As part of a shoot in Galveston, I recently got to tour 1892 Bishop’s Palace. As I walked up to the steps, I was immediately intrigued by the place since it was a survivor of the Great Hurricane of 1900, which killed more than 6,000 people.
With colored stone, stained-glass windows, bronze dragons and other intricately carved ornaments, 1892 Bishop’s Palace is an ornate 19,082 square feet Victorian-style home. It is Galveston’s grandest and best-known building. You head into the basement for the gift shop and to start the tour. This was the part of the mansion which flooded during the hurricane.
The three-story architectural gem was built by lawyer Colonel Walter Gresham and designed by Nicholas Clayton, who was the premier architect in Galveston at the time. Construction started in 1886 and the castle-like home was completed in 1892. It is considered one of the most significant Victorian homes in the country with its steep roofs and long sculptural chimneys. Clayton used irregular-shaped stones, Tudor arches with carvings of animals, people, and imaginary creatures. He also used a combination of simple multiple geometric forms to create a dramatic effect.
Speaking of the dramatic, you will stand in awe of the grand staircase with stained-glass windows. The octagonal mahogany stairwell is forty feet tall with stained glass on five sides. It is spectacular. Above it is a large octagonal skylight.
The interior is just as grand as the exterior and has been restored to how it would have looked during the Gresham years. Sienna marble columns flank the entrance hall. Fourteen-foot ceilings are coved and coffered on the first floor. The front parlor is made of Santo Domingo mahogany.
As I looked out into the sunroom on the veranda with its checkerboard floor and white wicker furniture, I got lost in the moment. With the sun streaming in, I just imagined ladies beautifully coifed sipping tea and chatting during afternoon tea.
So why is it called 1892 Bishop’s Palace? You get the answer on the second floor. It’s because the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston purchased the home for $37,000 in 1923 to serve as the home for Bishop Christopher E. Byrne. While the bishop lived there, a chapel was put in what was the bedroom of the Gresham’s oldest daughter Josephine. An interesting note about the stained glass figures of the four apostles, St. Peter, and St. Paul – they were all painted by a single bristle brush technique in Germany.
While wandering through the second floor, I was drawn to the bedrooms with simple yet oversized furnishings including the stunning beds. I particularly loved the understated muted colors of the walls.
During the shoot, we got to go up to the third floor. It hasn’t been restored as much as the other two floors, but I found it fascinating. I could easily see why Mrs. Gresham had her painting studio in the torrent.
It is simple with its wood floors and paneling, yet dramatic with the large arched windows. The panoramic views are inspiring. I could just imagine working in the studio with the windows open allowing the fresh air to fill the space as the sunshine fills it with glorious natural light.
I got so lost in the moment exploring the third floor that I didn’t even realize everyone else had already headed back downstairs. I easily spent a good 10 to 15 minutes just taking in the beauty of the past all by myself. As I looked into this room with its peeling paint and furniture that has weathered the years, I simply wished the walls could talk.
1892 Bishop’s Palace is one of the finest examples of Gilded-Age extravagance and Victorian exuberance. Take a tour to truly take a step back in time.