Many summertime visitors come to Galveston for the beaches, restaurants and just to be near the warm Gulf waters. But many may not realize that this historic island has a world-class museum with incredible artifacts, artworks and displays that bring Texas history to life.
It’s where you can see, for example, an original Smith & Wesson firearm, James Bowie’s knife, and the sword of soldier and Texas legislator Joel Robison who aided in the capture of Mexican General Santa Anna after the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. A colorful, soldier-studded diorama depicts the battle that brought Texas its independence. There’s also an original correspondence from the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte.
Housed in the former Galveston Orphans Home, an island landmark, the collection of 70,000 objects includes 20,000 rare books and more than 30,000 documents in Spanish, German, French and English. There are three dozen saddles, more than 250 antique firearms and several hundred spurs. The collection features fine art, religious art, folk art, portraits, and there are rare maps and other artifacts such as cowboy chaps, Native American stone tools, arrowheads and a Spanish mission bell. The museum’s exhibits span 12,000 years of history.
The extensive works of art, documents, artifacts and more stems from the lifetime collection of Mary Jon and J.P. Bryan. According to the museum’s website, J.P. Bryan is a lifelong historian, Texas history enthusiast and descendant of Emily Austin Bryan Perry, Stephen F. Austin's sister, who was J.P. Bryan's great-great-grandmother.
Galleries with permanent exhibitions include:
Orientation Gallery – serves as an introduction to the museum, highlighting exhibits from the pre-Columbian era through the Spanish colonial period, the Mexican Revolution and The Great Storm of 1900.
Spanish Colonial Era Gallery – showcases mostly 16th through 17th century history with art and artifacts.
Texas Frontier Gallery – includes Mexican domination and Texas independence with maps, portraits, weapons and more.
Statehood and Beyond Gallery – explains how Texas achieved statehood with a look at the Texas Wild West.
Rest of the West Gallery – comes alive with saddles, spurs and gun displays also depicting the times of the Wild West.
Texas Masters Gallery – showcases Texas-born artists through their paintings of landscapes, people and Wild West themes.
Galveston Orphan Home Gallery – tells the story of when the building housing the museum was an orphanage.
The Bryan Museum is also available for weddings and corporate events. It’s located at 1315 21st Street; hours run Friday through Monday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information: www.thebryanmuseum.org; phone: (409) 632-7685.