The bunkers at Fort Travis once teemed with activity.
The fort, on a nub of land just southeast of the Port Bolivar Lighthouse, was an artillery training center during World War I. During World War II, its guns watched over the Gulf of Mexico for signs of the enemy attempting to enter the Houston Ship Channel.
But the big guns were never fired in battle, and after the war ended, the fort at the west end of Bolivar Peninsula was shut down.
Since the 1970s, when Galveston County bought the land for a park, few people have legally set foot in the concrete emplacements that once held the fort’s cannons.
That will change this weekend when, after nearly four years of work, the gun bunkers will be opened for tours led by the Galveston County Historical Commission.
Ralph Stenzel, the chairman of the commission and a former mayor of Santa Fe, has helped lead the work to rehabilitate the bunkers at Fort Travis since 2015.
Stenzel and a group of about 40 volunteers have spent years rehabilitating the fort. They’ve painted doors, power-washed graffiti and filled cracks that were causing water damage.
“This is the last one of these facilities around,” he said “If you don’t take care of this one, it will all be gone.”
When he started, the bunkers had been filled with sand pushed inside by Hurricane Ike in 2008, he said. He spent months clearing that out with the help of one other person, he said.
Eventually, Stenzel’s volunteer maintenance work got greater attention from Galveston County, which assigned its parks and roads departments to help repair some parts of the fort.
Last fall, the county spent about $20,000 to install lights and electricity in some of the emplacements.
Stenzel has affection for the fort, he said. He has spent countless hours driving from his home in Santa Fe and crossing on the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry to do much of the renovation work himself.
“Some people said it was too much work and that it couldn’t be done,” he said.
Fort Travis was established on federal property in 1898 as a coastal artillery fort. It was meant to protect Galveston and the ship channel from attack during the Spanish-American War. It was an active military facility through the first part of the 20th century.
In its heyday, as many as 2,500 soldiers were garrisoned at the fort, Stenzel said.
New bunkers were built in 1922 and 1943, and eventually were sold to the county in 1973.
The renovated bunkers are among several improvements the county has made at the Bolivar Peninsula park, said Julie Diaz, director of Parks and Cultural Services.
The county is about to begin construction of a $200,000 pavilion at the park, Diaz said. It will rent the pavilion for private and public events, Diaz said.
The improvements were justified because Fort Travis Park is one of the county’s most popular, she said.
“It’s so popular,” Diaz said. “Anyone that comes on to Bolivar, they’re stopping there. We get tons of visitors all the time there.”
The Fort Travis bunkers will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Stenzel and other members of the Galveston County Historical Commission will be at the site to provide information.
Stenzel was hoping for a good crowd.
“It’s surprising how interested people are when they find someone to explain things to them,” he said.