Page 32 - Galveston Monthly - September 2017

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influences were found within their dynamic
beautification initiatives that permanently
established the city’s paradisiacal tableau.
So much so that one hundred years later,
after Hurricane Ike claimed 40,000 trees
including all of those on the esplanade,
their landscaping design was adopted by the
Galveston Tree Conservancy who replanted
the esplanades with a painstaking historical
The WHPA’s efforts were also a crucial aspect
of establishing Broadway as an entrance
corridor. The result of their work was so
breathtakingly idyllic that when the multi-
million dollar Interurban railway between
Houston and Galveston was being designed,
the Avenue claimed uncontested the task of
introducing passengers to the city limit of
Rather than follow the railroad tracks
directly into downtown, the Interurban’s
electric railway would veer right from the
new causeway’s entrance onto the island,
follow a prescribed route across the peninsula
(opposite of and parallel to the railroad), and
link up with Broadway at 57
This new causeway over the bay would
not only facilitate the electric lines for the
Interurban, but also rail traffic and a lane
for automobiles on each side. Opened on
December 5, 1911, the island was accessible
both by car and high-speed electric rail for
the very first time, and since cars could
finally cross the bay, they also required a
route across the peninsula into town. The
first roadway, called Highway 75 at the time
(present-day Harborside Drive), followed the
rail tracks instead of the Interurban down the
had been realized as an ideal promenade, and the
addition of live oaks and palm trees and countless
oleanders had given the street a lushly exotic and
private, neighborhood feel. Much of the landscaping
survived the 1900 Storm, thanks in part to the debris
wall that was formed as water charged in from the
Gulf, scraping houses off of their foundations and
pushing them into a twenty foot-high formation that
encircled the heart of the city.
Unfortunately, it was later lost completely when
the grade of the island was raised between 1904
and 1911. The grade-raising spanned the southern
half of the city between Broadway and the seawall
and used fill dredged from the harbor. This fill was
nearly ninety percent saltwater, which allowed it to
be discharged long distances through massive shore
pipes into respective grade-raising districts.
A levy with a narrow drain in one corner was raised
around the perimeter of each of these districts, and
after the watery fill was released into the district, the
saltwater would drain away and silt would remain.
The process would be repeated until the desired
height was reached.
Needless to say, vegetation does not take kindly to saltwater, and the regal
promenade was reduced to literal dust. But quickly taking the lead on restoring
Galveston’s greenery was the Women’s Health Protective Association, a
formidable group of staunchly determined local women from all ranks and
backgrounds. The elected leaders of the WHPA were usually the wives of city
officials, bankers, and elite businessmen, and they used their influence deftly
and broadly.
They established sanitation benchmarks for food production companies
in town as well as campaigns for clean living, but their most notable
The Galveston Causeway c. 1912
Construction of Cotton Compresses at 51st and Broadway c. 1914
Images courtesy of Rosenberg Library