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Construction Zone (News & Updates)

Excavators Unearth Part of the Old Seawall - May 23

Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Construction crews at the University of Texas Medical Branch recently uncovered a part of the past at the future site of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital.

Excavators using heavy equipment found part of the original Galveston seawall buried under several feet of dirt at the construction site. The seawall segment is about 100 to 150 feet long. It was built in 1904 after the disastrous 1900 Storm that killed at least 8,000 people.

“We knew it was here somewhere, but we weren’t exactly sure where it was,” said Jake Wolf, senior project manager for the medical branch.

Matt Byman of Vaughn Construction said crews found the wall a few feet below the ground's surface.

In 1904, the eastern shoreline of Galveston Island was close to the medical branch campus and the original medical school building, “Old Red,” the Ashbel Smith Building. Over decades, the old seawall became landlocked and buried as the city grew on filled acreage that reaches miles to the east. This isn’t the first time that a part of the original seawall was unearthed.

In 2004, construction crews uncovered a segment of old seawall along Sixth Street, which runs along the east side of the campus, during construction of University Plaza. Crews removed the top of the seawall then to allow for construction.

The most recently exposed section, which was subsequently covered up, is about 10 feet high and rises from 4 feet below sea level to a height of 6 feet above sea level. “We’re certain part of the top was sheared off in the earlier construction because we believe the wall was 16 or 17 feet high,” Wolf said.

The previous Jennie Sealy Hospital was built on the site in 1968. Demolition crews removed it in March to make way for the new hospital.

Seawall remains were first noticed early in May at a depth of about 10 to 12 feet above sea level, said Matt Byman, senior project manager for Vaughn Construction, the contractor. His crews first found concrete chunks near the ground surface, then the seawall was exposed May 16 as crews dug deeper. Further excavation exposed granite boulders, or “riprap,” which is placed at the foot of the wall to break the force the waves.

The discovery will not delay construction of the hospital, Wolf said. Plans already were in place to work around the seawall and preserve as much of it as possible, he said. “Some of the past will be under the new building,” he said.

The seawall discovery is immediately west of the hospital site, where crews will build the seven-story Clinical Services Wing, which will house support services for the new hospital.

The seawall remnants were built with a mix of concrete and crushed pink granite favored in the 1900s seawall work. Builders ordered the rock from the Granite Mountain quarry near Marble Falls, Texas. The railroad carried the crushed rock and 5- and 10-ton riprap boulders to Galveston.

“The granite acted as a great aggregate because this concrete is really hard. It was a great idea,” Wolf said.

Crews found other evidence that validated the age of the seawall. The concrete contained square-shaped rebar, or reinforcement bar. Rebar is used as internal ribbing to strengthen concrete structures. “A hundred years ago they didn’t have the technology to roll steel in a circle so when they heated up the metal to shape it, they had to make it square,” Byman said.

The seawall remnants are roughly in line with the acknowledged path of the old seawall, which stretched from Sixth Street to what is today the intersection of Eighth Street and Harborside Drive.

Galveston added segments to the original seawall many times over the years and completed the most recent segment at 99th Street and Seawall Boulevard in 1963. The seawall now covers 10 miles of shoreline.