Many prominent citizens comprise the annals of Gallatin, none more notable than Joshua W. Alexander (1852-1936) — considered one of Missouri’s best lawyers not long after admitted into the Missouri Bar Association in 1875. His residence, built about the time of the 1883 Frank James trail held here, still stands and is occupied at 310 East Grand Street.
Much Gallatin history is revealed in Judge Alexander’s resume. His first public post was as public administrator here in 1876. He served 21 years on the Gallatin School District Board of Education. He was Gallatin mayor two terms.
In 1892 Judge Alexander was instrumental in developing the contract which moved Grand River College from Edinburg in neighboring Grundy County to Gallatin. He then taught law to students attending the first college session here while serving as president of the Gallatin YMCA in the building which today houses city hall.
But Alexander’s notoriety was also achieved on a grander scale.
In 1882 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was in his freshman term when his hometown Gallatin was in the national spotlight as the 1883 trial of Frank James took place. He was quickly recognized for his abilities and became chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in just two years. In 1886 Alexander became Speaker of the House. He was known among his constituents for his labors in the interests of veterans of the Mexican, the Civil and the Spanish wars, benefitting their widows and orphans. He was also committed to his party’s pledges of tariff and currency reform.
From January, 1901 through February, 1907, J.W. Alexander served as Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit. He resigned this post to return to national politics, taking his seat in the 60th Congress.
When the Democrats gained majority control of Congress in 1910, Judge Alexander was named chairman of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. In this Post he helped draft many important laws, including the War Insurance Act, a soldiers’ and sailors’ insurance law, a law to restore the American Merchant Marine, and the original act controlling wireless telegraphy. He was also appointed chairman of the U.S. Commission to the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea, held in London, England.
President Wilson unexpectedly elevated Judge Alexander to the position of Secretary of Commerce on Dec. 3, 1919.This responsibility placed the Judge in regular contact with the President and Secretary McAdoo. He was succeeded in this post by Herbert Hoover on March 4, 1921, when Warren G. Harding was President.
J.W. Alexander was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 22, 1852. His mother was Jane Robinson Alexander, born in England. Josh was an only child. He grew up as his family lived in Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas.
It was in June, 1872, that 20-year-old Joshua Willis Alexander came to Gallatin to visit classmates. He sought the company of the sons of Samuel A. Richardson, whom he met while attending Christian University at Canton, MO, near the Mississippi River. Evidently, Alexander impressed the Richardsons. He had achieved a Master of Arts degree and an LLD while in college and was on his way to California, perhaps to teach school. Mr. Richardson induced him to remain in Gallatin to study law in Richardson’s office. The decision proved significant.
J.W. Alexander was in public life for nearly 50 of the 64 years he called Gallatin home. The Alexander residence in Gallatin is located at 301 East Grand Street (still standing today in 2021). He is perhaps Gallatin’s best example of integrity, pride and efficiency in community, civic and social service. He cast his first vote here, in an 1873 election. He married the daughter of Judge Samuel A. Richardson, Roe Ann, at the First Christian Church in 1876 and fathered 12 children. He practiced law in Gallatin off and on until his death.
Apparently no record exists to chronicle all the business activities in Gallatin which involved J.W. Alexander; however, he served as the senior member of the law firm Alexander, Richardson & Allen in 1897 and he was owner and president of the Gallatin Savings Bank, part owner of the Windsor Hotel, and treasurer of Grand River College.
Upon his death on Feb. 27, 1936 at age 84, a huge crowd paid their respects during services held at the First Christian Church. His burial was in Brown Cemetery with masonic rites.
— researched by David Stark, Gallatin, published in part in the Gallatin North Missourian, Nov. 15, 1995; also from the Gallatin Democrat, July 9, 1914