When you arrive for your visit to Bishop’s Palace you can park along the street, either in front of or beside the Palace. As you walk through the front gate you are greeted by two statues of the Lion of St. Mark, representing John Mark the Evangelist. To enter the residence, follow the path to the left of the main stairs, and around the bend you will see a red door. Enter here through the gift shop to buy or present your tickets and start your tour. An audio accompaniment is provided at no extra charge and is a great addition to your tour.
The residence was bought by the Diocese of Galveston in 1923 from the Gresham family to be the Bishop’s residence. Christopher Edward Byrne was born in Burnsville, Missouri in 1867 and lived here until his death in 1954. The residence has been a museum since the early 1960s and was called Bishop’s “Palace” after it became a museum.
Walter Gresham had the home Built between 1887 and 1892 and has 52 rooms in 19,000 square feet of space. The original construction cost was $250,000 and was designed by the renowned Nicholas Clayton. The parishes of the diocese donated $37,000 to buy the house from the Gresham family in 1923 and another $12,000 to modernize it before the bishop moved in with his two sisters, Ella, and Mary.
The Main Hall Entrance
The parquet floor in the library, with classical patterns matching the woodwork, was made by SC Johnson and Co. Yes, the same company that today is known for floor wax.
Walter Gresham served in the state legislature and has the Texas State Seal carved in the railing to commemorate Gresham’s service in the state legislature. On the landing midway up the stairway you’ll see stained and jewel glasses windows, one of which is darker than the other two as it is an interior window, backlit with electric lights.
Daughter Josephine’s room was the most extensive part of the remodel, undergoing a major transformation. The room now features an altar, six prie-dieu (kneelers), and a gold lacquered brass and onyx crucifix with a mural painted on the ceiling representing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The faces on the religious-themed stained glass have the most intricate artwork and the saints have very detailed features, done with brushes and needles.
Call bells throughout the house were used to call servants and tell them when and where they were needed. There is a back hall that was used for the children and servants so as to stay out of view of the house guests. Three full-time servants were usually employed, who often resided in the palace: a man acting as general coachman and groundskeeper, and two women who handled the other duties of the house. Additional servants were hired part-time during special or large-scale events. The house has a dumbwaiter used to deliver food from the basement kitchen. It was later converted into an elevator.
Basement to Attic Tours
Tours are offered on Saturdays that give you a grand tour of the entire Bishop’s Palace, aka the Gresham House. This exclusive tour gives you access to normally off-limit areas of the house. During the tour you will see Mr. Gresham’s Studio and an exclusive panoramic third-floor view. Tickets are $35 per person and limited to 20 total guests.