Galveston, Texas, the seat of Galveston County. It is situated on Galveston Island near the mainland coast, about 45 miles (72 km) southeast of downtown Houston. The Gulf of Mexico is to the east; Galveston Bay and West Bay are to the west. A deepwater channel connects Galveston's harbor with the Gulf and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Several causeways, one carrying an Interstate highway, connect Galveston and the mainland. The city is also served by rail and air.
Galveston is one of the nation's leading ports for the export of cotton, sulfur, and grain. The city has shipyards, oil refineries, food processing plants, a fishing fleet, grain elevators, and many warehouses.
In the heart of the city is the Strand, a 10-block area of elegant Victorian buildings. Moody Gardens, near the airport, features a 10-story glass pyramid that houses a rain forest exhibit. Galveston's extensive beaches and facilities for boating attract many tourists. Institutions of higher learning in the area include Texas A&M University at Galveston and the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The site of Galveston was first used as a base by privateers; Jean Laffite had his headquarters there from 1817 to 1821. Galveston was permanently settled in the 1830's and was incorporated in 1839. It became a prosperous port and commercial center and served as a Confederate supply port during the Civil War. After a devastating hurricane in 1900, which leveled the city and took about 6,000 lives, a protective sea wall was constructed and Galveston was rebuilt. The city was less badly damaged by subsequent hurricanes. In 1901 Galveston became the first United States city to adopt the commission form of government, which was replaced by the council-manager form in 1961.