The Bryan Collection, now housed in The Bryan Museum, arose from humble beginnings. At around age ten, J.P. Bryan acquired his first two pieces, a Moore's Patent Front Loading Revolver and a Sharps Patent Four-Barrel Derringer, to help in his imagined shootouts against the forces of evil. Both firearms still reside in the collection today.
Bryan's interest in Texas history was always strong, given his family's connection to the Texas Revolution—Emily Austin Bryan Perry, Stephen F. Austin's sister, is Bryan's great-great-grandmother, and through her marriages, he is related to the Perry and Bryan families of Texas.
While attending the University of Texas, Bryan started a rare book and printing business with a friend, John H. Jenkins. It was during this period that Bryan began to focus his collecting energies on Texana, although the exact nature of his collection remained undecided.
Bryan's father, James Perry Bryan Sr., was also a prolific collector who had amassed a large collection of Texas maps, family documents, and artifacts. When Bryan's father sold his collection to the University of Texas in 1966, Bryan's own collecting pursuits began in earnest.
He started with rare books, a business with which he had previous experience and a keen interest. Bryan's uncle, Judge Lewis Wilson of Brazoria County, willed his own impressive collection of Texas literature to him, providing Bryan with a strong foundation for his growing library.
From there, the collection expanded both rapidly and eclectically. Fine art acquisitions further shaped its direction, with Western and Texas art becoming an early focus. For many years, Texas art was under—if not un—appreciated, by critics and collectors alike. More recently, however, Texas artists have enjoyed a renaissance, with a growing popular interest in their works. With its focus on artists who lived during the West's "Golden Age," the Texas art collection presents a unique opportunity for visitors to experience that period of history from each artist's point of view.
Antique firearms were of personal interest to Bryan, and his knowledge of their history helped him amass a high-quality collection. In his pursuit of the finest pieces, Bryan also purchased a number of existing collections. The Enrique Guerra collection enriched Bryan’s own collection with its exquisite Spanish Colonial and Mexican saddles, firearms, and gun leather. The Joe Russell spur collection brought nearly 500 pairs of spurs ranging across five centuries and numerous styles. The Galveston Collection, which Bryan purchased in the 1990s, added over 3,500 documents related to Galveston's unique history.
Bryan also purchased important ephemera collections, including those of Frank Reaugh, a pastel landscape artist who lived near Dallas at the turn of the century, and José Cisneros, a Mexican-born illustrator with a passion for the Spanish southwest. These ephemera collections include artwork, artifacts, manuscripts, sketchbooks and reference works, and original photographs.
In 1981, Bryan started an energy company, Torch Energy Advisors, Inc., and moved his collection into the company's offices.
Over the next thirty-two years, the collection continued to expand until it covered more than 25,000 square feet of office space. It was commonly referred to as "The Torch Collection" or, as Bryan himself preferred, "The Visions of the West Collection." Bryan has collected more pointedly in recent years, filling in the few remaining gaps in his remarkable collection.
In October 2013, Bryan purchased the old Galveston Orphans Home at 1315 21st Street in Galveston, Texas. After a careful restoration of the historic structure, The Bryan Museum opened in June 2015. With 20,000 square feet of exhibit space and lush, manicured grounds, it has become an island destination.
The Bryan Museum presents a chronological history of Texas and the American West with a special emphasis on the Spanish influences in the region. In addition to its permanent galleries, the Museum also includes space for rotating special exhibits, a library, and an archive. Bryan hopes that his collection will aid in the education of both the local community and the five million visitors the island welcomes each year. As the name "Visions of the West" implies, there was a great diversity of experience in the American West, and the mission of The Bryan Museum is to illuminate those compelling histories.
The beautiful brick landmark at 1315 21st Street sits in the heart of historic Galveston Island. For nearly one hundred years, it served as an orphanage and now serves as a sanctuary for the Bryan Collection.
The 1895 structure, originally designed by renowned German architect Alfred Muller, displayed a Gothic Revival style, perhaps to accomplish the intended purpose described in the Galveston Daily News: "the object is to create a religious and still homelike impression upon the youthful mind." Fortunate to find protection under the sturdy cypress beams, the children within survived the devastation of the 1900 Storm while many others on the island did not.
Substantial damage to the building inspired newspaper publicist William Randolph Hearst to hold a fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The benefit included several well-known, illustrious dignitaries, including Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and the governor of Texas, Joseph D. Sayers. Raising nearly $50,000, Hearst's charity gala brought forth a new orphan's home restored by architect George B. Stowe.
The new building showed a transformation from the Gothic style to a Renaissance Aesthetic design. The building continued to serve as an orphanage until 1984. Through the years, it has survived many storms and has now been given a new purpose by J.P. Bryan.
