Galveston Historic Overnights: The German Cottage
Built in 1875 by Bessie Masen.
This historically working-class property was originally a two-room raised clapboard cottage with a front porch, a shingle roof and brick flue. (Records indicate that the second bedroom and bathroom were added much later.) In addition, next door to this cottage was once a livery stable where owners could rent space to have their horses and mules housed and cared for.
About the Original Owners
Little is known about the inhabitants of this property, but judging by the neighborhood at the time it was built, it was likely used by a more wealthy owner as an investment property and rented out to working-class tenants, such as the German immigrants that populated the area around this time.
According to the current owner, there was at some point a large chicken coop behind the house, suggesting the occupants most likely sold yard eggs to supplement income.
Most Likely German
Why do we assume that the tenants of this property were often working-class German immigrants?
To begin with, an astounding number of German immigrants passed through or settled in Galveston during the second half of the 19th century. As local historian, JR Shaw, writes, "By 1860 it is estimated that as many as 30,000 German immigrants had arrived in Texas. Although German immigration halted due to the Civil War, as soon as the war ended in 1865, Germans began to pour in through Galveston once again."
From the late 1860s through the 1890s, it would have been as common to hear German spoken on the streets of Galveston as it was to hear English.
Communities have always coalesced around exploding ethnic populations (and still do). As enclaves form in this or that part of a city, institutions like community centers, schools, shops, and places of worship are always close behind, often founded by and for those who have a distinct language and culture in common.
So naturally, in 1860, at a point when German Catholics constituted roughly half of Galveston’s ethnic population, Bishop Jean Marie Odin established St. Joseph's Church specifically for the growing German-speaking Catholic community. Located just a few blocks away from the 1875 Clapboard Cottage, St. Joseph's Church is distinct for a variety of reasons: not only is it the oldest German Catholic church in Texas, it's also one of the oldest buildings in Galveston, among only a few pre-war properties that remain. Moreover, it was miraculously spared by the 1900 storm, suffering only minimal damage.
St. Joseph Catholic Church
Built by German immigrants, the church, always primarily a working-class congregation, was dedicated to the patronage of St. Joseph, the patron saint of laborers.
Look for these original features in the cottage:
- Long Leaf Pine Flooring
- High Ceilings
Items discovered during renovations:
- German silver spoon (ca. 1890)
- Medicine bottle
- Glass marbles
- Clay pipe
- Mason handbook