Galveston in 1885
Augustus Koch’s view of Galveston in 1885 reveals how much the city had grown in the fourteen years since Camille M. Drie depicted it in 1871. Shown from the northwest, both views focus on the downtown commercial district and the port facilities on Galveston Bay, the narrow strip of water between the mainland and the island. Galveston was the largest city in the state and the third largest cotton market in the country in 1885. Reaching its height as a commercial port, Galveston handled 62 percent of the Texas crop and 12 percent of the nation’s. Koch acknowledges the importance of the cotton trade by identifying a number of cotton presses, mainly near the wharves and along the railroad lines, and by pointing out the Cotton Exchange, a three-story building on Mechanic Street (7 on map).
Already experiencing competition from Houston, a group of Galveston investors in 1873 organized the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company to build a railroad from Galveston around Houston and through the interior of Texas. By 1885, the company operated nearly 700 miles of track. But interior railroads also permitted farmers and brokers to send their cotton north and east to avoid paying what they considered to be the exorbitant fees of the Galveston Wharf Company (called “the Octopus” by some), which had a virtual monopoly over Galveston shipping. When Houston developed its deepwater port in the mid-1890s, the Galveston Wharf Company lost additional business.
In many ways, Koch’s view is a tribute to the architecture of Nicholas J. Clayton, arguably the most outstanding architect in the state at the time. Many of Clayton’s buildings—such as Trinity Chapel (14), St. Mary’s University (34), St. Patrick’s Church (16), Harmony Hall (6), the Masonic Temple (5), and the General Offices of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad (10)—are detailed in the print. Other of Clayton’s buildings are singled out for vignettes at the top, including the Leon and H. Blum Dry Goods Store (A, now the Tremont House), Wallis, Landes and Company Building (M), and the George Schneider and Company Building (C). By 1885 developers had also begun to pay attention to the beach on the gulf side of the island in an effort to develop tourism and increase riders on the passenger trains and trolleys. Led by Col. William H. Sinclair, president of the streetcar company, a public subscription financed the construction nearby of the $260,000 Beach Hotel (37). Clayton designed the hotel, which was three stories high with 200 rooms and 18-foot-wide verandas.
As was his habit, Koch also called attention to the city’s significant African-American neighborhood by designating a number of black churches (26–30). The number of African-Americans in Galveston increased after the Civil War, as freedmen moved to the city in an effort to find work. Alderman and Republican Party leader Norris Wright Cuney, the son of a Brazos Valley planter and a black mistress, organized a union to provide work for them on the docks.
This image is a color lithograph, or a chromolithograph, in that the picture is made up of four printed colors: black, blue, yellowish-brown, and red-orange. Unfortunately, the colors are at times badly out of register in this impression, making it difficult to see the details.