Glimpse: Bishop’s Palace, opulence, tragedy
Walking into the entryway of the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston, Texas, you can imagine the rustling silks and genteel voices of high society who gathered here in the late-1800s and early 1900s. The home, also known as Gresham’s Castle, for its first owner, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and considered one of the most significant Victorian houses in the country.
We took the excellent self-guided audio tour, which gives details of the construction, as well as bits of family detail.
The home was finished in 1892, built for Colonel Walter Gresham, an attorney, Civil War veteran and founder of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad, his wife, Josephine, and their nine children. Gresham also served in the Texas Legislature. In 1923, the house was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston and was the residence of Bishop Christopher E. Byrne.
Designed by architect Nicholas Clayton, the exterior of the three-story home is sculpted granite, limestone, and sandstone with elements of French Gothic, Romanesque, Tudor, and Classical architecture and a Mansard roof, with turrets and gargoyles. Its cost at the time is estimated at $250,000. In today’s dollars, it’s about $5.5 million.
Two Sienna marble columns flank the entrance hall, which opens to a 40-foot octagonal mahogany staircase, with stained glass on five sides. Fourteen-foot ceilings grace the first floor, which houses the parlor, music room, library, dining room, conservatory, pantry and kitchen.
The second floor houses a living room, bedrooms, and a chapel, created out of one of the Gresham daughter’s bedrooms. It has stained glass windows depicting the four apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, which were hand-painted in Germany with a single-bristle brush to create the finest detail.
Mrs. Gresham’s art studio and the boys’ bedrooms are on the third floor. Windows and doors throughout the house are designed to open and bring in the Gulf breezes during the warm summers.
Made of steel and stone, it survived the Great Storm of 1900, which killed 8,000 people and destroyed much of Galveston. Mrs. Gresham rode out the storm in the house, helped drag survivors out of the raging waters outside her door, and sheltered hundreds of her neighbors. Afterward, her servants said she was “totally wrecked,” and retreated to New York to recuperate.