Cherry's Galveston Memories
that the battle that made Texas a republic
in 1836 had ended, the founders of Galveston
were finally able to get down to the business of building the new
While French sailors were settling in at the Gem saloon ("Your First
and Last Chance" was lettered on the door) for an afternoon of drinking
that would extend through the night, members of the Galveston Company
began selling lots to the town they had envisioned and designed.
And in the same building, known as No. 6 Strand, near the corner of
17th Street, the first city council met to plot the course that the
city would take to assure a prosperous development.
Auction houses, steamboat agents, cotton factors and mercantile stores
were looking for places to settle, and the Strand seemed the most
likely place. Wooden buildings were constructed, but all on stilts,
because only a small levee of oyster and clam shells broke the bay's
tides from the street.
One block, the one between 22nd and 23rd streets, had a wooden pavement,
but the rest of the street was nothing more than compacted sand and
dredge materials that had been pumped in. Soon sidewalks, themselves
on stilts, were built above the street's elevation. And schooners
and sloops would tie up to them.
being built, in fact five of the largest in Texas,
but most of what customers deposited and withdrew were gold and silver.
There was very little currency used back then, and what there was
was called "skin plasters."
The first merchant to invest in a new building on the Strand was John
M. Jones, and he built at the corner of 23rd Street. It cost $1,000.
Soon others were following his lead, and, quite frankly, business
began to boom.
as so frequently happened before and after on the island, fate was
dreaming up another idea. This time it was a yellow fever epidemic.
Behind the Strand were great marshes, and they were the breeding grounds
for the mosquitoes that were carrying the deadly disease. Dr. Ashbel
Smith, who was dean of what was then called the Texas Medical School,
met with the city council and the board of the Galveston Company,
and told them that they must put everything else on the back burner
until the marshes could be filled in, lest there would be no one remaining
Once the deadly disease was under control, the vibrant voice of business
resumed, and that's when Galveston's most famed store was built, the
Moro Castle it was called. Frenchman Phillip Moro started his mercantile
house on the northwest corner of 23rd and Strand, exactly where Sangerfest
Park is today.
The Moro Castle dealt in everything from ship's sails to material
for clothes to fine wines and liquor. It was truly the hub of Galveston
business until fire destroyed it about 1870.
Near the Moro Castle, a three story building was constructed. It housed
the first printing press in Texas that was driven by a steam engine.
Not only did they print stationery, books and posters there, but newspapers
as well. There were a handful of Galveston newspaper publishers back
finally found itself brought into the Civil War, Old Hendley Row was
where Confederate General Bankhead Magruder made his headquarters.
And it was on New Year's Day in 1863, that he, himself, fired the
first cannon shot letting the Union forces know that he was going
to recapture the island from the Yankees.
Old Hendley Row was the largest building on the island in those days.
When old Magruder shot his canon, the Yankee's shot their cannons,
and some of the balls sunk into the building's walls. Before long,
the Southern troops were temporarily defeated, and then the Yankees
made their headquarters in Old Hendley Row.
After the war, the first national bank in Texas leased out most of
the first floor. The remainder was taken up by the first telegraph
office in the state.
Another of the buildings, a two story brick at the corner of 25th
and Strand, was where Gail Borden conducted his experiments. His fortune
came as a result of developing a method of extracting the water from
meat so that it could be preserved. That was the foundation for K-rations
that were used to feed the military while at war. His notoriety came
from figuring out how to claim as his own a European patent of another
inventor's for condensed milk. So no matter how much the Borden family
wants the world to believe Gail discovered condensed milk, the fact
is he didnít.
celebrated three holidays during the early days of the Strand; Christmas,
New Year's and San Jacinto Day. Everyone on the street opened his
doors open house-style, and champagne and liquor flowed and food
was served. No expense was spared.
On New Year's, the sailors and butchers and the cowboys from down
the island would dress up like clowns and Indians and hold impromptu
parades down the street.
The Strand prospered as did the island itself. For a ten year period,
policemen with clubs had to man the street during the daytime to
manage the traffic jams caused by the several hundred drays. With
daylight lighting the way mornings and afternoons, and gas lights
taking over until midnight, the Strand took only a six hour break
from a hurried life once each day.
then things changed and time started to pass the Strand by. Soon
there was no hustle and bustle. Old Hendley Row's first Texas bank
tenant was replaced by a fish monger on the first floor and derelicts
moved into the upstairs. Clothes and jewelry stores, insurance and
real estate brokers, doctors and lawyers and the courthouse, found
their way south to Mechanic, Market, Postoffice and Church streets.
The Strand's grand buildings became storehouses on an all but forgotten
street, a street filled with litter and winos sleeping in doorways.
Raconteur Christie Mitchell explained it in 1949. "As all things
glorious in life have but a short while to live, so lived the Strand.
But again, as in things human, there is a useful quality. There
is a lingering shadow of riches untold, of fine horse drawn carriages,
of bay breezes whispering in the night, all surrounded by the faint
trace of the scent of oleanders in the air."
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