Page 66 - June2017

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streetcar tracks, water pipes and fire hydrants—five hundred
city blocks, some structures by a few inches and others by
as much as eleven feet—had to be raised on hand-turned
jackscrews, ratcheted up a quarter of an inch at a time.  
“The grade-raising was a colossal undertaking; enormous
dredges had to be brought in to pump sand from offshore into
the areas behind the seawall, and people had to walk on wooden
planks to cross streets,” recounts Wiggins, a member of the
Galveston County Historical Commission. 
The cost of construction of the seawall and raising the city’s
infrastructure was an astronomical $6 million—$140 million
today. Galveston County agreed to partially fund the cost for the
seawall through a bond issue. The grade-raising, however, was
funded entirely through the efforts of Galveston residents, and
the cost of raising each structure was left to the owner of the
building—and nearly every owner found the funds to do so. Not
one dime of the project was federally funded.  
In the decades that followed, the three-mile long seawall
was extended five more times. Today, it is more than ten miles
long, stretching across one-third of Galveston’s Gulf of Mexico
frontage, and it is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world.
The never-ending story
A native of the Gulf Coast, Fountain was not born on Galveston
Island but visited frequently as a child and a teenager, and
she has always been drawn to its energy, legends, Victorian
architecture, and the seawall—especially the seawall.  
“I can’t really explain it, but there’s something about it. It has
an energy, a life of its own,” says Fountain, editor-in-chief and
feature writer of
Galveston Monthly
magazine and chairperson
of the Arts and Historic Preservation Advisory Board to the
Galveston City Council. 
The book began as a twelve part series of articles for the
magazine, dubbed simply, The Seawall Chronicles, that Fountain
penned from June of 2015 through May of 2016.
“After the year-long series ran, I submitted it to Arcadia
Publishing. They loved the idea, but they wanted me to double
the length of it. And I was actually glad they wanted that, even
though it meant a lot more work,” Fountain laughs.
“As I was writing the series for the magazine, I was somewhat
limited by space in terms of what I could include. While doing
my research, I had accumulated all of this surplus information, so
I certainly had enough information to expand it. It needed it. It
deserved it. There was a lot of the story left to be told.” 
The first chapter of the book deals with the
impact the 1900 hurricane had on Galveston, which at the time
was a major U.S. commercial center for shipping cotton, cattle
and leather products, and how city leaders responded to the
situation.  
“There would probably be no seawall were it not for the
hurricane, which caused such extensive devastation and
destruction,” Fountain says. “After the storm, an elite group
of businessmen formed a new municipal government and
set up a proposition for protecting the island for the future.
That’s why the engineering committee was formed in the first
place,” Fountain says. 
But the seawall itself is only half the story, she says.  
“You really can’t tell the story of the seawall without telling the
story of the grade-raising, which is my absolute favorite story
Street waiting to be raised
Fort Crocket at Seawall and
53rd Street, 1932
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GALVESTON MONTHLY |
JUNE 2017