The Spanish knew the bay and the island early; it was probably there that Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked in 1528. Settlement began in the 1830s. The natural port came gradually into its own despite scourges of yellow fever, hurricanes, and the occupation for a few months in 1862 by a small Union force. A 1900 hurricane resulted in thousands of deaths and left the city in ruins. Against future storms an enormous 10-mi (16-km)-long protective seawall was built; however, occasional hurricanes still can cause significant damage, especially on the portions of the island not protected by the seawall. Hurricane Ike (2008) was especially destructive.
Of interest are the Texas Heroes monument, the Rosenberg Library, several old homes, and a 142-acre nature and entertainment complex that includes a 10-story glass pyramid with rain forests and a bamboo forest. A Coast Guard base is in Galveston, as is the Univ. of Texas Medical Branch (including the Galveston National Laboratory) and a campus of Texas A&M Univ (including the Texas Maritime Academy).
See E. Larson, Isaac's Storm (1999).
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