The Rosenberg Library’s Galveston and Texas History Center preserves about 100,000 historic images.
Of these only one image depics Beach Park, an important 19th-century recreational venue in the Island City.
A professional photographer, Philip H. Rose, took the stereo photograph of this forgotten attraction.
Beach Park served both the community and excursionists who arrived by train from other Texas cities, such as Houston.
Along with other beach front attractions, the park arose as a result of the Galveston City Railway Company’s decision to run streetcar tracks to the Gulf of Mexico.
Galveston’s first resort structure, the Ocean House, had opened on Outlot 118 near the beach in the late 1860s, only to fall in the hurricane of 1875.
The lumber, which was used in its construction was stored on Outlook 118, enclosed by a fence which closed off 22nd Street.
The Aldermanic Board in 1866 allowed the closing of alternate numbered streets, including 22nd Street, that ran to the beach.
The Beach Pavilion at 21st and Beach opened in 1881, only to burn two years later. Other attractions opened in 1883, including the magnificent Beach Hotel at 23rd and Beach and the Pagoda Bathing Co.
Beach Park opened the following December. S.D. Felt’s neighboring skating rink at 24th and Avenue Q opened in 1884, only to be destroyed with the first Pagoda Bathhouse in the 1886 hurricane.
Beach Park occupied the northeast and northwest quadrants of Outlot 118. Its grounds were enclosed by 21st Street (east), 23rd Street (west), Avenue Q (north), and the beach streetcar line (south).
An 1890 map preserved in the Galveston and Texas History center depicts the locations of Beach Park (“Base Ball Park”) and the Beach Hotel relative to the streetcar tracks.
According to Galveston County Tax Assessor records also kept in the Rosenberg Library, the real estate firm of Leon & H. Blum owned Beach Park’s property.
The Beach Park Association, chartered on Dec. 8, 1883, leased the park’s grounds.
Beach Park offered a track for horse and bicycle racing, and walking.
There were also a baseball diamond and a grandstand that seated 8,000 people. The racetrack, which ran one-third of a mile, enclosed the diamond.
The main entrance to the Beach Park was its south side. The Baseball Park Association replaced the leftover wood fence with a new, 12-foot tall fence.
Beach Park benefited from Galveston’s temperate year-round climate, which enabled equestrians to keep their steeds active in the winter months. The Daily News, Dec. 18, 1883, observed:
What is to hinder a week of successful racing right now? This kind of weather at any park in the North would be simply glorious.
Beach Park opened on Christmas Day, 1883. Its first week of operation featured horse and greyhound races. Electric lights illuminated the racetrack during evening hours.
The first baseball game at Beach Park took place between the Galvestons and the Mechanics in January 1884; the Mechanics won 8-4.
Before the game started, Miss Nellie Burke raced a horse against five greyhounds but lost. Beach Park announced Ladies Day in February.
The park appealed to broader audiences by offering other competitions. During May 1884, companies of the Missouri National Guard drilled there.
Onlookers watching from the balconies of the Beach Hotel saw the firing of a Gatling gun against a target in the Gulf of Mexico. A shooting tournament took place in early June 1885, as sportsmen targeted live birds and bats.
In January 1885, Charles Dallan, an importer, petitioned the city to open 22nd Street through Beach Park. James B. Stubbs (1850-1925), the city attorney, reviewed the petition but took no stand on it and directed it to the Aldermanic Board. He noted that the city had authority to open the street.
The board’s streets and alleys committee however stated the lack of a pressing need to open 22nd Street. The city granted the park a six-month grace period to remove its fence.
The Aldermanic Board received additional petitions to open 22nd Street in July 1885 and 1887. The city would not open 22nd Street through Beach Park until May 1891.
Prominent local figures lent their support to baseball games held at Beach Park. William H. Sinclair (1839-1897) was proprietor of the Beach Hotel.
He became president of the Galveston City Railway Co. in 1879 and kept that position until 1896. Another advocate was Alexander Easton (1846-1911), district clerk.
Beach Park was involved in a controversy over the selection of a site for an encampment and a mock battle to be conducted as part of the Interstate Drill in August 1886.
Beach Park competed with the Galveston fair grounds at Rosenberg Park for the drill. A compromise location between 39th and 43rd streets near the beach was finally selected.
On July 13, 1887, The Daily News announced that Beach Park was to be reconfigured solely as a baseball field, to be managed by the Island City club.
A new grand-stand was erected to seat the crowds. The old grand-stand was replaced in March 1888.
Professional baseball came to Texas with the organization of the Texas League in 1887. Galveston joined the Texas League in 1888. The local team, named the Sand Crabs, played at Beach Park.
The park also hosted contests between amateur baseball teams organized by local businesses. Band performances before the games added to the amusement.
By the late 1880s baseball games at Beach Park drew crowds numbering in the thousands. Several thousand people, for example, watched a contest between Galveston and Houston in June 1887.
At the end of August 1887, a reported 8,000 onlookers watched the Island City team lose to Hot Springs, 5-4. A game between Houston and Galveston in May 1890 drew almost 3,000 onlookers.
In September 1887, Jeff Tiernan (ca 1862-1939), Beach Park’s manager, twice ran afoul of the local Sunday law.
The state legislature adopted earlier in 1887 an amendment to the Sunday Law in the Criminal Code, requiring the payment of fines for the operation of businesses and places of amusement, including saloons, on Sundays.
Beach Park’s scoreboard was taken down in April 1889 on the grounds that it promoted the sale of score cards, earning The News’ disapproval.
The park announced in May 1889 that Ladies Day would be every Wednesday. Women were to be admitted for free.
The 1889 Sanborn map depicts Beach Park’s improvements. These included a press box and two curved grandstands at the northeast and southwest corners.
Additional open seating was along Avenue Q and 23rd Street. The Daily News, April 6, 1890, remarked that “recent improvements in Beach Park make it the best base ballpark in the state.”
Beach Park hosted an oyster roast in November 1890 for guests attending Galveston’s Deep Water Jubilee. Visitors sat in the grand stands and enjoyed band music while they honored. Former state Gov. Francis R. Lubbock was a guest of honor.
Declining local interest in baseball led The Daily News, Feb. 14, 1891, to propose using Beach Park’s site for a pavilion.
An article signed by “Bleacher Crank” printed in The News, May 13, 1891, lamented the impending sale of the grounds: “Don’t deprive us of the pleasantest resort in the city and drive to the bar rooms and other disreputable places hundreds of young men who find an innocent pleasure in witnessing such a grand sport.”
The sale was deferred; the fence however was removed.
Galveston attractions, including Beach Park, appealed to upscale visitors. Elitism is a distinct thread that runs through local tourism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Beach Park was no different from other beach front venues in seeking superior customers who avoided saloons and gambling dens. The Daily News, Jan. 26, 1896, said as much in its opposition to the Sunday law to baseball games:
“Baseball is as innocent an amusement as one will ever find … For two bits a man can have two hours of good, solid amusement and be out in the sunshine and fresh air and at the same time keep away from all temptations … The crowds that attend the games at Beach Park are always well dressed, orderly, and well behaved, and numbers of ladies always turn out on Sunday afternoon.”
In contrast, Beach Park was in run-down condition during the waning years of the 19th century. The final reported baseball game took place there on Sept. 2, 1900. A week later, the 1900 Storm destroyed Galveston’s beach front, including Beach Park.
The park had lasted longer — 17 years — than any other beach attraction completed in the 1880s. During the 20th century, amusement parks and later the Buccaneer Hotel would be erected on its former grounds.