Historic homes of Galveston: 4 of the island’s most iconic abodes

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of the building and declared that all slaves were free, marking the date of the historic Juneteenth celebrations in Texas.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of the building and declared that all slaves were free, marking the date of the historic Juneteenth celebrations in Texas. (galvestonhistory.org)

Galveston is rich with history and culture, boasting many historic sites and landmarks, including several historical homes that offer insight into the island’s past.

Learn more about four of Galveston’s oldest homes.

1892 Bishop’s Palace

Shown is the Bishop's Palace, a home that survived killer storm of 1900, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, in Galveston, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Known both as the Bishop’s Palace and as the Walter Gresham House, the Victorian stunner sitting at 1402 Broadway in Galveston was built for attorney, railroad magnate and Civil War Veteran Colonel Walter Gresham, who relocated to Galveston from Virginia with his wife following the war, according to Galveston.com. Designed by famed Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton between 1887 and 1893, the home is one of the island’s last surviving structures from its great era of mansion building. Constructed of steel and stone, the three-story structure survived the Great Storm of 1900 almost unscathed. The Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston bought the house in 1923, and for many years it served as the seat of the local bishop (hence the name Bishop’s Palace), according to the Texas State Historical Association. The Galveston Historical Foundation bought the mansion in 2013.

Considered one of the country’s finest examples of Victorian architecture, Bishop’s Palace is listed by the U. S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.

The Bishop’s Palace is available for public tours daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

1402 Broadway Avenue J, (409) 762-2475; galvestonhistory.org

1838 Michel B. Menard House

1838 Michel B. Menard House (City of Galveston)

Galveston’s oldest home, a Greek Revival-style abode known as the Menard House, was built in 1838 by Michel B. Menard, an early Texas pioneer, a statesman of the Republic and a founder and developer of Galveston, according to Galveston.com.

The home hosted the island’s first Mardi Gras celebration.

Menard died in 1856 and his descendants occupied the house until 1879. In 1880, Edwin N. Ketchum purchased the home. The Ketchum family owned the home until the 1970s, according to Galveston.com. By the 1990s, the home had fallen into such a state of disrepair, the City of Galveston threatened to demolish it. It was then that The Galveston Historical Foundation purchased the home to stabilize the property and secure it a new owner. Fred and Pat Burns ultimately purchased the property and spent years restoring it to its former glory. The restoration was complete in time for Galveston’s 1995 Historic Homes Tour, during which a record 6,500 people toured the house.

Menard House is a privately owned historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through a partnership with The Galveston Historical Foundation, the house operates as a museum and event venue.

The Menard house is available for public tours Friday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

1604 33rd Street, (409)765-7834; galvestonhistory.org

1859 Ashton Villa

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of the building and declared that all slaves were free, marking the date of the historic Juneteenth celebrations in Texas. (galvestonhistory.org)

Ashton Villa was not only the first mansion built on Broadway Boulevard, it was the first mansion built on the island and one of the first brick residences in Galveston, according to Galveston.com. Constructed in 1859 by James M. Brown, a wealthy businessman, the three-story home was built in the Victorian Italianate style and features ornate verandas adorned with cast iron accents. Ashton’s wife née Rebecca Ashton Stoddart, named the residence Ashton Villa in memory of one of her ancestors, Lt. Isaac Ashton, a Revolutionary War hero, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

In 1970, Ashton Villa was saved from demolition by the Galveston Historical Foundation, which spent years restoring the home to its former glory before opening it for public tours in 1974, according to Galveston.com.

The mansion now operates as a private event space and is no longer available for public tours.

2328 Broadway, (409) 762-3933; galvestonhistory.org

1895 Moody Mansion

Moody Mansion (City of Galveston)

Galveston architect William Tyndall built the mansion between 1893 and 1895 for Mrs. Richard S. Willis. Narcissa Willis, the widow of grocery merchant Richard Willis. Narcissa lived in the mansion from 1895 until her death in 1899. William L. Moody, Jr. acquired the house for his family and lived there until his death in 1954, according to the Texas State Historical Association. His daughter, the widowed Mary Moody Northen, acquired the residence from the Moody Foundation and lived in it until three years prior to her death in 1986. The Mary Moody Northen, Incorporated set about restoring the mansion, with the intent of carrying out Mrs. Northen’s wishes to use it as a memorial to her family and as a museum for Galveston, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The mansion was restored to recreate the character of the house as it was in 1911, when Mary Moody made her debut.

The Moody Mansion is available for public tours daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

2618 Broadway Avenue J, (409) 762-7668; moodymansion.org


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.