Islanders find comfort, artistic inspiration in pink granite rock groins
Pink rock groins perpendicular to Galveston’s beaches punctuate many rosy memories, from vibrant to mellow. And they provide inspiration to local artists.
“I’m drawn to the colors,” Galveston artist René Wiley said.
Before Hurricane Ike hit the island in 2008, Wiley took photos of people fishing at the end of a groin near 19th Street. She later used these images as a reference for paintings. In her art, the trapezoid chunks of granite are rosy pink with purple shadows.
“When I paint, I see a lot more color,” Wiley said. “If I see pink, I am going to make it pinker.”
If the groins seemed pinker in the past, they probably were. Most of the granite used to repair the groins after Hurricane Ike wasn’t the fleshy, sparkly Texas pink granite, but a darker red granite from out of state.
“It came from the Midwest and came by barge down the Mississippi River,” said Tricia Campbell, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District.
Campbell’s office oversees the maintenance and repair of 11 groins, while Galveston County owns four others. She has paperwork from 2009 documenting repairs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed to make to the granite groins as well as the 5-mile-long north and south jetties that funnel ship traffic into the channel through Galveston Bay.
The Rivers and Harbor Act of 1935 authorized 13 groins for Galveston that were built in 1939.
“Four groins have since been removed and two additional groins were constructed at different locations,” Campbell said. “So, the total of corps-owned groins is currently 11.”
Engineers designed and built groins to catch the sand and minimize beach erosion. Campbell’s records show the first groin in Galveston was built in the late 1800s.
Engineers used Texas pink granite and other materials to build the seawall in 1902, the Texas State Historical Society recorded. The state built its capitol building with a coral blush hue using the sunset red igneous rock full of feldspar and quartz and a little charm. Some Texas pink granite also found its way into the Galveston groins. But some midwestern transplants now top the groins.
“They used old granite if it was available, but they had to bring in new stone,” Campbell said. And that stone had to meet the corps’ specifications, she said.
Peter Davis, chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, explored the groins as a boy growing up on the island, he said. His grandmother and mother told him stories about when the granite replaced the wooden groins and how it was a big deal for locals to walk on the new structures in the 1960s, he said.
“My brothers and I had a big saltwater aquarium,” Davis said. “Little tidal pools formed in the groins. We would catch little blennies, sergeant majors and sea anemones for the aquarium.”
Davis also used to snorkel around the groins and fish using a Hawaiian sling, he said.
“The rip current carves out a deep hole by the groin,” he said.
While that makes for good fishing, rip currents near groins also bring dangerous threats to swimmers, the lifelong professional lifeguard said.
“Eighty percent of our rescues are in rip currents, and most of those are because of a structure,” Davis said. And most of those beach structures are groins. That’s why the Galveston Island Beach Patrol puts warning signs and lifeguard stations near each groin, Davis said.
“Surfers use them as an elevator ride,” Davis said. “It pulls them past the break.”
Make no mistake, Davis advises that swimmers should stay away from groins. He also warns that explorers shouldn’t walk too low on the groins where they slope to the water or else a wave might knock them down.
The groins change color with seasons, times of day and moods of the Gulf of Mexico.
Sometimes, the somber stones can weigh down the view with the permanent intensity of powerful old men, but irregular gaps and water-worn shapes remind visitors that tides and waves can move these boulders.
Sometimes, on sunny days, the groins adopt a happy-go-lucky attitude of optimistic girls when the granite sparkles as quartz and mica catch the light.
Here and there, Texas pink granite still rests in spots for beachcombers and groin-walkers to discover when they walk carefully on slippery stones.
“It’s a cool feeling to have the water washing up around you,” Wiley said.
One of her paintings, “Jetty Party,” shows a group of people fishing on a groin. It’s now in someone’s private collection, but many people have told Wiley they love the image, she said.
“It’s very familiar,” Wiley said. “It’s the feeling when people get their fishing lines in the water. It’s hopeful.”