A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas. This museum opened last June in the old Galveston Orphans Home, an impressive brick and stone three-story building. Built in 1895, it was severally damaged in the devastating 1900 Hurricane that killed over 6,000 people on the island. The orphans survived. The orphanage closed in 1958 and remained empty for many years.
In the meantime multi-millionaire J. P. Bryan and his wife Mary Jon had been collecting Old West artifacts, firearms, implements, relics, accouterments, uniforms, books, maps, documents, artwork, and more for over 40 years. Some of the Bryan collection’s 70,000 items were displayed at the Houston offices of Bryan’s Torch Energy Advisors and in their home. When Bryan decided to retire and liquidate the firm, he needed a place to display and preserve the expansive collection, “to clean house,” as he put it. Bryan’s interest in Old West history is partly due to him being the great-great-great grandson of Moses Austin (1761-1821), the original American colonizer of Spanish Texas, and of course, the great-great grandson of Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836), the “Father of Texas.”
The Bryan is a first class museum in full compliance with international museum display and preservation standards. The 30,000 square foot building’s first floor is dedicated to Galveston and Texas history while the 2nd floor focuses on “The Rest of the West.” In this regard the museum is unique among Western museums in that it is not just limited to a state or region, or the Southwest, for example. The museum highlights all regions and aspects of the Old West as well as the American and many foreign settlers, Mexicans, Indians, Spanish, and French. The displays, lighting, and accompanying commentary plaques are excellent. The ground floor includes a children’s activity center. The Museum Store is in a separate building behind the main building. It was closed at the time of my tour, but includes artwork, books, jewelry, pottery, educational toys, T-shirts, and other mementos and gifts. There is also an on-line store. A large annex building is under construction in back.
There are collections of ancient saddles, old sombreros, firearms from all eras, edged weapons, period clothing and uniforms, Spanish mission and other religious artifacts; hundreds of maps, paintings and drawings; a huge and quite accurate diorama of the Battle of San Jacinto, and more. The building’s floors, walls, ceilings, stairs, and window and door frames are works of pre-turn-of-the-century art in themselves.
The museum is located at 1315 21st Street, Galveston, Texas.
It is open Friday through Monday (Closed Tuesday through Thursday.)
11am to 4pm.
Adults $10, Seniors/Military $8, Children 6-12 $4, Children under six are free
No photography, food, or drinks.
Backpacks, bags, and large purses must be checked in.
Adequate street parking is available.
Galveston itself is a great place to visit, an hour southeast of Houston. It is a shame that more living in the region do not take advantage of what the island city has to offer: Lone Star Flight Museum (mainly restored military aircraft plus flights available in classic aircraft), Galveston Railroad Museum, Galveston Children’s Museum, Maritime Museum and the Elissa turn-of-the-century sailing schooner, Galveston Country Historical Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, several art museums and galleries, Moody Gardens—a diverse family entertainment park with IMAX theater, a one-acre indoor rain forest, and more; Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Galveston Bay and Harbor boat tours, off-shore fishing boats, beach and pier fishing, Seawolf Park/Undersea Warfare Center (with a World War II submarine and destroyer escort), the Great Storm Theater, Galveston Island Historical Pleasure Pier (over-the-water family amusement park with rides), historic home tours, The Strand old downtown historical district with lots of unique shops, eateries, and galleries; lots and lots of really good restaurants, gift and novelty shops, several festivals throughout the year, and more. And that’s all in addition to the beaches and campgrounds. There are lots of family condos and beach houses that can be rented for one night or for as long as you want. A big plus is that in most areas there is plenty of parking and free trolley cars run the length of the Strand. There are also rental bicycles for self-touring and cycling the 10-mile length of Seawall Boulevard. Galveston is also the home port for Caribbean cruise ships. Something our family likes to do is drive aboard the 50-car Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry and take the 20-minute ride across Galveston Bay to Bolivar Peninsula to catch the sights from the observation deck, toss bread to the following sea gulls, then drive off the ferry, make a U-turn, and re-board the ferry for the return trip, all for free.
You don’t have to wait for the summer. All this is open year around. Oh, and the San Jacinto Battleground, the San Jacinto Monument with the Texas Revolution Museum, and the Battleship USS Texas is on the mainland less than an hour away as is the NASA Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center and NASA Museum and family park.
The Coming Bryan Museum Visit
I’m planning on organizing an informal group visit to The Bryan Museum this coming spring for local Westernfictioneers. Let me know BACK CHANNEL if you are interested and I will keep you posted.