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R e s t o r a t i o n

Survivors Four churches in Galveston, no strangers to hurricanes, still recovering from Ike

Galveston, 1909

by Mort Levy, FAIA

(Above) Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-126820 DLC, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS LC-USZ62-126820 (Below) ‘Ike’ photo Courtesy FEMA; ‘1900’ Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS LC-USZ62-120220

Following the devastation of Hurricane Ike in September 2008, an engineer emerged from under the battered substructure of Galveston’s First Presbyterian Church to apprise Rev. David Green of the damage. “Pastor, your church has no foundation,” he said, apparently without thinking his statement’s underlying irony. Yes, perhaps its structural foundation was in need of repair, but the spiritual foundation of First Presbyterian, a survivor of more than a century of catastrophic weather events, has never weakened. In its long history, First Presbyterian, like the other three Galveston churches profiled in this article, has survived both the Great Storm of 1900 and Hurricane Ike of 2008. After each onslaught, these four congregations have restored their beloved churches while strengthening their religious faith. These surviving churches – Grace Episcopal Church, Reedy Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Trinity Church, and First Presbyterian – are a part of the legacy of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the era when Galveston was known as the “Queen City of the Gulf.” The port city’s strategic location led to monetary riches from its dominance in the cotton shipping industry and to human richness as a point of entry for the era’s major influx of European immigrants. Due to the tragedy of the Great Storm of 1900 and the advent of the Houston Ship Channel, much of nineteenth-century Galveston remains frozen in time. Fortunately, the “Queen City” also retains most of its architectural glory. Galveston’s architectural richness is due in very great part to the work of one architect, Nicholas J. Clayton. Arriving from Houston in 1872, Clayton soon became involved in the design of churches for his Roman Catholic faith and for other denominations. In addition to ecclesiastical projects, Clayton received most of the important architectural commissions available in Galveston for business buildings, hospitals, and residences. With little formal training, Clayton developed a style of “free eclecticism,” giving a regional twist to Victorian design, influenced by both climate and topography. After more than a century, his buildings survive as premier representatives of Galveston’s architectural legacy.

(above) In the days after Hurricane Ike, cleanup began at Trinity Episcopal. The church’s original building endured the Great Storm of 1900 and five years later was remodeled based on a design by Nicholas Clayton. (right) The city-wide devastation in 1900 is illustrated by the damage to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

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