by Jake Dromgoole

On August 25, 2017, the Texan coastal communities of Port Aransas and Rockport among many others, were the first in our state to experience the ferocity of Hurricane Harvey. The storm, which began as a “typically weak” phenomenon, had grown to a category 4, bringing winds reaching 130 miles per hour with it. Harvey would head north to Houston where it remained for a number of days, pummeling the city with seemingly endless torrential and unforgiving rainstorms.

The smaller cities and communities surrounding Houston and along the Gulf Coast were also thrashed by the storm. Areas along the Colorado River experienced severe flooding, with many suffering unimaginable losses. According to the Texas Comptroller website, Harvey caused damage to more than 178,400 homes and “an estimated $669 million” in damages to a variety of public and personal properties.

Among the properties affected by this once in a half-century storm were several Texas dance halls located within the Hurricane Harvey Disaster Area, a stretch of land that spans from Kleberg to San Augustine counties. While many halls in this area were affected by the storm, some were more resilient, suffering little to no major damage. To better understand how some halls have survived, not only hurricanes, but other types of extreme weather, Texas Dance Hall Preservation has partnered with Stantec to conduct historical surveys of dance halls throughout the Harvey Disaster Area.

I had the privilege of speaking with TDHP Communications Coordinator, Emily Stelly, to learn more about her ongoing work with this exciting project. “Across the FEMA floodplain, a lot of halls were affected specifically by Harvey,” says Stelly, “A lot of preservationists have wanted to take a deeper look at what we could do to prepare these dance halls and build them up so they can last for generations more.” Stelly’s work in the project involves personally reaching out to participating halls to gather information about their histories with extreme weather. “It’s been really great to get to hear from them,” she continues, “A lot of them have really great stories to tell.”

The process for the survey involves a scheduled visit from Stantec representatives, where detailed pictures of both the interior and exterior of halls are taken. Once this step is complete, Emily conducts an interview with hall representatives to learn how they have handled Texas’ extreme weather. “A lot of them are family-run businesses. Their grandparents built them, their parents built them, it’s been in their family for generations, and they have first-hand experience with the entire history of it,” says Stelly.

The project, which is made possible with a grant from the National Parks Service, seeks to create programs that TDHP can pass along to dance halls. Providing information on everything from quick fixes owners can do on their own, to preparing for disastrous weather. While there may not be a way to determine just when and where the next extreme weather occurrence will happen, thanks to the dance hall participants of this exciting project, other halls throughout the state will be able to better prepare for it. The information provided could be the very thing that will help keep another dance hall safe from future storms.