James McKay Lykes, Sr. (1880-1943) was one of seven sons of Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes, who established the Florida cattle industry before the Civil War. The influence of the doctor’s father-in-law, Tampa mayor Captain James Angus McKay, Sr., undoubtedly provided influential connections that assisted in his success.
The elder Lykes responded to marketing challenges by chartering and purchasing ships to sail to and from multiple Gulf of Mexico and Cuban ports to sell his cattle, hence establishing the beginnings of what would become a billion-dollar company.
Two of James’ brothers, Frederick E. and Howell Tyson, Jr., opened an office in Havana at the close of the Spanish-American War to import cattle into Cuba on a large scale. James followed them to Cuba to work for a job managing a hardware establishment.
In 1903, James moved from Cuba to Galveston to open a branch of his brothers’ business. At the outset of the new venture, he rented desk space in Fowler & McVitie’s shipping agent office on the second floor of the Cotton Exchange.
From there Lykes conducted an extensive shipping operation as an agent for foreign lines in addition to chartering ships for the carriage of freight and cattle between Texas, Mexico, Central America, Cuba, and South America. He also expanded his company’s cattle business by establishing a ranch on the island in 1905.
James married Genevieve Perry Parkhill (1885-1971), the daughter of Florida Supreme Court Justice Judge Charles Breckinridge Parkhill, five days before Christmas in 1906. Four months later, the newlyweds were expecting their first child, and decided to build a family home.
Lykes purchased 1416 Ball in the fashionable East End, attracted by two large oak trees on the lot. He sold the existing house, and it was relocated to 1301 Broadway, where it still stands today.
In its place he built a larger, two-story home designed in line with the bungalow-style appearance that was popular at the time. It featured a deep, columned porch on the first floor that wrapped from the south to the east side and was sheltered by an uncovered second story verandah.
Though the gently pitched roof, intersecting dormers, unadorned columns, and other features of the exterior echoed fashionable simplicity, the interior offered the incorporation of warmer, Victorian accents. This combination of styles reflected a change in attitudes toward architecture in the new century.
Upon entering the front door, rather than encountering a typical hallway, guests were welcomed directly into a large parlor that featured a remarkable fireplace flanked by stained glass panels. Stained glass could also be found in the dining room, and the landing of the turned staircase that led to the second floor.
Brass chandeliers and sconces, which utilized both gas and electricity, were installed in every downstairs room except for the kitchen. Upstairs, four bedrooms and a stairway to the attic surrounded the entry hall.
The contractors for the project, Gus Amundsen and Thomas McHenry, obtained building materials from the Seaboard Lumber & Milling Company on Avenue F.
Alfred Fedder’s roofing company on Mechanic Street installed fine-grained, black slate tiles from Bangor, Pennsylvania with galvanized iron nails. The materials were advertised to last for 80 years, and cost almost $400.
Lykes spent $7,000 on the project, and they were able to move into the home in time for the arrival of the first of their five children in January 1908.
The massive trees that originally attracted Lykes to the location were lost in the 1915 Storm, but he later reflected that despite their loss “our location was a good one with friends all about us.”
Genevieve was very active in social activities on the island, and James belonged to the Galveston Cotton Exchange, the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, Galveston Country Club, Galveston Artillery Club, Galveston Beach Club, and other organizations.
In 1907 Lykes consolidated his interests with Heinrich Mosle & Company, a grocery wholesaler, to form the United Steamship Company. Three years later, James’ brother Joseph Taliaferro Lykes, joined him in the business.
During World War I, the company acted as an agent for the United States Shipping Board, and afterward expanded with offices in Houston, Louisiana, Florida, and New York.
On April 4, 1922, The Lykes Brothers Steamship Company was organized with James M. Lykes as president for the purpose of conducting the steamship business of Lykes Brothers, Inc., and maintained its headquarters in Galveston until they were moved to Houston in 1925.
The family moved to the mainland as well but maintained close ties to Galveston and continued to be involved in clubs and activities on the island.
In 1935 James was decorated by the President of the Dominican Republic for services rendered to that country during a devastating hurricane there.
Lykes finally parted with his island home in 1938 when it was sold to local dentist Joseph E. Jones and his wife Cora, who lived in the home with their children. The Joneses sold the house to seaman Doyle E. Ferris and his wife Margaret Ann in 1966, who resided there until 1983.
The home has changed hands twice since then, but still retains the charm dreamt of by the Lykes family.
In 1968 Genevieve Parkhill Lykes and James M. Lykes, Jr. established the James M. Lykes Maritime Gallery at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston as a memorial to the husband and father.
The gallery was created to depict the development of the maritime industry in the Gulf of Mexico in which the Lykes Brothers Steamship Company played a significant role. Included in the exhibits were historical items, ship models, and early paintings and drawings of the Port of Galveston.
A stunning stained-glass window created for the gallery can still be admired in the newly re-opened Rosenberg Library Museum Trustees Hall on the 4th floor.