Isidore Japhet was an important early Houston businessman who was a retailer of liquor and cigars and active in the Houston real estate market. Japhet was born on November 3, 1842, in Breitenbach, Prussia (present-day Germany). Details of his family history and childhood are not known. According to his own passport application (from March 1893), Japhet departed from Bremen on July 5, 1857, and emigrated aboard the Coriolan to the United States. In 1865 he settled in Houston. The 1870 federal census listed Japhet as a bookkeeper and living at the Dissen House. The establishment, owned by William Dissen, was a popular Houston hotel, located on the south side of Preston Avenue between Main Street and Fannin Street, where many German immigrants stayed until they found permanent housing. Japhet worked as a bookkeeper for the Metropolitan Beer Saloon on Fannin Street between Congress Avenue and Preston Avenue. He also partnered with John D. Usener in the firm of Usener and Japhet.
On August 9, 1870, Isidore Japhet married Augusta Schweikart in Harris County. Genealogy and census records indicate that they had four sons. The 1880 census also listed an adopted child (Amelia or Emilie Voight) in the household. She was most likely Japhet’s niece, whom he later referenced in his last will and testament.
By the mid-1870s Japhet took over the Metropolitan Saloon and increased its offerings to include the highest quality liquors, western beer, and imported pilsner beer. He also operated as a wholesale dealer in domestic and imported cigars, and his saloon was noted for sales of its house specialty—Havana cigars. Within two years, Japhet may have also acquired Dissen and Company, a competing wholesale alcoholic beverage and cigar business established by William Dissen and John Usener. By 1880 his business, known as Japhet and Company, operated from two locations, the Metropolitan Saloon at 50 and 52 Fannin Street and the adjacent wholesale liquor business at 46 and 48 Fannin Street.
After the death of Japhet’s first wife in March 1881, he married Ida Wipprecht on September 10, 1881. They had at least five children who were later named in Japhet’s will. About 1883 Japhet’s wholesale liquor business moved into a new two-story building located at 39 Commerce Avenue. His business activities including investing for the American Brewing Association of Houston, and he served as vice president of the beer venture introduced to Houston by Adolphus Busch of St. Louis in 1882.
In addition to his successful enterprises, Isidore Japhet took part in many of Houston’s social organizations. He was a longtime member of the Houston Turnverein and served as treasurer in 1877. He also joined the International Order of Odd Fellows and served as the secretary for the Industrial Art School on Main Street. In the mid-1870s, at the annual Volksfest celebration, Japhet furnished the lager beer booth.
Active in the real estate market, Japhet, in a particularly large transaction on March 24, 1890, sold 800 acres near the Merchants and Planters Oil Mill for $75,000; he had purchased the property for only $8,000 a few years earlier. With this sizable profit, he moved out of the downtown district. In April 1890 Japhet bought farm land on the north side of Buffalo Bayou one-half mile east of the city limits in a location known today as Japhet Creek. There he built a large home for his family on the east side of the creek, just south of present-day Clinton Drive. By 1892 the family moved to the farm. About 1894 Daniel A. Japhet, Isidore's twenty-one-year-old son, joined him at the prospering Japhet and Company.
In December 1895 Isidore Japhet, at age fifty-three, suffered a stroke. He was in a comatose state for about four days before he died on December 24, 1895, at the family home. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. His son Daniel continued to run the business until it closed in 1918. Japhet Street in Houston was named in his honor.
Louis F. Aulbach, Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (Houston: CreateSpace, 2011). Houston Daily Post, January 19, 1896.
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Upper Gulf Coast
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