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Galveston: 1905

Circa 1905. "Seawall and beach at Galveston, Texas." 6½ x 8½ inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Circa 1905. "Seawall and beach at Galveston, Texas." 6½ x 8½ inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Looking east

This may have been taken around 15th or 16th Street looking east, as you can see where the wall makes a jog to the left, out of sight, in the distance. That's between 12th and 13th Streets.

Other serious hurricanes came through in 1909 and 1915, and it was discovered that the small rocks shown here at the foot of the wall were insufficient to protect it, and larger, pink granite "rip-rap" were put down instead.

In the distance one cane see a steam crane, possibly at work laying the rocks at the foot of the wall farther east.

The Wall

It is my understanding (from being a local - living in an evac zone on the mainland just north of Galveston) that the seawall did its job during Ike, but that the flooding was from the storm surge moving around the seawall, especially through the harbor entrance and to a lesser extent, the non-protected west side. The surge inundated the island from behind. The good aspect of this is that it was flooded rather than scoured with a powerful tidal force, like Bolivar on the other side of the harbor with no sea wall. The storm surge fiercely destroyed, scoured and eroded the peninsula, while Galveston proper (behind the seawall) was more 'gently' flooded.

The seawall is still only going to serve mostly to break the forward advance, but the fact is the island slopes down and away from it toward the bay, and any significant storm surge will flood. The surge won't slam and scour, though.

Hurricane Ike was not too bad of a wind storm, its damage was the massive, unusually large surge. Wind-wise, Galveston has endured worse, we even kept our roof, but surge-wise it was massive! Without the seawall it would have been cataclysmic. Good engineering 100 years old still doing its job!

Hurricane Ike

A lot of Ike's damage in Galveston was the storm surge that came from the bay side of town, which is not protected like the beach side. The historic commercial district The Strand took 8 feet or more of water. I was down there for Mardi Gras 2009, and someone had painted an Ike "high water mark" on a building in The Strand.

Point of order

The board of engineers that designed the Galveston seawall was chaired by retired Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert (not Roberts), best remembered to posterity as the author of the Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, more readily known as Robert's Rules of Order.

Off the map

The seawall and grade raising were significant engineering feats of their time. However, they couldn't stop the loss of prestige that Galveston suffered after the storm -- Galveston had been the most prosperous and glamorous city in Texas before the 1900 hurricane, but was later surpassed by Houston and Dallas.

Another good book to read is John Edward Weems' "A Weekend in September." Published in 1957, Weems interviewed numerous survivors who offered gripping, and sometimes inspiring, eyewitness accounts of the horrors of that weekend. An interesting note is that one could still see high water marks from the flood on some of the since-raised houses, even in the 1950s.

Galveston Had a Seawall

"Galveston had a seawall
To keep deep water out,
But the high tide from the
Ocean spread the water all about.
Wasn't that a Mighty Storm"

-- Huddie Ledbetter

Hurricane of 1900

Just finished reading the book "Isaac's Storm" by Erik Larson about the extremely deadly hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. According to Larson, this seawall was built as a result. About 8,000 people died, and it was costlier than Hurricane Katrina.


That has to be a pioneering use of reinforced concrete, yes?


In 1900, a huge hurricane devastated Galveston, killing thousands. Part of the problem was the lack of a seawall. The highest point in the city was only 9 feet above sea level, so when the storm landed with its 15 foot tidal surge, the result was utter destruction. The seawall shown here was built in 1902, and is now 17 feet high. It stood up to the 12 foot storm surge of a 1915 hurricane, though Hurricane Ike in 2008 spilled water over it.

Galveston Seawall history

This is probably the first section of the seawall [construction began on this section in 1902 and was completed in 1904], which was built as a result of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This initial section was a little over 3 miles long, and would be extended over the years as the Island's population grew westward.

Probably the most interesting thing about the construction of the seawall was the grade raising that was also done as part of the seawall project. The bulidings, homes, and utilities on the east end of the Island [where the majority of population was located at the time] were raised as high as 17 feet, with the space below filled with mud and sand pumped from the floor of Galveston Bay--quite an engineering feat for its time. Check this web site for detailed information and photos concerning the grade raising:

For over 100 years, the Seawall did exactly what it was intended to do--protect Galveston from major hurricane damage. Unfortunately, the Seawall met its match in Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the huge storm surge swept over the wall and caused massive flooding, even in the highest part of town directly behind the wall.

But, to show that the Island residents' sense of humor survived Ike, I was down there earlier this year and was in some bar on the Strand (old downtown district). A line was painted on the wall about 7 feet above floor level, indicating the "Hurricane Ike High Water Mark", and just under that, "You must be at least this tall to get drunk in this pub!"

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