History blended with a candlelight tour--that's what our tickets provided on a Saturday evening of the Dickens on the Strand weekend.
The 1838 Michael B Menard house is a Greek Revival style Southern town home and is the oldest building in Galveston. It faces east on 33rd street. The double veranda and stately columns are the first thing you notice about the house as it peeks from behind tall trees.
As we parked and approached the house, the wreaths and garlands stretched along the veranda made a nice impression as we trod to the front door. Two wings were added in 1845 and a Grecian style pavilion replaced a former privey. This home received the prestigious Great American Homes award in 1996 sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
FYI: Michael Menard hailing from Quebec, established the Galveston City Company, which was instrumental in laying out the town itself. This home is located where other important investors in this company lived.
**For more information see: Galveston Architecture Handbook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox published by Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation.
As we selected one of the very elaborately set tables and settled into our seats, the 'Royals' were announced. As we craned our necks, the music began and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arrived amidst all the pomp due them!
The character of Queen Victoria has been portrayed by Anne Boyd for thirteen years. In past years she was dressed in mourning clothes, to signify her widowhood. This year, since the theme was The Great Exhibition of 1851, created by her husband, she appeared elegantly attired and arm in arm with the Prince, who was portayed by Ken Lane, of British Columbia.
Once they were seated, the feast began! Please see both photos.
A couple seated at our table for the Dickens Feast mentioned that the Samuel Mays Williams house was giving a candlelight tour that Saturday evening. We had already purchased tickets to tour the Menard house that night, so didn't know whether we could fit two tours into our schedule, but surprisingly we did!
The Mays-Williams house is considered a raised planters style design and is the second oldest home in Galveston, built in 1839. It faces east on its lot like most of the other homes in that area. A low-hipped roof sits atop a long gallery running along the east and south sides. The front door is framed by a Grecian architrave and the floor to ceiling windows are a double leaf casement type, unusual for Galveston. There are some out buildings in the rear and a brick kitchen house and small shed.
FYI: Mr. Williams was prominent in the Mexican and Republic periods of Texas history and an associate of Stephen Austin. After the War of Independence he became one of the most important commission merchants in Galveston and was involved in banking.
**For more information see: Galveston Architecture Handbook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox published by Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
Our last event at Dickens on the Strand was a bountiful breakfast at Ashton Villa on Sunday morning. The line outside this striking mansion began forming early--I think those of us waiting at the gate had worked up our appetites sightseeing the day before! Not only was the meal wonderful, but the period music wove a thread of realism to our Victorian event.
The detailed cast iron fence with cornstalk gateposts met us at the entrance. Note the two story cast iron porch! These cast iron pieces were created by Wood & Perot of Philadelphia, but the architect of the home is not known.
Ashton Villa is considered the first of the "Broadway Palaces" and was built in 1859 by J.M.Brown. Interestingly, Mr. Brown was a plasterer and brick mason when he arrived in Galveston; later a wholesale hardware merchant, railroad corporation president and banker. Paintings by eldest daughter, Rebecca Ashton Brown, remain at the house. (Please take time to see the additional photos).
The Villa is open daily from 10 am-5pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day with the last tour at 4pm. Winter hours are similar, but tours start at noon during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This building also contains the Visitors Center.
For more information see: Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
During our weekend at Galveston, we were able to tour several historic homes. Since we enjoy anything Victorian, this was the perfect place for us!
This rambling mansion was built in 1892 by Narcissa Worsham Willis after the death of her husband. Mrs. Willis had always wanted to live in this prestigious area, so determined to do so with the help of architect, William H. Tyndall, creating a mansion with 31 rooms.
After Mrs. Willis' death in 1899, the house was sold to W.L.Moody, Jr. and his wife, Libby Shearn after the Galveston Storm of 1900 for $20,000. He was the only bidder! Mr. Moody had joined his father in business at the age of 21 and showing a gift for finance exceeded his father's income.
W.L. Moody lived in this house until his death in 1954, at which time his daughter Mary Northen Moody moved back into her former home for the next 40 years. Mary is known for her philanthropy in the Galveston area, sitting on the board of some 50 corporations.
Hurricane Alicia began a restoration that lasted five years after Mary's death. Noted preservationists and consultants were involved in the refurbishing.
*For more information see Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
The Dickens Feast was delicious; the surroundings were beautifully ornate, but the main reason we purchased tickets for this evening of entertainment and dining, was to peer at the great,great grandson of Charles Dickens and have him autograph a copy of The Christmas Carol I brought for the occasion.
The presence of Mark Charles Dickens at the Strand festival has become a tradition. This year he was accompanied by his son, Geoff. As the presentation began, a reading from The Christmas Carol was alternated with each dinner course. I could easily imagine familiar scenes from the book as he wove the tale dramatically with a great deal of animation!
Bagpipers, carollers, musicians, acrobats, magicians and animal acts provided the entertainment at street corners and on stages throughout the Strand. We purchased several CD's by musicians we fancied, discovering several we'd love to hear in person again!
Area school children decked out in velvet and lace sang lively Christmas carols. Characters from The Christmas Carol walked the streets, as well as Beefeaters and strapping military men from the 19th century. Please enjoy all four pictures!
