Texas Tidbits - The Bryan Museum

No, it is not in Bryan. Nor is it in College Station.

The Bryan Museum is one of the newest and most exciting destinations in Galveston, Texas.  For all good Texans, and for those who would like to learn more about Texas, the Bryan Museum’s amazing collection of Texana, at one time known as the Torch Collection, and now Visions of the West, is well worth the trip to the island city.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to share the fascinating story of Bernardo de Gálvez with a group of staunch supporters of the Bryan Museum in Galveston. Most of them had at least heard of Don Bernardo, for whom the island is named, but we had a chance to explore the life of this Apache fighter, Governor of Louisiana, Spanish General in support of the American Revolution and later Viceroy of New Spain.  

The Bryan museum hosts a monthly speakers’ series for its members. The variety is amazing and usually centers on some aspect of Texas history. Even if you are not a resident of the island, the museum is well worth a visit. Check it out at https://thebryanmuseum.org/join-and-give-join/

So where did the museum come from? Many years ago I met J. P. Bryan, a fellow member and supporter of the Texas State Historical Association. Since I am a native of Mexico and a Spanish speaker, he hired me to index and review his collection of Spanish documents. Only now, however, have any of us had a chance to see the full extent of his collection of documents, art, books, paintings, chaps, spurs, saddles, bridles, etc. It is truly outstanding.    

Here’s a little background for you. The Bryan family are sixth generation Texans, descended from Moses Austin, who held a Spanish passport from Spanish Louisiana. Facing bankruptcy and financial disasters, he determined in 1820 to come to Spanish Texas and take advantage of the large tracts of open land. When he died unexpectedly, he left it to his son, Stephen to carry on his legacy. Stephen, not fond of the idea of coming to Spanish Texas, came at his mother’s insistence. His sister, Emily and his brother Brown would follow him several years later.  

While in Missouri, Moses’ daughter, Emily Austin, Stephen’s younger sister, married James Bryan, a lead miner like her father. By him she had five children. Upon his death in 1822, she supported herself and her remaining three children by running a boarding house and teaching school in Hazel Run, Missouri. Two years later, she married James Allen Perry with whom she had six more children.  Of the eleven children, six lived to adulthood. The couple moved to Texas in 1831 with the remaining children to join her brother Stephen F. Austin at San Felipe de Austin. From him they received the standard League and Labor of 4,428 acres where they established Peach Point Plantation.

Stephen F. Austin never married. As the first Anglo Empresario, or land agent, in Texas, he received thousands of acres in payment for bringing colonists to this Mexican State from 1821 to 1836. When he died in 1837 after Texas gained its independence from Mexico, he was land rich and cash poor. I find it sad to think of Stephen dying in poverty, curled on a cold, stone hearth in a small cabin in West Columbia with few to mourn him.

Stephen left all his land to his sister Emily. Under Spanish law, which Texas had adopted, she was able to keep all of the land in her own name. She became quite the entrepreneur and a very successful businesswoman parlaying the land into settlements and wise investments.

The family wealth continued. Several generations later, J. P. Bryan’s father invested in oil and began to collect items associated with Texas history. J. P. caught the bug from his father and began collecting at a very early age. Over the next forty years, J. P. amassed what would become his Visions of the West Collection, which included collections gathered by others as well. By 2013, J. P. bought up the old Orphan Children’s Home in Galveston to house his now massive collection.

The Galveston Children’s Home was founded in 1878 by George Dealey and established on its present location in Galveston in 1880. In 1894, with funding from around the state, a three-story Gothic Revival building was constructed to house the children. The devastating hurricane of 1900 destroyed much of the roof and walls but thanks to publisher William Randolph Hearst and other New Yorkers, the building was restored in 1902. The Children’s Home continued in existence until the 1980s when it was merged with other orphanages and the building was left without tenants.

J. P. Bryan bought the building in 2013 and has spent millions renovating it with the latest and most up-to-date technology. He moved his Visions of the West collection from Torch Energy in Houston to its new home in Galveston at 1315 21st Street. He opened the Orphan Children’s Home to the public as the new Bryan Museum in June of 2015.

Many people have heard of Bryan, but it is Bryan-College Station that they know. That town of  Bryan was also named for the Bryan who was Emily’s second husband. The Bryan museum, however, is named for J. P. Bryan, either Senior or Junior. And it is well worth the trip.  

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