Downtown

June Rosenberg Treasure of the Month: Schmidt’s Garden

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Pictured above: This photo is believed to have been taken at Schmidt’s Garden during Galveston’s 1876 Maifest celebration.

During the month of June, Rosenberg Library will display a photographic portrait of Frederick W. Schmidt, proprietor of a late 19th-century recreational venue known as Schmidt’s Garden. Located on 20th Street between Avenues O and P, Schmidt’s Garden featured a dance hall and saloon and was one of Galveston’s most popular attractions during the 1870s and 1880s.

Gertrude Gilliam donated this hand-tinted photograph of Frederick W. Schmidt to the library in 1969. Schmidt died in 1886

Born in Germany in 1812, Frederick William Schmidt was among the first residents to settle in the City of Galveston after its incorporation in 1839.  At the age of 21, he left his homeland to immigrate to the United States.  After landing in Charleston, South Carolina in 1833, he eventually settled in Mobile, Alabama where he operated a business for several years.  Schmidt arrived in Galveston in 1841 and established one of the island’s first butcher shops.  After his marriage to Charlotte Beissner around 1843, Schmidt purchased a large property in an undeveloped section of the island near the Gulf at 20th Street between Avenue O and Avenue P.  He raised his own cattle and hogs and became prominent in Galveston’s business and civic circles.

Over time, Schmidt began developing the family the property into Schmidt’s Garden, an outdoor event venue and summer resort.  He added a dancing pavilion, a saloon, tables and benches, as well as refreshment stand to the lushly landscaped grounds.  During the 1870s and 1880s, numerous events and celebrations took place at Schmidt’s Garden.  In addition to military and fundraising events, Maifest (a traditional German spring festival) and July 4th were celebrated annually at Schmidt’s Garden.

Between 1872 and 1887, Galveston’s African American residents celebrated Emancipation Day (now known as Juneteenth) at Schmidt’s Garden on June 19th.  The annual program included a parade through the city streets which concluded at Schmidt’s Garden.  There, speeches were made and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud.  Afterwards, festivalgoers enjoyed a picnic, music, and an evening dance.  Emancipation Day grew from an estimated 1,000 attendees in 1872 to 3,000 by 1887.  That year’s event also included a game between the Galveston Tidal Waves and the Dallas Black Stockings, two early African-American baseball teams in Texas.

After Frederick Schmidt’s death, the Schmidt children began to divide the property and sell off lots.  New homes were constructed on the site after the 1900 Storm.  In 1911, the grand Hotel Galvez was built one block south of where Schmidt’s Garden once stood.

Schmidt’s Garden and the Schmidt family homestead can be seen (circled in red) on this 1871 bird’s eye map of Galveston. F.W. Schmidt purchased this large property in an undeveloped section of the city during the 1840s. It was located on 20th Street between Avenues O and P, just a few blocks north of the beach.

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