Somewhere in Galveston County, officials must be smacking their foreheads in exasperation over the latest bit with Galveston. Namely, the Weather Channel's recently-compiled list of the 50 worst places to own a home based on natural factors. Galveston made it into the top 10, ranking eighth on the list.
This may come as a surprise to those with short memories, but it can't be much of a shock to those who, well, know anything at all about the history, both recent and long past, of Galveston. Basically, despite the best efforts of many people to make Galveston into something important -- a center for trade, the constant New Orleans-style Mardi Gras of the Texas Coast, whatever -- nature has always stepped in and smacked such aspirations down so hard it almost slapped Galveston back in time.
Way back when in 1900, Galveston was the "Octopus of the Gulf" (because it was a huge commercial port and a remarkably prosperous area) and it looked like things were only going to get better for those living there. It was even thought that Galveston would win a contest to get a deep water port, permanently turning Houston into an overlooked little sister of a city.
But that was before the 1900 hurricane rolled in. At that time, the highest point in Galveston was only a little over eight feet above sea level, and the hurricane storm surge was over 15 feet high. The town was taken completely unawares when the storm came in and decimated the city, killing somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people, and blasting the streets, buildings and other workings of Galveston to pieces. It is still the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history and it smacked the course of history in a different, Houston-centric direction, with all the subtlety of the whack of a croquet mallet.
Looking at photographs and video now (Thomas Edison sent a crew down to film the aftermath of the storm) the destruction is still almost unbelievable. Galveston never managed to truly right itself after the hurricane, and over the next century more storms rolled in and tore through the area. Houston got the Houston Ship Channel after all and Galveston never recovered its former glory. (However, the storm did purportedly inspire the remarkable song, "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm.")
Hurricane Ike reinforced the view of Galveston as a bad bet when it hit 108 years after the 1900 hurricane, racking up about $4 billion in damage from the hurricane alone and another $1 billion or so in damage from the hurricane winds. Galveston has been a crippled thing since then. Honestly, any idiot looking at the photographs and news coverage from Ike would conclude that maybe Galveston wasn't the place for them, but the Weather Channel wanted to make the point very clear -- said point being, based on the stats from natural disasters and the sheer destructive history of the area, you could only do worse by buying a home in certain parts of Louisiana.
Galveston County officials had an interesting approach to sticking up for the area though. "When they call Galveston County one of the worst places to buy a home, you have to look at the entire county in its whole totality," Galveston County Commissioner Stephen D. Holmes told the Galveston Daily News. "We have other areas like League City and Friendswood that as not as susceptible (to damage) because they're not right on the coast so they don't get the storm surge."
We're pretty sure the Weather Channel wasn't particularly focused on places like Friendswood when it conducted that survey, but we get that the folks in Galveston had to say something. After all, while they've never entirely recovered the prosperity or prestige of pre-1900 Galveston, they did build a sea wall to keep the area from being totally wiped out. Plus, the Texas City refineries totally survived Ike, even if much of the rest of Galveston kind of didn't.
On the upside, if you've been longing for that dream house on a sandy beach, you just might be able to get a good deal down in Galveston.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.