Galveston’s lifetime is split in half: before 1900 and after.
Before 1900 the city was the second wealthiest in all America until September of that year when the Great Storm slammed into the coast.
To this day the Great Storm is considered the most deadly natural disaster in the US. It didn't have to be that way but a political tug-of-war spawned an outstandingly inaccurate forecast.
Survivors tried weighting the bodies and throwing them into the sea. They washed up.
In the city streets they built pyres and burned the bodies in mass.
Galveston was never the same.
A few homes survived and one of them is without question the most breath-taking example of architectural genius and aesthetic beauty that I have ever seen - anywhere.
Welcome to Bishop’s Palace.
Colonel Walter Gresham and his wife Josephine started construction on their 19,000 sq. foot home in 1887.
Mr. Greshman was an attorney and railroad entrepreneur - who clearly had deep pockets.
Every single room is a masterpiece but there is one area where you will literally hear people gasp in. Had I had a fainting chair, I would have thrown myself onto it.
At 40 feet tall, carved of mahogany, this octagonal stairwell spirals up into a skylight resting 55 feet above my feet.
It was designed to be the house’s masterpiece but it was also functional, drafting the hot Texas air upward through the skylights vents.
Before we go up, let’s conquer the first floor, where the walls are floor to ceiling luxury fabric and every single inch of molding speaks to a level of craftsmanship not found in most private homes built today.
Ascending the staircase you are gifted a few moments to imagine what it would be like to live here and call something as marvelous as this…“home.”
At the top, artistry and a little bit of magic hold a series of plaster arches suspended in the air.
How anything that heavy can float without floor support is not nearly as exceptional as the fact that all of it can even be imagined.
Architect Nicholas Clayton saw every inch in his mind. Every impossible little detail from the basement to the attic and he made it real. He brought it into existence from simply his imagination.
On the second floor are each of the bedrooms and of course, the chapel.
After Mr. Gresham died, Mrs. Gresham did not want to live in such an estate alone so she put the house on the market and took the first offer she got. A paltry $37,000 from the the Catholic Diocese next door and it was sold.
The bishop moved in, added his own chapel, and there we have the root of the property’s name, Bishop’s Palace.
Several years ago it went up for sale again, this time at an insane margin of several million dollars above what the church paid for it.
Through ferocious fundraising the city’s Historic Foundation was able to buy it and turn it into a museum.
They have collaborated with the remaining descendants of the Gresham family to bring it back to life.
It’s maintenance and upkeep are a constant (and expensive) battle. Your $14 ticket is money well spent to keep it preserved for generations to come.
Stop by the Visitor’s Center to get a $1 off coupon but you’ll find yourself putting that dollar right back in their donation box after seeing the house for yourself.