Ashton Villa (1859) & Heritage Visitors Center
Lovely antiques, family heirlooms and original art fill the stately mansion built before the Civil War by James Moreau Brown, one of Texasý wealthiest businessmen, and presided over by his colorful daughter, Miss Bettie Brown. From the Gilded Age splendor of the Golf Room to the elegant family quarters upstairs, Ashton Villa provides an intimate glimpse into the life of a prominent Victorian family. Also home to the Heritage Visitors Center. The center offers complete visitor services, including brochures, maps, and information about local restaurants and hotels.
Adults & Seniors: $6; Students $5; Kids 6 & Under: Free; Family (2 parents & up to 3 kids under 18): $18
1838 Michel B. Menard Home
Experience the charm of the Old South during guided tours of the home once owned by the founders of both Galveston and Houston. Restored to its former beauty and furnished with an outstanding collection of Federal and American Empire antiques, this Greek Revival landmark again reflects the glory of its storied past.
Adults: $6; Kids Under 11: $3
As you drive into Galveston, you'll be greeted by this 72 foot high bronze and granite monument to fallen heroes of the Texas revolution (1835-36). It was created by Italian born and trained sculptor,Louis Amateis in 1900. The figure of Victory is depicted, extending her laurels in the direction of the San Jacinto battlefield, 50 miles north of Galveston.
FYI: General Sam Houston surprised the forces of Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in San Jacinto on April 1836. This victory led to the independence of Texas from Mexico. It was a hard fought effort, following the disastrous battle of the Alamo. As a result, Galveston no longer was prohibited from becoming an important trade center.
According to what I've read, this monument was made possible by a bequest from Henry Rosenberg, for whom one of the streets is named. It was an attempt to change the image of America's rough and tumble cities, adding a touch of European sophistication. It was the first example erected in an American city.
For more information see Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
If you are coming to Galveston from Houston, driving down I-45 into town gives you the perfect opportunity to see some of the city's wonderful history and architecture! I-45 turns into Broadway St. shortly after crossing onto the island, and as you progress down Broadway, the scene turns quite beautiful very quickly! Broadway is home to many of the city's oldest and prettiest houses, a good deal of them being built in the 19th and early 20th century! Many of the old houses such as Moody Mansion and Bishop's Palace have been turned into museums for public viewing. Tall Texas Oak trees also line the street, giving it an even more beautiful look as you make your way down. Definately worth checking out, whether you're driving or walking!
Since it was a December weekend when we visited, no one was on the beach and the wind was very gusty. In the summer heat, the beach is where you want to be!
Galveston is a 32 mile long island on Texas's upper coast on the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes are something to which islanders have had to adjust. However, it remains a top destination for tourists because of its location, its Victorian influence and cruise ship business.
There are 12 beach areas in the Galveston area, which you can investigate further by seeing www.utmb.edu/galveston/community/beaches.html. The services offered at these beaches and their location will be listed.
The beach from 14th-61st street has been widened in a six million dollar rejuvenation project. Rental umbrellas and chairs are available; fishing is permitted from the piers and boat rentals/cruises can be booked.
Since the Carnival line began offering cruises from Galveston in 2000, it has become a port of entry and destination for three additional cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity. They book passage to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico with many stops in between.
Cruising is the most economical vacation you can take, in my estimation. I love to cruise! Hopefully we'll be taking the cruise to Mexico some day.
To board your ship, you'll travel on I-45S to Exit 1C, then Harborside Drive.
In the 1930s, the State of Texas began running a free ferry service from Galveston to Port Bolivar, across the Houston ship channel. A fleet of ferries make the crossing about every twenty minutes; the transit takes roughly half an hour, during which you get a nice view of Galveston and plenty of fresh sea air. The ferry runs 24/7 (unless weather conditions are such that safety would be compromised). Anyway, it sounded like a lark that I shouldn't miss.
I found out about this from reading a guidebook which provided information on drives across country, but it assumed you'd approach from New Orleans headed west, not from Houston headed east, so I was a little unclear on where exactly I'd be once we landed. On the upper deck, surveying the vanishing Galveston shoreline (and incidentally seeing Seawolf Park with at least one submarine, and a number of dolphins frolicking), I asked a woman if she knew where we were going. "Port Bolivar," she replied, only she made the explorer's name sound like Gulliver. "Is that in Louisiana?" I asked. "Oh, no," she told me. "You've got about another four hours to go to get to Louisiana."
Well, not really. But if you're using the ferry as a means to get from Galveston to Lake Charles, be advised that you've got about 90 minutes of pretty boring Texas driving ahead.
If you only have time to do one thing in Galveston, I highly recommend visiting the "three beauties" (Moody Mansion, Bishop's Palace and Ashton Villa). Each house is different and has its own unique charm - Walking through the rooms of Moody Mansion (1892) is like walking through the pages of a 19th century novel thanks to all the efforts that have been put in keeping the place as authentic as possible. Bishop's Palace (1886) is a beautiful house, with great architectural details, although it does need a bit of restoration. Finally, my favorite of the three tours was Ashton Villa (1859) because the guide was very keen on entertaining us with the stories of its former - rather eccentric - inhabitants!
You get a discount if you buy tickets to all three beauties at the same time and if you don't have to visit them all on the same day, they'll still accept your ticket on the next day. Visiting the three beauties is a great way to learn about the history of Galveston!
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