Early seawall extension

A 1920 map of the proposed seawall extension in Galveston.


The severe 1900 Hurricane emphatically laid bare the vulnerability of creating a great city on a storm-prone Gulf sand bar.

But its leaders, having already achieved a critical mass of industry and success, resolved to not let it disappear like Indianola in 1886.

A report by a board of engineers hired by the city of Galveston recommended early in1902 a massive curved-faced seawall be built, 3 miles long, connecting to the existing jetty at harbor side near Eighth Street, then down Sixth Street to the beach and along the beach to 39th Street.

It was a massive effort, focused on saving future lives and property from storm surge. A $2 million bond was easily passed, state taxes were waived and the first 3 miles of the seawall were completed in 1904.

Left unprotected sat 2.5 miles of marshes and tidal sand flats, including, at its extremity, several hundred acres belonging to the federal government’s Fort San Jacinto Military Reservation.

But as early as 1902, some were already considering an extension beyond Sixth Street. While few lives or little property were at risk, there was manna for promotion and lobbying in Washington.

The city was interested in making use of its land between Sixth and First streets. A U.S. Army Board opined that the protection and raising of the Military Reservation might be worthwhile, since there was little space to house a garrison there.

With only barren land to cope with, by comparison to the first seawall, the extension ought to be simpler to accomplish.

In 1912, a board of military engineers concluded that, in considering the narrow neck and lack of any protection for the last 2.5 miles of the island from storm surges out of the Gulf, there was a direct threat of blockage to the Galveston channel and risks to an easterly extension of the wharves.

With that as the primary driver, the 1913 recommendation was to extend the seawall from Sixth Street eastward; 10,300 feet to just within the Military Reservation and to tie into the fortifications with heavy rip rap, 2,860 feet shy of the South Jetty.

This easterly seawall extension could provide a road for transportation to and from Fort San Jacinto.

While a Seawall Extension Bill was still being talked to death in Washington, the 1915 hurricane hit and demonstrated the value of the seawall.

Also, a war raging in Europe was creating an interest in preparedness. The bill was finally passed in 1915.

A 1917 Galveston County News report summarized the costs of and responsibilities for, both the post-1915 Hurricane remedial work and the 1913 proposal (as written) for the easterly extension of the seawall.

The county was to pay for the first 3,300 feet of the seawall (which abutted platted city land) and the federal government was to pay for the next 7,000 feet.

But the government’s willingness to pay for a wall which hardly went beyond the edge of the Military Reserve was contingent on acquiring a 600-acre triangle of land, abutting the westerly line of the reserve, purportedly to house a garrison.

The land belonged to Maco Stewart, who agreed to donate his 600 acres to the military in exchange for the city truncating the northerly extensions of Fifth through First streets — which were then under water — and deeding the submerged land to him.

With the deals in place, the first $200,000 was appropriated and the seawall extension from Sixth Street was set in motion.

Preliminary work started in June 1918 and was “well advanced” by March 1920.

The first part of the seawall extension — northeast from Sixth Street east and Broadway — was very close to the then-edge of the Gulf then ran across accreting land seaward and to just north and across the tidal channel of a lagoon called the Atlantic Hole.

This was a 3 million cubic yard borrow pit, almost a half-mile long, resulting from dredging done earlier to elevate the city.

Its name derived from the dredge ship Atlantis which had worked from the Gulf side.

The East End: Stepping through time

Mort Voller lives in Galveston and in several capacities has advocated for Galveston’s Natural Heritage. Kirk Clark is a process safety consultant and local historian with a passion for all things Galveston history.

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