Roller Bathhouses

Photo of roller bathhouse and beach visitors. Roller Bathhouses
Colored lithograph printed in Harper’s Weekly, circa 1895. This image shows a close-up view of a roller bathhouse. Also visible are a small part of the Beach Hotel (left background) and the Pagoda Bathhouse (right background). The Pagodas (1883-1900) stood at the foot of 24th Street. (G-9256.1FF1.4)

Casey Edward Greene, Rosenberg Scholar

Roller bathhouses were small wood bathhouses on wheels. These picturesque, portable structures graced Galveston’s beaches beginning in the late 1870s. They lasted until the early years of the 20th century.

Jesse A. Ziegler (1857-1947), a local historian and author, recalled the bathhouses in the Galveston Daily News, March 26, 1944. They had two rooms intended for a man and a woman. Mules towed the roller bathhouse into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. When the bather was ready to change back into his street clothes, he did so without tracking sand on his feet. He motioned when he was ready for the bathhouse to be pulled back up onto the beach.

Roller bathhouses presented problems in several respects. They impeded beach access. The Galveston Tribune, July 23, 1888, observed:

Bath-houses unquestionably are a luxury, even a necessity, but there seems to be no good reason why they should be allowed to spoil a magnificent drive. It is not absolutely necessary that they should be kept exactly at the water’s edge.

The bathhouses also were vulnerable to extreme weather. In June 1886 they fell victim to a tropical storm. Two months later, however, they were removed from the beach in advance of a hurricane. The 1900 Storm swept the roller bathhouses against the flimsy buildings of the Midway. Finally, roller bathhouses were easy marks for thieves. The Tribune, August 7, 1903, reported on children who had stolen personal belongings from them.

In 1906, Dr. John B. Haden (1871-1931), of Galveston, rounded up roller bathhouses for Palm Beach Garden. Haden’s proposed resort was to be located in the Denver Resurvey (an area south of Broadway between 45th and 57th streets). His project, however, never materialized.

Photo of Beach Hotel entrance and roller bathhouses. Roller Bathhouses
Roller bathhouses line the beach next to the Beach Hotel, which stood at Tremont (23rd Street) and Avenue R. The hotel’s entrance faced the Gulf of Mexico. Until it burned in July 1898, the Beach Hotel was a dominant feature of the beachfront for fifteen years. The walkway to the Pagoda Bathhouse is at the right. (G-906FF2.3.8)

Last updated: 3/9/2021 KK, 3/27/21 LMH