THE LIQUOR AND LUMBER DEALER
JJohn Berlocher was born in St. Gall, Switzerland in 1823, but by the age of twenty he immigrated to Galveston. Although he lived in Texas twice as long as Switzerland, Berlocher never forgot his birthplace, holding dual citizenship and making at least three trips back to Europe. Customs officials described him on his passport as 5’9” with light brown hair, grey eyes, a thin face with a round chin and a fair complexion. He married his first wife, Anna, in 1850 and had a daughter and two sons, who would join him in business. After Anna’s death in 1870, he married Louisa, who bore three children.
Berlocher opened a store in Galveston selling the types of items in high demand in the growing city; liquor, food, and lumber. Advertising gin, ales, whisky, and various sundries alongside cedar posts and Pensacola pine, the business was very successful. Using his newly acquired wealth, he built multiple buildings downtown, first on Strand then Mechanic Street. He had room for his own store and living quarters for his family with space left over to rent to other businesses.
One of these buildings briefly hosted Mr. John Denier, a traveling tight rope walker, who treated Galveston to a performance. Starting from the third story roof, Denier walked three hundred feet across Tremont Street blind folded. At one point, he pretended to fall, the crowd gasping, then caught himself only by his feet much to everyone’s delight.
Although there were rewards to being a businessman in early Galveston, it also had its risks. Robbers broke into his building in 1852. Even though police caught the men responsible, one of the thieves escaped by cutting a hole through the wall of the prison with a tool smuggled in by an outside accomplice. In 1856, an arsonist set fire to the Strand, seriously damaging his building. Afterward, he moved his lumber yard and built four new, brick buildings located at 2309-2315 Mechanic which still stand today. In 1858 he installed a steam-driven pipes that fed a make-shift sprinkler system. Even so, Galveston’s frequent fires damaged his businesses three more times.
These fires put a strain on his finances in his old age somewhat restricting the generosity for which he was known. Berlocher died suddenly at age sixty two, suffering a stroke. Friends and neighbors saw him walking downtown just the day before.