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After a devastating and disastrous hurricane in 1900, the state of Texas and city of Galveston joined together to construct one of the greatest forms of civil engineering. Great engineers built a wall that proved its ability to stop many environmental obstacles such as multiple storms, hurricanes, and cyclones. The Galveston Island Seawall literally and symbolically lifted up the entire city to protect and prevent a valuable Texas coast for years to come.


  • Extension of Galveston Seawall next to life guard stand
  • Mile long section of Galveston Sewall
  • Construction of the Seawall Plaque

On September 8, 1900 one of the United States’ biggest natural disaster appeared in the Gulf of Mexico and relentlessly drove into Galveston Island. This category four hurricane killed 6,000 of the Islands 44,000 residents and caused an estimated 30 million dollars in damage.[1] The monster sea storm hurled water into the city with a 15 foot tide that swept and poured into the streets.[2] Along with a large causality amount, over 2,600 houses were demolished and beaches overturned with 300 feet of land lost.[3] The devastation and consequence of that hurricane left not only Galveston Island defeated, but the whole state of Texas in remembrance. In the following months behind the category four hurricane, government and private industry joined together to face the coastal weakness.

At a support convention in November of 1901 for the Galveston area the governor adopted the DWC’s (Deep Water Committee) plan to restore and protect the coastal island.[4] The DWC plan created a board of engineers consisting of Henry Martyn Robert, Alfred Noble, and Henry Clay Ripley. Henry Robert, a retired army brigadier general, was worldwide known and the former chief engineer with the Army Corp of Engineers. While serving as president of ASCE during the seawall construction, Alfred Noble was one of the best known civil engineers in the U.S. Henry Ripley was associated with the Corps of Cadets in Galveston who had experience in Galveston jetties and shipping channels near Houston.[5] With strong conviction and planning, these three engineers devised a path to prevent the devastation of future sea storms.

The board of engineers charged with responding to the devastation of Galveston presented its report on January 25, 1902 of their recommended constructions.[6] The basic plan consisted of two major actions to support the defense of the city. A large and long seawall was commissioned to be constructed with an “original section length of 3.3 miles” of “wall curved outward to prevent water from washing over top”.[7] This wall gained support throughout the city as a symbol of hope and preservation of the future. With record setting dimension of the wall rising 17 feet above mean low tide and averaging a weight of 40,000 pounds per foot.[8]

In order for this well-structured wall to defend against future sea storms it had to be built on a strong foundation. The wall was constructed on top of piles of gravel-sand mix and “protected from undermining by … a layer of riprap (stone underneath the foundation) twenty-seven feet wide and three feet thick”.[9] The purpose behind the riprap layer is to act like a toe for the wall which prevents the wall from collapse from beneath. The funds required to barricade the raw beach of Galveston was estimated at a total of 1.3 million dollars but the actual cost of the 17,593 feet of seawall” cost approximately “1.5 million dollars.[10] After beginning construction in October of 1902, the original wall section was commissioned to  Galveston County and finished in July of 1904.[11] However, this amazing construction of a new age wall only defended the seaward face of the island.

The second part of the engineers committee plan was a reformation design to the entire city island. After much debate within the city, they concluded that the best way to protect the actual city streets from aggressive storm surges was to raise the entire city. Even so, it showed no small feat to attempt to raise the ground level of hundreds of square feet. To raise the city to heights averaging approximately eight feet in residential areas, the ocean soil between the two jetties of Galveston harbor were dredged.[12] The soil was transported to the city by dredging vessels that could extract the fill, carry it to the city by canal, and then deposited underneath buildings.[13] More than 2,000 buildings were raised onto screw jacks to reveal utility mains and then filled using approximately 9.2 million cubic meters of fill.[14] Because of the massive change on the surface of the island the government and homeowners turned to palm trees and other shrubs to beautify the newly laid land. Overtime with additional palms planted, the city became known as the “Oleander City”.[15] The final increase of elevation among the city was finished on August of 1911 and resulted in an over grade or slope of the streets that proved critical to draining water in future storms.

While construction took years to finish wall additions and overall city grade raising, the city found use in its new shield of protection. In 1909 a medium sized hurricane traversed along the Texas coast about 45 miles off Galveston City and was successively stopped by the strong seawall with minimal damage to the riprap toe of the wall.[16] Later in 1915, a heavy tropical cyclone almost directly collided with Galveston City but it was protected by the seawall again. Even though this hurricane was sized similar to that of 1900, the seawall proved its purpose by resulting damages “many times less” than previously with only twelve people killed and damages around 4.5 million dollars.[17] After defeating two potentially devastating storms, the seawall continued to protect the city later in a 1919 storm and also against the 1961 hurricane Carla. In retrospect, it can clearly be seen that the Galveston seawall was essential to city protection and consequently gave Galveston the ability to safely grow into a modern city. With additions on either side and even supplements to the raising grade, the city’s shielding wall now extends for nearly ten miles around the island and will continue to battle hurricanes for the next century.[18]


[1] Belden, Dreanna L. Historic Plaque, “The Original Galveston Seawall”

[2] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[3] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[4] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[5] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[6] McComb, David G. "Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising Project."

[7] Belden, Dreanna L. Historic Plaque, “The Original Galveston Seawall”

[8] McComb, David G. "Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising Project."

[9] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[10] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[11] McComb, David G. "Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising Project."

[12] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[13] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[14] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[15] Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." 

[16] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[17] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

[18] Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall."

Belden, Dreanna L. Historic Plaque, “The Original Galveston Seawall”, photograph, October 29, 2005; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6599/: accessed March 7, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu.

McComb, David G. "Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising Project." American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Accessed March 8, 2018. https://www.asce.org/project/galveston-seawall-and-grade-raising-project/.

Engineers, U.S. Army Corps. "Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall." Galveston's Bulwark Against the Sea, History of the Galveston Seawall, October 1981, 3-30. Accessed March 7, 2018. http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Portals/26/docs/PAO/GalvestonBulwarkAgainsttheSea.pdf.

Hansen, Brett. "Weathering the Storm: the Galveston Seawall and Grade Raising." Civil Engineering Magazine, April 2007, pages 32-33. Accessed March 7, 2018 https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/ciegag.0000797