John (Johann) Fries, early architect and builder, was born on October 18, 1817, in Bavaria, the son of Johann Moritz Fries, a veteran of Napoleon's Russian campaign. While he was still a youth, his family immigrated to America and settled in Dayton, Ohio. In 1846 Fries moved to Texas. The ship on which he was traveling was wrecked near Galveston, and he spent a brief time in the area before moving on to San Antonio around 1847. There Fries, trained as an architect and builder, settled and opened a practice. He married Salome Enderle in Medina on November 28, 1848, and the couple had seven children. Over the course of the next several decades he designed and constructed numerous buildings and residences in and around San Antonio, including the City Market House (1858; razed 1926), the Menger Hotel (1859), the James Vance house (1859; razed), and the Nat Lewis and Tunstall homes. Fries also served as a contractor for the construction of the State House in Austin in 1854. In addition, he is believed to have been responsible, along with Edwin Burr Babbitt, for rebuilding the badly damaged Alamo in 1850, when its famous curved parapet was added.
Fries was active among San Antonio Germans and was engaged in many civic projects. He was married to Salome Enderle, a native of Germany from Castroville. Their son, Louis Fries, later became an official in the Pierce Fordyce Oil Association. Around 1860 Fries moved to Gillespie County, where he and his son operated a sheep ranch. In 1870 he lived in Maverick County. He died on February 7, 1880, and was buried in City Cemetery #1 in San Antonio.