GALVESTON — Rosenberg Library will present a preview of its upcoming exhibit Galveston Before the Civil War at 5 p.m. April 24 in the Hutchings Gallery on the fourth floor of the library, 2310 Sealy Ave.
Featuring an assemblage of historic artifacts and archival images from the library’s permanent collection, the exhibit will have a special presentation by James P. Bevill, author of “The Paper Republic,” beginning at 5:30 p.m.
This event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.
“With the city of Galveston turning 175 this year, we thought it would be a great opportunity to develop an exhibit which focused on Galveston’s earliest years,” said Curator Eleanor Barton. “The period between the 1830s to the 1850s is not as well documented as the years during and following the Civil War. Our research yielded some surprising facts about the island’s residents, its architecture and even its landscape which has changed considerably over the last 175 years.”
Travel diaries offer some of the best insight into life in early Galveston. One such account is that of Charles Hooten, an English novelist who came to Galveston in 1840.
An obscure book, “St. Luis’ Isle,” by Texiana Hooten, describes the series of long, wooden wharves which projected into the bay from the downtown waterfront. The elaborate Victorian architecture that Galveston is so well known for today did not exist in the 1830s and 1840s. Commercial structures, public buildings, and residences were for the most part simple frame edifices painted white. Streets were unpaved with deep ditches cut along the sides for drainage.
There were about 2,000 to 3,000 people living on the island by 1840. By the late 1850s, enslaved African-Americans accounted for about 17 percent of Galveston’s total population. These urban slaves worked as cotton screwmen and dockworkers or as domestic laborers.
Galveston Before the Civil War is dedicated to the memory of Dr. E. Burke Evans (1921-2012) and is sponsored by the Friends of Rosenberg Library. The exhibit will be on display through December.