How to research the history of your historic Galveston home
When Steve and I decided to look for a weekend place here on Galveston Island, we looked in many areas of the city. I have always loved the East End Historical District ever since I was a teenager many years ago. I fell in love with all of the was a teenager many years ago. I fell in love with all of the old historic homes. In my younger years, the island was looking worn and a bit tattered. Thankfully, that began to change, and the island is vibrant and growing again.
Since were are only on the island on the weekends, we decided to purchase a condominium. We chose The Residency Condominiums across from the cottage. As I started to look around the neighborhood, I began to wonder what had been at the site previous to our buildings.
My first stop was at the Rosenberg Library. Within ten minutes, the very nice clerk there not only was able to tell us but had photos to show us. We learned that the 1895 Charles Wallis House that was designed by Charles B. Stowe had been at the location. In its later years, the Alpha Kappa Kappa Medical Fraternity has occupied the house. After they moved to the East End Flats, the house sat vacant and in disrepair.
Familiar to islanders who have been here awhile, during the 1960s and 1970s, these beautiful homes and buildings began to be torn down. The Wallis house was demolished in 1967. The condominium buildings at the site were built in 1969 as well as two identical sister properties on the eastern edge of the district.
I began to become more interested in other homes and buildings and found through research that there were so many avenues to search for history and photos. I started a Facebook page called Galveston East End Historical District News and Beauty. On this page, I highlight a house or building in the district, and I attempt to find as much history and old photos as I can find. By doing research, I even and old photos as I can find. By doing research, I even learned that a Henry Rosenberg Fountain was once sitting in the intersection of Post Office and 15th street.
The Rosenberg Library is a great start. You can go to the resource center there or you can use there online page to search for history and photos. Jami Durham who works for the Galveston Historical Foundation is awesome and can find so many details on a property. She works out of the office in the old Sears store on Broadway. There are other avenues to find information as well. The Texas State Historical Association, the Dolph Briscoe Library, the Library of Congress, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and more.
One thing some homeowners who purchase a home in the Historical District are curious about is how did their house look when it was built. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are great for that as well. By checking them for information, I have found that there are homes here that don’t look like they did when they were built. Some two story homes were built as one story, but a second story was built at a later time. By looking at these maps, you can see cisterns, guest houses and a variety of other points of interest.
The East End Historical District lost many very beautiful and historic homes during the era of “tear them down for modern.” We do have quite a few 1900 Storm survivors. The west end of the district lost so many homes during the fire of 1885, and several homes were damaged or destroyed by the many hurricanes and some tornadoes that have tortured the island. Many homes were torn down due to neglect as well. The good news is that the East End Historical District is the largest historical district on the island, and we can be proud that we still can enjoy so many beautiful and historic homes that we have. Thankfully, the “tear them down” mentality has ended. There has been so much remodeling and restoration of homes in our area. Buildings are being repurposed for new uses instead of demolition. Several houses that were in the way of the expansion of U.T.M.B. on our eastern border were donated to the Galveston Historical Foundation and moved into our district for restoration. I’m excited at the progress I’ve seen since we purchased a condominium here two years ago.