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Selections From The Splinters - Volume 7

Early history, or possibly it might with strict accuracy be called tradition, records that when Texas was first settled, there was a forty-foot depth of water at the entrance of Galveston harbor. However, this channel shoaled rapidly, through the deposits from the tides and inland streams so that by the year 1853 a United States Army engineer reported that the channel between Pelican and Galveston was filling up rapidly. Due to a storm in 1854 the channel which had shoaled to ten feet was deepened to fifteen and maintained that measurement for several years. A survey in 1867 showed 9-1/2 feet on the inner bar and Galveston became alarmed, fearing with good reason that its existence as a port was threatened. An appropriation of $170,000 was made by the city, and Captain Charles Fowler was placed in charge of the work to deepen the channel. He sank a line of piling for a distance of about one-half mile along the east side, which had the effect of cutting away the inner bar, the greatest menace to navigation! at that time. It was quickly appreciated that an undertaking of this magnitude was beyond the power of one municipality to assume, and the Federal government was called upon to take up the burden. The War Department detailed Major McAlester of New Orleans to make the necessary surveys and send his recommendations to the department for consideration.

This preliminary work commenced in 1867, and upon completion, Major McAlester submitted three plans: First, to build a jetty from Pelican island and spit, intersecting Bolivar roads, for the purpose of deflecting a greater volume of water through the channel, thereby deepening and maintaining it; second, to construct a dam at San Luis pass, at the southwestern end of the island, and third, to excavate the sand and silt by means of machinery and dredges. The estimate for the cost of the first plan was $1,300,000; for the second, $330,000, and for the third, $10,952.

In the report, it was recommended that a jetty be constructed from the east end of the island, to prevent constant erosion, with resulting obstruction to navigation. The government took no action on these recommendations and finally in 1871, Captain Howell, who succeeded Maj. McAlester at New Orleans, made an inspection and report of the conditions. Congress acted on this report and made an appropriation of $25,000 in 1870. An additional amount was made available the next year, $20,000. Practically all of this money was expended for dredges for carrying on the work. In the meantime the work done by the city was proving highly satisfactory, the action of the deflected currents maintained a depth over the inner bar almost equal to that of the outer obstruction.

From time to time additional amounts were secured from the Federal government and expended on the work, but in 1875 a hurricane destroyed nearly all of the government machinery and seriously damaged the gabion jetty extending from the east end.

From History of Galveston, Texas, 1931
By S. C. Griffin.

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