While cruising aimlessly around the island from time to time as I am wont to do, I’m frequently awestruck by the sheer number of stately, generations-old churches that populate Galveston. In fact, there are so many churches sporting historical markers that you practically have to take care not to back into one.
Like the historic homes that have survived Galveston’s numerous natural disasters and ebbs and flows in economic vitality to remain symbols of the island’s gloriously proud and rugged past, many churches that are still very much in use today trace their origins to a time when Galveston reigned as a business, cultural and spiritual center of Texas. It would literally take days to tour all of Galveston’s historic places of worship, but I had a chance recently visit a handful of the most notable ones.
First Presbyterian Church (1903 Church St.)
Galveston’s first church was established in 1840 and the current building was erected in 1872. An example of Romanesque style, the current building was designed by prominent architect Nicholas Clayton and remains a vibrant and active location for weekly church services and activities, as well as a popular wedding site. The church, which plans to celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2015 with a full slate of activities and remembrances, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church (2612 Avenue L)
One of the first churches in Texas founded by an African-American congregation, the church was established in 1855 as the Colored Baptist Church to serve the slave population. Its name was changed to Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church in 1903 and the current building, designed and constructed by the Tanner Brothers, an African-American company, was constructed in 1916. The church is the oldest of many Galveston African-American churches whose origins date to the mid-19th century.
First Lutheran Church (2415 Winnie)
Established in 1850, it is believed to be the oldest Lutheran parish of German origin in Texas. The second sanctuary building was constructed in 1915, while the current edifice went into service in 1957. It is a splendid example of gothic design that features stone walls, jeweled windows and a massive stone steeple that stands like a monolith over the surrounding neighborhood. The grounds also include the Lyceum of Galveston, a 300-seat chapel and meeting hall. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
St. Patrick Catholic Church (34th St. and Avenue K)
The original sanctuary, built in 1870, was wiped out by the Great Storm of 1900, but it was re-built in quick order and back in service by 1907. The beautifully ornate and towering steeple is the dominant exterior feature, but the interior, with majestic arches and breathtaking stained glass, is equally impressive.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church (1302 Broadway)
Even if it weren’t located on one Galveston’s most traveled thoroughfares, this church would still demand attention thanks to its pristine white stone façade, Byzantine design cues, and massive white dome, but the interior of the church is perhaps even more spectacular. Established in 1884, the original sanctuary was a victim of the Great Storm of 1900, but was re-built in 1904. Even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the utterly magnificent Bishop’s Palace, the church stands out brilliantly on its own.
This is just a small sampling of the many historic churches in Galveston. Many of the churches offer guided tours, but I suggest taking an afternoon off and jump in the car to see the amazing structures on your own.