Biography of William R. Alexander

William R. Alexander is a native of Jefferson County, Kansas, and his life had been spent there profitably to himself and to the community, partly as a teacher, and for a number of years as a successful bridge builder. He is now serving his second term as county surveyor.

Mr. Alexander was born on his father’s farm in this county March 13, 1863. He is of Scotch ancestry. His grandfather, William Alexander, was a native Scotchman, but left that country when a boy and was a pioneer settler at Old Sweetwater, Tennessee. He followed the trade of mechanic and wheelwright for many years and was in America in time to participate as a soldier in the War of 1812. His death occurred in Tennessee some years before the birth of his grandson William.

Alfred Alexander, father of William R., was the founder of the family in Kansas. He was born in 1838 at Old Sweetwater, Tennessee, where he was reared to manhood, and in 1856 he moved to Northern Missouri and in 1860 came to Jefferson County, Kansas. He had been in Kansas only a short time when he enlisted in the Seventeenth Kansas Infantry and went through all the war as a flghting soldier of the Union. He participated in a number of campaigns, including that to repel Price’s army in 1864. Otherwise his life was spent as a farmer and he was one of the well known early citizens of Jefferson County. He died in that county in March, 1895. Politically he was a democrat and a very faithful member and active supporter of the Baptist Church. Alfred Alexander married Eliza Ann Scott, who was born in 1845 in Daviess County, Missouri, member of a very early family there, and is now living at Easton, Kansas. Of her five children William R. was the oldest. J. W., a resident of Oskaloosa, had been a teacher with a record of twenty years’ service in Jefferson County. J. H. is living near Winchester and had taught school for twenty-four years and is one of the veteran educators in this part of the state. A. A. Alexander is a blacksmith at Castle Rock, Colorado, and the youngest, Nellie J., is the wife of Riley Ross, a farmer in Logan County, Kansas.

William R. Alexander learned his first lessons in the rural district schools of Jefferson County. In 1882 he was graduated from the Winchester Academy. From that time until about 1896 he taught putting in about sixty-four months as a teacher in different districts in Jefferson County, and forty-four months of that time were spent in District No. 47. It is notsworthy that his daughter is now teaching in that same district.

In 1896 Mr. Alexander took up farming in Jefferson County, but after ten years, in 1906, entered the employ of the Missouri Valley Bridge Company and other bridge companies and subsequently began contracting bridge work for himself. That business, which he followed for a number of years, earned him some special distinctions in this particular field of engineering construction. Many of the larger and more important bridges of Jefferson County were erected by him. One in particular was the bridge over the new channel of the Delaware River at Thompsonville. This bridge had a span of 154 feet, and the entire structure contains 86,500 pounds of metal. He built a twin bridge to that one at Jacksonville Crossing. The bridge at Osawkee, Kansas, also constructed by him, is an eighty-foot span, requiring 37,500 pounds of metal. Altogether Mr. Alexander built more than a hundred new bridges. Bridge contracting was his regular business until October, 1914, when he became a county surveryor and engineer, taking office in the following January. His term as engineer had since expired, but in 1916 he was reelected county surveyor without opposition.

Mr. Alexander is a republican in politics, served on the official board of the United Brethren Church, is a member of the Kansas Fraternal Citizens and Oskaloosa Camp of the Modern Woodmen of America. He is a stockholder in the Capper State Mining Company of Arisona, and is also interested in farming, owning an improved place of 330 acres three miles north Oskaloosa in Oskaloosa Township. He is also owner of two buildings in Winchester and two others in Oskaloosa.

On September 9, 1884, at Oakaloosa, Mr. Alexander married Miss Irene Odell, daughter of Benjamin and Sarah (Ferguson) Odell. Her mother is now living with Mr. and Mrs. Alexander. Her father, deceased, was a carpenter and joiner by trade, and followed farming for many years. Benjamin Odell, her father, was a member of the prominent Odell family of New York and was an uncle of Benjamin B. Odell, long noted as a leader in New York State politics and formerly governor of that state. Mr. and Mrs. Alexander have two children. The son, J. D. Alexander, acquired his education largely in the school of experience, traveled over the West for six years, and is now manager of his father’s farm. The daughter, Edith, had already been referred to as a teacher in District No. 47 of Jefferson County.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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