the city had marveled at the ingenious plan set forth by the Board of
Engineers, citizens of Galveston
grew anxious as the Seawall neared completion and they were confronted with the
mystery of how the grade would ever be raised. The New City Charter did include
instructions for the administrative processes of the task, but ultimately that
only meant that city officials would delegate the intricacies to others more
charter stated that the Governor of Texas shall appoint three resident citizens
and qualified voters of the city to serve on a board for the comprehensive
management, control, and direction of raising and filling the proposed areas,
although all of their decisions, provisions, and contracts were to be approved
by the Board of Commissioners.
May 15th of 1904, Texas Governor S.W.T. Lanham complied and
officially appointed a Grade Raising Commission. The prominent John Sealy was
named to the board and Captain J.P. Alvey, a Galveston businessman, was given the title of
chairman. Edmond R. Cheeseborough, a diminutive man with an organized and
efficient manner that well-suited the board’s needs, was appointed as
members of the Commission, each firmly established in their professional and
personal reputations, still had little more than a vague notion of where to
find the answers to the prospect of elevating over two thousand structures and
filling underneath them. The most glaring speculation was how and from where
they would obtain the estimated seventeen million cubic yards of fill needed
for the project.
it in from the mainland would be incredibly expensive, dredging it from the
Gulf could negatively impact the beaches, and taking it from the west end would
prematurely halt Galveston’s
only path for expansion.
board opened the discussion up to the public and vetted many suggestions and
probable solutions, yet at last wisely surmised that contractors who could
actually perform the task were the best source for a solution. Thus they made a
nationwide call for bids on the project, placing advertisements into every
prominent technical and engineering publication across the country.
order to properly ascertain the scope of the project for possible contractors,
the board hired Captain Charles S. Riche, head of the Government Engineers
office in Galveston,
to conduct a land survey. ‘The Advertisement, Instructions, Specifications, and
Proposal for the Grade Raising of Galveston’ was fourteen pages long and
included a thorough assessment of the project’s specifications, except of
course the method to be used and the origin of the fill.
December 7th of 1903, the sealed bids were publicly opened.
Surprisingly and much to the dismay of the board, only two bids were offered.
However the winner was clear, and it seemed that no matter how many competing
bids had been placed, the innovative ideas of the New York engineering firm of Goedhart &
Bates would have outshone them all.
plan designed by P.C. Goedhart and Lindon W. Bates was as practical as it was
novel, and the men’s confidence and vision was contagious. In their statement
to the Grade Raising Board they won the hearts and minds of the small Island town, aided by their magnificent scheme that
solved all of the mysteries and questions that had plagued the community for
years. In one fell swoop Goedhart and Bates made the impossible, possible.
insisted that the fill be taken from the harbor, and were well-equipped with
four state-of-the-art steel hopper dredges produced at their plant in Germany. The
dredges were self-loading, self-propelled, and self-discharging, and they were
capable of dispensing fill over long distances when they were docked and
attached to lines of shore pipe, unlike a traditional dredge that could only
drop its contents in place.
from the harbor would be 80-90 percent water, but after it was discharged into
the designated area, the water would recede and leave the silt behind. The
watery consistency of the fill not only allowed it to travel long distances, it
completely eliminated the need for scrapers and levelers.
the harbor and the areas to be filled was Galveston’s bustling downtown and
port, not an ideal area to lay pipes that were up to 42 inches in diameter, but
Goedhart and Bates had a solution for that, too.
the filling commenced, a canal was cut across the city that ran parallel to the
Seawall, exactly 100 feet behind it. The land excavated to cut the canal was
used to fill in this space directly behind the Seawall, which aligned with the
city’s desire to fill this most prominent area first so that work could begin
on building Seawall Boulevard in order to more immediately restore the value
and attraction of the beachfront area.
canal started at 8th
Street and the harbor and followed the curve of
the original Seawall down to the grade-raising boundary at 33rd Street. It was three
miles long, twenty feet deep, and two hundred feet across, with two turning basins.
dredges careened down the canal and attached to docking stations nearest the
area to be elevated, then the watery fill was released into the shore pipes.
Inland, grade-raising districts were designated and levees built around each
one that varied from two to ten feet high.
were responsible for the task and expense of raising their houses, and also for
dealing with the inconveniences as the watery fill swirled beneath their homes
and then slowly drained, a process that was repeated until the solid fill
reached the desired level.
were built all across the city to facilitate pedestrians, and many of the
pathways went through the front parlors of people’s homes. Sometimes the drains
from the levees would become blocked, other times flash flooding would leave
people stranded, and sometimes the water would stagnate and become a breeding
ground for mosquitoes.
the incessant onslaught of inconvenience, however, the project soon lost its
novelty and became merely a way of life, a challenge graciously accepted by a
community willing to sacrifice its own well-being for the prize of future
security and safety. Out of 2,156 houses that were raised, not one condemnation
suit was filed against the city.
and buildings were not the only things that had to be elevated, the entirety of
the city’s infrastructure had to halted and moved or rebuilt. Sewers, water
lines, telegraph lines, electricity poles, streetcar tracks, rail tracks,
sidewalks, roads, streets, bushes, trees, topsoil, and fences all had to be
torn up and then replaced. Yet all involved used these seeming inconveniences
to their advantage.
the storm many homeowners had taken liberty with property lines when they
rebuilt, showing little regard for city boundaries for public sidewalks and
alleyways. All of this was reconciled via the grade-raising, and neighborhoods
worked together to align their properties and fences to give the streets a
sense of uniformity.
city also used the proceedings to its benefit, rectifying drainage problems and
installing underground water lines that had previously been impossible at the
island’s previous elevation. They also installed a proper underground sewer
system and underground electric power lines to eliminate poles and wires in the
prominent East End.
years into the project, Goedhart & Bates had lost over a quarter of a
million dollars, over five million by today’s standards, and left Galveston disheartened
and bankrupt. Their brilliance and ingenuity laid the groundwork for one of the
most monumental feats of civil engineering ever accomplished in the history of
the United States,
yet they were unable to finish the task and were ultimately forced to surrender
the undertaking. The American Dredging Company was commissioned to complete the
grade-raising, which at last came to a close in late 1911.
entire project, from the first hammer of the pile driver at the Seawall’s
foundation to the day that the last house was re-positioned on the refilled
canal path, had taken over nine years and cost the city of Galveston and her
residents six million dollars, a sum that today would equate to over 140
what was paid in both time and money was a price entirely justified in the eyes
of the Islanders. The New York Press wrote about the city in 1903, saying “One
has but to look at the growth of her commerce, at her private improvements; for
where the city has spent millions, her citizens and the great railroads have
spent tens of millions. Galveston
is today a richer and busier city than before the storm.”
Galveston commerce had
not only survived near annihilation, it had risen with its city to new heights.