The Bryan Museum in Galveston is in a former orphanage. A sign outside says it “was created to provide refuge for Protestant and Jewish children” in the late 19th century. The orphanage operated until 1984 and the historic Victorian building was vacant for a while. Like many big, old urban remnants, it was divided into apartments until Bryan’s restoration began. In its 2nd room we met Julie, who told us that she lived in this orphanage for 3 months when she was still too young to remember much.
Many items from J. P. Bryan’s impressive collection–art, artifacts, and more–are now on vivid display in this building on 2 floors. Bryan began collecting when he was 9 and his considerable treasures now number more than 70,000 because he never stopped. He says that, after he semi-retired, he and his wife moved to Galveston and opened The Bryan Museum to showcase his collection because Galveston seemed the perfect place for heritage tourism. Galveston has what is said to be the largest concentration of Victorian architecture in the United States. In another room we met a couple from high-tax Oregon who had come to Galveston for a few days earlier in 2017 and decided to stay. They rather impulsively rented a house and began looking for property to buy. Bryan and his wife Mary Jon opened The Bryan Museum in June, 2015, and are now restoring a Victorian home that is becoming a neighborhood superstar. He has experience since Bryan has restored more than 20 buildings over his lifetime.
Bryan has a true collector’s eye for what is both valuable and highly interesting. I loved the large mother-of-pearl chest in the Spanish Colonial Era Room but cannot show it to you because photography is, for now, completely forbidden. I would also like to show you the gigantic Battle of San Jacinto diorama, but it was meant to be temporary and may go away. Spanish conquistador spurs and rapiers remain. I loved the 1838 Mitchell’s New Map of Texas that showed land grants and rivers 7 years before Texas became a Republic. Ruth had to take me by the hand and pull me out of The Bryan after 2 hours. We went back 4 hours later.
Because it’s so new, The Bryan has excellent, modern displays. I loved the way the framed portrait of Stephen F. Austin, Bryan’s ancestor and the acknowledged Father of Texas, in the Introduction Room morphed into Bryan and welcomed me. One small room has been converted into a wine, beer, and soft drink bar called La Sirena. Bryan hired a horticulture expert who has put in more than 3,000 plants that grow well on the Gulf Coast.
I was not at all surprised to learn that The Bryan Museum is winning awards. The year it opened, for example, it received the John L. Nau III Award of Excellence in Museums. This will be, I’m sure, the first of many. Go.