Daniel Henry Holmes (April 28, 1816 – July 3, 1898) was born in the Point Pleasant area of Clermont County, Ohio. Orphaned at age two, he lacked any formal education. He became a successful businessman, developing the D.H. Holmes department store business in New Orleans in 1842 and opening the store in 1849. It was the largest in the South, with more than 700 employees.
Early life and education
Daniel Henry Holmes was born in 1816 in Clermont County, Ohio, and orphaned at age two. Although he did not receive a formal education, he started as a child to work in retail stores and developed ideas to improve them.
Holmes made his way to New Orleans, working on riverboats. He eventually went into business for himself in 1842 with his retail company, and built the D.H. Holmes department store in 1849 on Canal Street in New Orleans, at the edge of the French Quarter. The city was booming and prosperous, buoyed by its port, from where it exported cotton to Great Britain and France, and by its large slave market and associated businesses. Holmes borrowed ideas from the pioneering department stores in England and Paris, such as Le Bon Marché, as well as major New York City retailers. Department stores were a new way of doing business that appealed to many shoppers, and the D.H. Holmes store became a city landmark.
In Holmes' many trips by steamboat between New York and New Orleans in the early 1850s, the businessman frequently journeyed by the Ohio River and was attracted to Covington, Kentucky, as a rest stop. Holmes bought land in the Kenton County area known as Buena Vista; in 1866, he began to build the home of his dreams. He named the three-story, English-gothic castle as Holmesdale. The 32-room mansion was built on about 17 acres (69,000 m2). Holmes divided his time between Holmesdale, a home in France, and an apartment in New Orleans.
By his death in 1898, Holmes had become fluent in the French, German, and Spanish languages. His New Orleans department store was the largest in the South, with more than 700 employees. Holmes often said he owed his success as a businessman to his commitment to selling only the best merchandise. He traveled extensively across the country and to Europe, searching out the products he sold.
Holmes died on July 3, 1898, while on a business trip to New York. His personal estate was valued at more than $1.2 million. Holmes' obituary ran on the front page of The Kentucky Post on July 4, 1898. The article termed Holmes, the "king of New Orleans retailers" and the “richest man in Covington.”
In 1919 the Holmes family sold the Holmesdale mansion to the Covington Board of Education for $50,000. The site is now part of the Holmes Junior/Senior High School campus.
D.H. Holmes in New Orleans was bought by Dillard's in 1989, becoming part of a chain. The original store on Canal Street was sold and redeveloped as a boutique hotel, opening in 1995 as Chateau Sonesta. It was renovated in 2012 and is now the Hyatt French Quarter Hotel.