Pam and Warren Adams aren't so lonely in Gilchrist, Texas, anymore.
In September 2008 they became known as the owners of the "last house standing," the only structure on Gilchrist's Gulf Coast side to have survived Hurricane Ike's massive sea surge, thanks to the stilt-like columns that lift the home 22 feet above normal sea level. (See the original iReport.) Now, the house still is the sole Gulf-side structure for several blocks, but there's been plenty of activity within shouting distance, on the narrow peninsula's other side.
Perhaps three-dozen structures have been built or repaired on Gilchrist's East Bay side, across State Highway 87 from the couple's home, Pam Adams says. On the whole Bolivar Peninsula - a thin strip of land between mainland Texas and the Gulf where Ike reduced 5,500 homes and businesses to about 1,500 - about 3,000 homes and businesses stood with water service as of last month.
The Adamses not only stayed on the peninsula (it took them a year to repair damage to the home and make it habitable again), they doubled down. One of the new structures across the highway is their new restaurant, FantaSea BBQ & Grill, which they opened last year. Pam says it's one of about three businesses currently open in Gilchrist.
"It's always been my fantasy to live on the beach, and it's been Warren's fantasy to run a barbecue restaurant, and all in all, we're both living out our fantasies out here," said Pam, 56, who helps run the restaurant on weekends when she's not working as a cost analyst in Houston.
Although the population is down, the peninsula still attracts beachgoers and fishermen, not to mention people using Highway 87 to get between Galveston and Louisiana. The restaurant, also run by 66-year-old Warren, a retired electrical designer, manages to attract plenty of people looking for barbecue, hamburgers, hot dogs and onion rings; it had 300 customers on July 23 alone, Pam said.
The house may never have any immediate neighbors. Adjacent properties and more than 600 others on the peninsula were sold to the county under a buyout plan funded by FEMA, with the stipulation that no structure be built on those properties again. The arrangement frees people who didn't want to or couldn't rebuild, and reduces the number of future potential insurance claims in the flood-prone area.
But the peninsula still is seeing an average of 30 new building permits a month for new structures, and the county is investing in the area, with plans to rebuild three fire stations, elevate the highway and introduce sanitary sewer service to an area that had relied on septic tanks only, said John Simsen, Galveston County's emergency management coordinator.
Pam Adams enjoys being back at her beachside house. "Everything seems to be coming back," she said. "I'm really proud of all the strong, determined people down here."