The Bippus Family
Members of the Bippus family have made positive contributions to this area for generations. The patriarch, Jacob Bippus, immigrated from Germany and gained his United States citizenship in 1836 in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.
He was a carpenter and active in the Moravian Church before heading west to Indiana in 1853 and settling in Warren Township, Huntington County. There, Jacob helped lay out the town of West Point, later to be renamed Bippus, after his family.
Jacob’s son, George Jacob Bippus, was born in Ohio, but followed the family to Huntington County after finishing his apprenticeship as a tinsmith. George J. found work at a tin shop in downtown Huntington, and later bought half-ownership in that business. He became quite the entrepreneur, buying land and starting a real estate business. He later moved into hardware sales, then worked to improve the Wabash and Erie Canal between Roanoke and Wabash. He married into another prominent local family when he wed Anna Purviance in 1864.
In 1883 George J. invested in the creation of the Chicago and Atlantic Railway, which connected Chicago and Marion, Ohio. He eventually became vice president of the company. At one point in his life, he had the largest independent oil business in this part of America. The family’s financial success came from diverse investments, including holding considerable stock in a Huntington piano manufacturer, Schaff Brothers.
Faith was important in the Bippus family. Members were involved in the congregation at First Presbyterian Church. They donated beautiful stained glass windows and even paid two-thirds of the debt when the church was struggling.
George J. built a reputation as an energetic, loyal, and honest man. He passed away in 1904.His son James Frederick, also known as J. Fred, followed in the family’s footsteps. He took over Huntington Light and Fuel Co., and built and operated the LaFontaine Hotel as a tribute to his father.
J. Fred supported many civic projects. He was historically minded and collected treasures of Huntington’s past. For the city’s centennial celebration in 1928, he commissioned and displayed nearly 500 paintings. Many can still be viewed around Huntington. He was the first president of the Commercial Association, now known as the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1923 J. Fred Bippus sold the Huntington Light and Fuel Company to Northern Indiana Power Company. His sons, George James and Albert Watkins, would continue the other family businesses. George worked at the Hotel LaFontaine. The hotel closed for a time during the Great Depression but George and his daughter, Jean Ringer, had it restored. Today it is the LaFontaine Center, a senior assisted living center listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the Bippus name remains prominent in this area — as a town, in business, and with historic ties to landmark structures throughout Huntington.