Bishop’s Palace is the oldest and best-known building in Galveston, Texas. Currently open to the public, the 50+ room structure hosts much more than a boring, historical tour of some old house that requires a lot of imagination in order to visualize what life was like way back then. Instead, visitors are briefly transported back to the 19th century on a tour that includes an up close and personal view of the grandest moments of Victorian life.
Ranked among the top 100 homes in the United States, Bishop’s Palace cost $250,000 to build in 1893 (that would be about $6,250,000 today) and first served as home to the family of Walter Gresham, a former Confederate colonel and U.S. Congressman.
This home got its nickname as the “Bishop’s Palace” in the 1920’s, when the then-Diocese of Galveston purchased the house for $40,000 as a home for Bishop Christopher Byrne who always felt very humbled to live in such a “palace”.
Currently being operated as a museum and historic home by the City of Galveston, the building hosts bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxury materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces brought to Texas from around the world.
The interior spaces are grand with exotic materials like a pair of Sienna marble columns flanking the entrance hall. The first floor rooms have fourteen foot ceilings and an octagonal mahogany stairwell that is forty feet tall with stained glass on five sides, lit by a large octagonal skylight. A massive fireplace in the front parlor is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.
The Victorian castle-like home was cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America and was among the first to try out the then-new technology of a gas fireplace, electric lights, and running hot water.
The building is owned by the Galveston-Houston Catholic Archdioces, and is managed as a museum by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Tours of Bishop’s Palace are $10 and the facility is available for rental for weddings, receptions, and parties.
Photos: Chris Owen