Galveston Historic Overnights: Tremont House
There are three chapters in the history of the Tremont House hotel. After two centuries of furious storms and raging fires, one can say with certainty that, in Galveston at least, luxury does not guarantee invulnerability. Like some of the finest estates in the South, many located just blocks away from the site of Tremont House, this iconic hotel proved susceptible to the mighty forces of nature for which this island is well known. And yet, time and again, rebuilding never meant compromising luxury in the name of efficiency. No loss was ever too devastating to do it all again. And so, each chapter of Tremont House somehow improved upon the original thanks to visionary Galvestonians who never gave up on the "Belle of the South."
The First Tremont House
Built by the firm of McKinney and Williams in 1839, the original Tremont House coincided with the establishment of Galveston, just a few years after Texas broke away from Mexico to establish the Republic of Texas. Then located on the southwest corner of Post Office and Tremont Streets, the building's east and north-facing floors had long galleries that ran the length of the two-story building. The owners used the hotel's opening on April 19, 1839, just a few days shy of the three-year anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, as an opportunity to host a grand ball.
The Second Tremont House
In June 1865, while being occupied by Confederate soldiers, a fire started in the Strand district that eventually made its way to Post Office and Tremont Streets. The fire burned for days, during which time the original Tremont House was completely destroyed. It would remain in ruins for five years before it was rebuilt.
The rebuilt Tremont House opened in February 1872, though renovations and additions would continue for over a decade. During that time, architects Fred S. Stewart, Nicholas J. Clayton (who is the architect of some of Galveston's grandest homes), and Eugene T. Heiner contributed to the final design, which expanded the hotel by a half block and added two stories as well as a mansard tower. It also boasted a steam-powered passenger elevator, the only one of its kind in Galveston at the time.
This new and improved Tremont House once again attracted the rich and powerful, among them six sitting U.S. Presidents: Rutherford Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield, and Chester Arthur.
The Third Tremont House
Given the devastation the 1900 Storm caused across the island and the hotel's previous run of bad luck, it's a wonder that during said storm, Tremont House was a place of refuge for hundreds of Galvestonians. Even Clara Barton of the American Red Cross stayed here after the storm when she came to Galveston to offer aid.
No, the third and final catastrophe to bring this grand hotel to its knees was perhaps the cruelest fate of all—obsolescence and neglect. After the 1900 Storm exposed Galveston's vulnerability on the coast and caused millions of dollars in damage, its prosperity declined, in many cases moving to other cities in Texas experiencing rapid growth. No longer the playground of the elite, Galveston had no use for a hotel of such opulence. After a deterioration in quality over the course of two decades, the hotel finally closed on November 1, 1928 and was demolished a little more than a month later, on December 11.
It would remain this way until 1981, when George P. Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, recognized the need for a luxury hotel to compliment the revitalization of Galveston's downtown area. Rather than build on the site of the previous two Tremont Houses, the billionaire oilman and philanthropist purchased the Leon & H. Blum Building for his new venture, a building whose namesake rivaled Mitchell in wealth and power in the second half of the 19th century.
The Tremont House Today
Q: What elements of the hotel are original?
The wooden beams and posts under each column in the public area, maple hardwood floors and pressed tin ceilings in the oldest and most historic wing, and the Baldwin knobs that can…