Although little biographical information is available on him, prior to his death in the Civil War, John M. Gries was a promising Philadelphia architect. In 1855 he established an office at 90 South 4th Street from which he could supervise two of his most important surviving commissions: the Farmers & Mechanics Bank, 427 Chestnut Street (1853-1855) and the Bank of Pennsylvania (later Philadelphia Bank), 421 Chestnut Street (1857-1859). Concurrently he designed the High Victorian Gothic Christ Church Hospital (Kearsley Home), 49th Street and Monument Road (1857-1861). Gries was also one of 19 signers of the application for the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects charter in 1861.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered for active duty, serving as a Major with the 104th Regiment; and he died of wounds received in action.