Galveston’s Cotton Carnival

 Galveston’s Cotton Carnival
Advertising poster for the inaugural Cotton Carnival which was held the first week of August in 1909 [gift of the heirs of J.W. Lockhart].

During the month of August, Rosenberg Library will exhibit a small collection of items related to the Cotton Carnival, an annual summer event first celebrated in Galveston in 1909. On display is an advertisement poster for the first Cotton Carnival as well as historic photos of the elaborate festivities.

Cotton is the Cause of it All

In 1909, Galvestonians embarked on plans for a new city celebration. The Cotton Carnival was a week-long event which showcased one of Galveston’s most important industries. A Galveston Daily News article from August 2 of that year provides an eloquent explanation: “Cotton, upon which Galveston wealth has been built and upon which Galveston’s future depends, and out of which Galveston will work a great destiny. Cotton is the cause of it all.”

Texas Governor T.M. Campbell gave a public address on the opening day of Cotton Carnival. Assorted festivities were planned during the first week in August including concerts, an automobile parade, and boat parades in Galveston harbor. A traditional street parade including lavishly decorated floats and carriages was a major highlight.

 Galveston’s Cotton Carnival
Grand parade of decorated wagons and floats during the Cotton Carnival [image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library].

Athletic competitions included a 1-mile swimming race and a 3-mile run. There was also a cotton bale stacking contest. Hotels offered special rates to tourists traveling to Galveston to attend the Cotton Carnival, and train fares were discounted as well.

In preparation for the first Cotton Carnival, the Galveston Business League constructed an addition to the Galveston Auditorium located at 27th Street and Avenue Q. This annex — called the Cotton Palace — was designed to house interesting exhibits and other educational displays related to cotton. The exhibition hall included samples of cotton from various parts of the world and provided explanations of how it was raised, pressed, and shipped internationally.

Local and regional artists exhibited their work, and visitors could enjoy seeing such curiosities as a miniature bungalow made entirely of cotton seeds. Cold drinks and other concessions were available, and streetcars conveniently transported tourists to and from the Cotton Palace.

The carnival continued to grow over the next few years. In 1910, the festivities extended from one week to two and included an expanded arts and crafts show, an aquarium, cooking demonstrations, an automobile race, and fireworks shows. The 1914 Cotton Carnival included a circus performance and parade, and members of the press enjoyed a deep-sea fishing excursion.

However, dramatic events on a global scale led to the eventual abandonment of this local celebration.

The End of an Era

Publicity surrounding the 1916 Cotton Carnival foreshadowed its eventual demise. Newspaper headlines alongside advertisements for the event included: “Cruiser Destroys Armored Patrols” and “German Aeroplanes Bombard English Costal Fortifications.” Although America had not yet entered World War I, the effects of this devastating situation were certainly being felt.

After eight successful seasons, the Cotton Carnival came to an abrupt end in 1917. On May 10, 1917, the Galveston Daily News ran an announcement that plans for that year’s Cotton Carnival had been abandoned “on account of abnormal conditions prevailing since the United States entered the war against Germany.”

Members of the planning committee felt compelled to “perform more urgent duties” and were unable to continue to devote their time and resources to the local celebration. The Galveston Auditorium and the Cotton Palace were later demolished.

 Galveston’s Cotton Carnival
The Cotton Palace — located at Avenue Q and 27th Street — was built as an addition to the 1902 Galveston Auditorium and was designed to house the Cotton Carnival’s exhibition hall [image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library].

Although an attempt was made in 1929 to revive the tradition, the Cotton Carnival never regained its former glory as a premiere island event. Today, Menard Park is located on the original carnival grounds.

Past Treasures