The cornerstone of the new orphanage building was laid with Masonic ceremony on October 20, 1894 on 21st Street between Avenues M and M½. The building was completed quickly and was dedicated on November 15, 1895 as the "Galveston Orphans Home," a name that it would retain for over eighty years. The structure itself was constructed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. It was shaped like the letter "E" and contained four floors—ground, two living floors, and an attic. The façade of the attic level contained intricate, ornamental metal cornices and steep rooflines that reached a height of sixty feet and featured gables and dormers. The exterior of the whole building was faced with cream-colored Austin clinker bricks.
In the center of the building, facing east toward 21st Street, was Rosenberg Memorial Hall. This square tower-like structure rose to a small cupola or lantern and reached a total height of 100 feet. The Hall had a ceiling that reached twenty-six feet, could seat 220 persons, and featured an inner balcony for orators. There were Gothic, church-like windows and a balcony over the front portico. The south façade featured a porch, the north side a portico, and the West, or rear, side had galleries along the length of the building. On the ground level of the building was a small natatorium, or swimming tank. Dormitories on the two main levels were large, lit with both incandescent and gas lights and heated by a hot water system of radiators.
An author of one Galveston Daily News article speculated about the Galveston Orphans Home: "The construction of the whole is calculated to last for generations to come and will be in itself an ornament to Galveston." Unfortunately, the building did not stand even five years. On September 8, 1900, a massive hurricane roared ashore in Galveston. The Galveston Orphans Home was heavily damaged during the storm: the central structure, containing Rosenberg Memorial Hall, collapsed into the building, leaving a gaping hole in the eastern façade. The exterior faces of the large gables on the north and south fell away, as did the dormers, exposing the attic to the storm, and all three porches and porticos crumbled. An early video, or moving picture, was taken by one of Thomas Edison's aides from the center of 21st Street and clearly shows the extent of the devastation to the Galveston Orphans Home, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
It is important to note that no children or matrons (there were no nuns) were injured or killed in the Galveston Orphans Home during the 1900 Hurricane, nor were any of the many citizens of Galveston who sought refuge in the building. The Galveston Orphans Home is often incorrectly associated with the tragic story of St. Mary's Catholic Orphanage. Located on the beach, nearly all the children and all of the nuns in St. Mary's were washed away during the hurricane. After the storm, R.C. Buckner, the founder of the Buckner Orphans' Home in Dallas, traveled to Galveston and temporarily removed the twenty-nine orphans living at the Galveston Orphans Home.
The Galveston Orphans Home was the recipient of immense charity. William Randolph Hearst, the famed newspaper publisher, sponsored a charity bazaar at the opulent Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on October 15 and 16, 1900 to benefit the home. The crowd raised $50,000, and prominent guests included Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), Mrs. John Astor, and the Texas Governor, Joseph D. Sayers. This fund was enough to rebuild the Galveston Orphans Home.
The board of directors hired regional architect George B. Stowe to redesign the orphanage. The board also accepted the bid of builder Harry Devlin, known for his construction of the Rosenberg Library and Fort Crockett. Because the walls of the ground and first levels were largely intact, it is possible that they were incorporated into the rebuild. Stowe designed the Galveston Orphans Home in the Renaissance Revival style, keeping the same number of floors and the same basic footprint as the previous structure (the 1902 building is "U" shaped). Where the 1895 building was ornamental, Stowe added strength to the structure. The exterior is St. Louis pressed granite brick, yellow in color, and is trimmed with terra cotta. Stowe's building still stands today at 1315 21st Street.
The Galveston Orphans Home was rededicated on March 30, 1902, with much celebration. It existed in the current structure until 1984, at which time it was reincorporated as the Children's Center, Inc. and moved to an adjacent structure. The Galveston Orphans Home was damaged during the 1915 Hurricane, again during Hurricane Carla in 1961 (a tornado ripped through the orphanage's backyard), but only slightly in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. A south-facing porch was removed following substantial damage sustained from the Texas City explosion in 1947, which also cracked exterior walls of the orphanage. In 1987, the home became a private residence briefly and then was vacant for several years.
J.P. Bryan purchased the Galveston Orphans Home building on October 11, 2013 and immediately began a thorough restoration. The large dormitory spaces lent themselves to use as museum galleries, and the late Victorian style of the building's exterior and interior was well-suited for housing his collection. After the extensive restoration, The Bryan Museum opened its doors to the public in June 2015.
Bryan has a long history of promoting Texas history education and is also a proponent of the restoration of historic buildings. The Bryan Museum features displays dedicated to the history of the building, the orphanage, and the children who lived here in addition to housing his extensive collection of fine art, artifacts, maps, documents, and books.