Galveston Orphans Home
Timeline of the Galveston Orphans Home and The Bryan Museum
The Galveston Children’s Home was founded on October 20, 1878, by Galveston journalist George B. Dealey, who, with Mrs. E. M. Arnold, who served as first director, established the institution in a rented house as the Island City Protestant Orphans Asylum.
Funds allocated toward the construction of a modern orphanage built in the Gothic Revival style were bequeathed to the city of Galveston by philanthropist Henry Rosenberg.
The 1895 Galveston Orphans Home
The cornerstone of the new orphanage building was laid with Masonic ceremony on October 20, 1894 on 21st Street between Avenues M and M 1/2. The building was completed quickly and was dedicated on November 15, 1895. The beautiful brick landmark at 1315 21st Street sits in the heart of historic Galveston Island. The 1895 structure, originally designed by renowned German architect Alfred Muller, displayed a Gothic Revival style, perhaps to accomplish the intended purpose described in the Galveston Daily News: “the object is to create a religious and still homelike impression upon the youthful mind.”
September 16, 1900
The new public building was to be in use for only five years as the 1900 hurricane and flood destroyed the structure almost completely. On September 16, 1900, a massive hurricane roared ashore in Galveston. The Galveston Orphans Home was heavily damaged during the storm: the central structure, containing Rosenberg Memorial Hall, collapsed into the building, leaving a gaping hole in the eastern facade. The exterior faces of the large gables on the north and south fell away, as did the dormers, exposing the attic to the storm, and all three porches and porticoes crumbled. An early video, or moving picture, was taken by one of Thomas Edison’s aides from the center of 21st Street and clearly shows the extent of the devastation to the Galveston Orphans Home, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
It is important to note that no children or matrons (there were no nuns) were injured or killed in the Galveston Orphans Home during the 1900 Hurricane, nor were any of the many citizens of Galveston who sought refuge in the building. The Galveston Orphans Home is often incorrectly associated with the tragic story of St. Mary’s Catholic Orphanage. Located on the beach, nearly all the children and all of the nuns in St. Mary’s were washed away during the hurricane. After the storm, R.C. Buckner, the founder of the Buckner Orphans’ Home in Dallas, traveled to Galveston and temporarily removed the twenty-nine orphans living at the Galveston Orphans Home.
October 15 & 16, 1900
The Galveston Orphans Home was the recipient of immense charity. William Randolph Hearst, the famed newspaper publisher, sponsored a charity bazaar at the opulent Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on October 15 and 16, 1900 to benefit the home. The crowd raised $50,000, and prominent guests included Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), Mrs. John Astor, and the Texas Governor, Joseph D. Sayers. This fund was enough to rebuild the Galveston Orphans Home.
The 1902 Galveston Orphans Home
The board of directors hired regional architect George B. Stowe to redesign the orphanage. The board also accepted the bid of builder Harry Devlin, known for his construction of the Rosenberg Library and Fort Crockett. Because the walls of the ground and first levels were largely intact, it is possible that they were incorporated into the rebuild. Stowe designed the Galveston Orphans Home in the Renaissance Revival style, keeping the same number of floors and the same basic footprint as the previous structure (the 1902 building is “U” shaped). Where the 1895 building was ornamental, Stowe added strength to the structure. The exterior is St. Louis pressed granite brick, yellow in color, and is trimmed with terra cotta. Stowe’s building still stands today at 1315 21st Street.
The Galveston Orphans Home was rededicated on March 30, 1902, with much celebration. It existed in the current structure until 1984, at which time it was reincorporated as the Children’s Center, Inc. and moved to an adjacent structure. The Galveston Orphans Home was damaged during the 1915 Hurricane, again during Hurricane Carla in 1961 (a tornado ripped through the orphanage’s backyard), but only slightly in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. A south-facing porch was removed following substantial damage sustained from the Texas City explosion in 1947, which also cracked exterior walls of the orphanage. In 1987, the home became a private residence briefly and then was vacant for several years.
J.P. Bryan purchased the Galveston Orphans Home building on October 11, 2013 and immediately began a thorough restoration. The large dormitory spaces lent themselves to use as museum galleries, and the late Victorian style of the building’s exterior and interior was well-suited for housing his collection. After the extensive restoration, The Bryan Museum opened its doors to the public in June 2015.
Bryan has a long history of promoting Texas history education and is also a proponent of the restoration of historic buildings. The Bryan Museum features displays dedicated to the history of the building, the orphanage, and the children who lived here in addition to housing his extensive collection of fine art, artifacts, maps, documents, and books.
Galveston Orphans Home eBook
- Galveston Orphans Home (PDF Copy)
- Printed copies are available for purchase at the visitor services desk.
If any Museum guest has personal remembrances of living in or visiting Galveston Orphans Home, we invite you to share those memories. Many orphanage records have been damaged or lost and your participation is important to helping preserve that history. Please call (409) 632-7685 or contact the Front Desk for more information.
Credits: Orphanage images by Timothy Bullard/©HoustonChronicle. Used with permission. Research contributed by Donna Reznicek