The present Tremont House is the third Galveston hotel to bear the name. The island's first Tremont House was built by the firm of McKinney and Williams in 1839 on the southwest corner of Postoffice and Tremont Streets.
An impressive two-story structure, the hotel had long galleries on both floors extending the length of the east and north facades.
A grand ball in honor of the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto was held April 19, 1839, to open the hotel. Tickets for the affair cost $50 in Texas currency or $25 in gold specie, reflecting the unstable status of the new republic.
On April 19, 1861, General Sam Houston, standing on the hotel's north gallery, made his last public address. He warned a raging, hostile crowd of the horrors of civil war and predicted that "fire and rivers of blood" would result from the South's efforts to secede from the Union.
A year later Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock spoke from the east gallery. In his address he advocated laying waste to Galveston, except for fortifications, so that when the "vandel hordes" arrived they would find neither potable water nor shelter... a speech that made Galveston property owners very unhappy.
On June 21, 1865, when the old hotel was occupied by Confederate soldiers, a fire destroyed the building.
In 1871, the Galveston
Hotel Company, made up of a number of Galveston citizens, began plans for a second Tremont House. The group sought to build a hotel that would preserve the hospitality for which the city was famous and rival in grandeur any building in the South. A half block bounded by Tremont, Church and 24th Street was purchased, and Nicholas J. Clayton came to Galveston to supervise construction of the Tremont House and the Presbyterian Church for the Memphis firm of Jones and Baldwin. The second Tremont House opened in February 1872. Construction was halted at the second story when the stock company ran out of funds. The railroad building company of Burnett & Kilpatrick took over the work and continued the building with some changes. The original plans called for four stories. Another story was added and the mansard tower. Architect Fred S. Stewart was brought in to work with Nicholas J. Clayton.
The first-floor elevation of the massive five-story structure was of cast iron in the Corinthian style. The upper floors were brick stuccoed to resemble stonework. A mansard-roofed tower crowned the main entrance on Tremont Street. "The best place for a preliminary look at the Texas metropolis is the observatory on the Tremont House, which overtops the church spires and is the highest point in the city... you see the broad expanse of clean white houses, and wide sandy beaches," reported
the Galveston Daily News of April 25, 1879.
The new Tremont House was host to many celebrated guests. United States Presidents Rutherford Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield, and Chester Arthur all stayed at the hotel. Other luminaries included Buffalo Bill Cody, Anna Pavlova, and Stephen Crane.
At a banquet honoring former President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1880, Union General Phil Sheridan, mellowed by good liquor and southern hospitality, arose and apologized for his famous remark that if he owned Hell and Texas, he would rent out Texas and live in Hell.
During the 1900 storm, hundreds of people took refuge in the Tremont House. Clara Barton, organizer of the American Red Cross, stayed there when she came to Galveston after the storm to help in the disaster.
On November 1, 1928 the hotel was closed, its days of glory over, and a demolition started on December 11, 1928.
The present Tremont House, a worthy successor to these legendary hotels, opened with a gala Mardi Gras celebration on February 16, 1985.