Home to Moody Gardens, miles of beaches, and an international port, Galveston is a popular stopover for cruisers, families, and beachcombers alike. But there’s even more to the island than that: Its unique position in the story of both Texas and America means Galveston is bursting with history and, as notorious pirates and European explorers would attest, just begging to be prospected.
Completed in 1892 and undoubtedly Galveston’s most awe-inspiring work of architecture, this sprawling Victorian estate—sometimes called Gresham’s Castle—was built for a prominent Galveston attorney and his family over a six-year period. The three-story, 19,000-square-foot palace has earned a slew of national accolades, including a spot on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the AIA’s list of America’s 100 most important buildings. Adding to its historic significance, during the Great Storm of 1900—still the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history—the mansion provided shelter to hundreds of islanders. $12 | 1402 Broadway Ave.
The Moodys, who built an empire on cotton (and later banking, ranching, insurance, and hotels) were essentially the Rockefellers of Galveston. Shortly after the 1900 hurricane, patriarch W.L. Moody Jr. bought this opulent Romanesque mansion from Narcissa Willis, the socialite and merchant’s widow who’d commissioned the estate in 1895. The Moody family remained in the grand, 28,000-square-foot home for generations—more than 80 years—and their furniture and belongings still deck out the 20 rooms on public view today. $12 | 2618 Broadway Ave.
You won’t find this address listed among Galveston’s official attractions, but there’s no denying it raised curiosity about the island when, in this very dwelling in 2001, notorious New York real estate heir Robert Durst—often, at the time, disguised as a little old mute lady named Dorothy Ciner—maybe murdered but definitely dismembered his elderly apartment neighbor, whose headless torso later washed up in Galveston Bay. You can’t go in, of course, but you can still get a discreet glimpse of the unassuming “chop house” and imagine what you’d hear if those walls could talk. Bonus tour stop: nearby Chalmers Hardware, where, police say, Durst bought most of the tools for his grisly pursuit. 2213 Ave. K
Holding one of the world’s largest collections of art, artifacts, and memorabilia—70,000 pieces—from Texas and the American West, this cavernous, Renaissance Revival–style mansion retains a bit of a melancholy aura from its former life as the Galveston Orphans Home. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon here, wandering the trove of Native American tools, antique firearms, rare books, and cowboy accoutrements, while tracing Galveston’s rich history from pirate’s kingdom to resort city. $14 | 1315 21st St.
This architectural oddity is so named because, well, the rotund steel structure looks like a kettle. It’s stood there, on the road out to Galveston’s West End, since the ’60s, enduring both bitter storms and wild speculation about its provenance in the absence of any real intel. Perhaps, folks theorized, it was born of an old silo top, or maybe even a UFO. Last year, however, the daughter of original, now-deceased owner Clayton Stokley shed some light on the matter in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. Turns out, Stokley—an imaginative WWII vet and skilled welder—originally conceived of the building as a convenience and liquor store. While that never came to fruition, the Kettle House remains a sight to behold. 14106 Miramar Dr.
What to Instagram
- A moody boardwalk snap of Pleasure Pier at sunset is de rigueur, as is a boomerang from the peak of its Galaxy Wheel.
- The Victorian buildings of downtown’s historic district, The Strand, once known as “the Wall Street of the Southwest.”
- The Mardi Gras lights that illuminate the giant arch outside The Tremont House.
If You Spend the Night
- To stay at the historic beachfront Hotel Galvez is to step back in time, especially if you catch wind of the 1900s-era “Ghost Bride” who purportedly stalks Room 501 and the hotel’s west turret. Rumor has it she hanged herself there after hearing—inaccurately—that her betrothed had died at sea. Hauntings aside, there’s also a really great spa.