galveston Giant” in Jack Johnson Park in November of 2012. A 2005 documentary by Ken Burns, “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”, explores his life and achievements against the backdrop of the era.


The Settlement Historic District in Texas City in Galveston County, a mere four miles from the city, was listed on the NRHP n 2010 and is a unique and significant African American history site. Calvin Bell, Thomas Britton, Thomas Caldwell and David Hobgood, former cowboys on the Butler Ranch, settled in the city just after the close of the Civil War. They had herded cattle on the Chisholm Trail and they used their earnings to settle 3-acre parcels of land set aside for freed blacks. Bell established a cattle ranch and was the first African American rancher in the region with a registered brand. The settlement preceded Texas City by more than 30 years and was independent well into the 20th-century.


The newest large-scale attraction is Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The island’s first “pier,” Electric Park, was constructed in 1906 and was lit by thousands of electric bulbs. Several blocks from Electric Park a Pleasure Pier was built during WWII for the servicemen. It closed in 1961. In 2012, after a multimillion-dollar renovation, the most recent incarnation of the Pleasure Pier opened. The pier offers family-oriented entertainment in the form of concerts, 16 amusement rides, games of chance, dining establishments and retail stores. The Ferris wheel provides panoramic views of both the island and the water. m


The internationally renowned Lone Star Flight Museum is another of the island’s treasures. This wonderful aviation museum is housed within an aircraft hangar and displays a rare collection of WWII and Vietnam historic aircrafts and artifacts. The museum opened in 1989 and is equipped with a 300-ft. wide by 6,000-ft. long WWII airfield. It began with a private collection and all of the aircraft are flight ready and 30-minute flights are offered on a regular basis in vintage B-17s, PT-17s and other planes. Former Tuskegee Airmen have taken rides here.


Tours are self-guided and interpretive plaques include aircraft statistics and information on its history. Highlights of the tour include the plane used in Secondhand Lions, a scale-model of a Japanese suicide bomber, Uncle Ho’s Nightmare the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider and Gen. George Patton’s command vehicle. www.lsfm.orgh


The award-winning Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is the first convertible water park in the world with the Wasserfest section being covered and heated from the end of September until the end of April. There are 12 heated attractions where both the water and air temperature are maintained in the 80s.


Family owned Schlitterbahn, meaning “slippery road” in German, opened in 2006. The 26-acre park has 33-water related attractions, hot tubs, the Boogie Bahn surf ride, premium cabanas and more than 10 dining venues including swim-up bars. Amusement Magazine named Wasserfest “The World’s Best Indoor Waterpark.”


PHOTO: Gen. Patton’s command vehicle.


In a city filled with singular attractions Moody Gardens manages to be in a league of its own. This nonprofit educational complex has taken on the mission of focusing on nature as a catalyst for education, entertainment, rehabilitation and research and is the region’s number 1 attraction. The program was inaugurated in 1983 to assist individuals with head injuries. Five years later Palm Beach, Galveston’s only white sand beach, was added. Currently Moody Gardens is a destination complex showcasing the AAA 4-Diamond hotel and spa, golf course, restaurant, three pyramids and three theaters. 


The 10-story glass Rainforest Pyramid features 1,700 flora and fauna from Africa, the Americas and Asia along a canopied walkway. Science and special exhibits are presented in the Discovery Pyramid. The 1.5 million-gallon Aquarium Pyramid was added to the collection in 1999 to feature four oceans and the Caribbean as habitats. The 4D Special FX Theater requires use of all your senses to produce an inimitable experience.


Celebrate the holiday season in a variety of surprising ways by taking advantage of Galveston’s Passport to Holiday Magic by the Sea. The program spans a two-month period, November 16th to January 4, 2014, and highlights more than 1,000 events and activities. Participants must submit passports by January 10th to be eligible for prizes including a cruise for four aboard Carnival Magic.


Galveston’s Official Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held at the Hotel Galvez on November 23, 2013 at 6 PM. The event kicks off the holiday season with the arrival of Santa, the lighting of the 35-ft. tree and performances by the Galveston Ballet.


Moody Gardens is presenting their 12th annual Festival of Lights from November 16th to January 4, 2014. The mile-long trail is adorned with more than 1-million lights, animations, entertainment and food stations. They open the season with a Holiday Gift Market held over Thanksgiving weekend. 


Dickens on the Strand is the island’s signature holiday event and this year will be the 40th anniversary of this 19th-century street festival. From December 6-8 the Strand will become the streets of Victorian London filled with parades, costumed vendors, crafts and ongoing entertainment on five stages. Two descendants of Charles Dickens will be in attendance.


Galveston is a perfect place for a girlfriend’s getaway, a retreat, a reunion or some personal rest and relaxation. On the West End of the island the family-owned Sand N’ Sea Properties offer more than 145 beachfront, beachside and bay front houses for rent. These luxury homes come in all sizes and include all the amenities.


Before bringing your visit to a close you must dine at Gaido’s, one of Galveston’s most notable restaurants for 102-years. Gulf Coast seafood is a specialty as well as their homemade sauces and desserts. “Texas Monthly” has honored Gaido’s pecan pie as the best in Texas.


All the information you need to plan a visit is available online.


I wish you smooth travels!





New York City is always a good choice for the holidays. Times Square has the most popular New Year’s celebration on the planet, the tree in Rockefeller Center is world famous, the illuminated store windows are breathtaking and to top it off there are so many restaurants you could dine out in a different one each night for 54-years! The view from the Empire State Building is awesome but the view from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center is equally stunning. It offers three, 360-degree decks on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. All the up-to-date event and activity information is available at


TMZ and On Location Tours make great holiday gifts. TV & Movie Sites Tour offerings include “Sex and the City” Hotspots and “Gossip Girl” Sites Tours. Holiday Lights and Movie Sites includes a photo stop at Rockefeller Center and movie locations from Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, Scrooged and others. Advance purchase is required. and


Philadelphia always has a lot to offer but the luxury Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, 220 S. 17th Street, has managed to set the bar with The Cyber Monday deal. For 24-hours beginning at 12:00 AM on Monday, December 2 for a full 24 hours, or until sold out, individuals may make one reservation for a maximum two-night stay at $19.26. Stays must be completed by February 28, 2014, and availability and blackout dates apply. This just might be your most romantic gift ever. 215.735.6000


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