One has to wonder why Joseph Alexander decided to leave his own family, other relatives and friends and again head westward. He left Watertown October the sixth 1854 to seek a home in Minnesota. After a long and weary tramp he reached LaCrosse ( by highway today about 150 miles.) There he became acquainted with a Mr. Wesly Ilen and his father who were on there way to Oronoco, Minnesota, and they wanted him to ride with them. The next day they crossed the river on the ferry and camped by a stream. Several of the campers were sick and as he had medicine with him and he understood what herbs to administer to the sick, he practiced medicine for the first time in Minnesota.
Joseph Alexander arrived in Rochester on 14th of October 1854. His first business activity in Rochester was the operation of a saw mill. Leonard’s History of Olmsted County says:
“Rochester’s first manufacturing industry was a saw mill built by Joseph Alexander and William Goldsworth, a son-in-law of Judge Olds, in 1855. It consisted of a scaffold six or eight feet high to which logs were raised and sawed by a long saw worked by a man on the ground and one on the platform., a primitive plan in common use in China. It did a large business and turned out as much as 500 feet a day. There was a ready demand for all it could manufacture. A later enterprise, a furniture factory burned down in 1863, after which the power was used for a feed mill and woolen mill.”
Joseph continued his practice as an herb doctor while in Rochester. Also, being deeply religious, he was often called upon to perform the acts of a minister during the first years he was in Rochester and before any regular minister had appeared in the settlement.
At one time Joseph Alexander built and operated a saw mill about three miles west of Pine Island on the middle branch of the Zumbro River. An agreement was made in 1861 between Alexander and Goldsworthy to remove the machinery from Rochester to the site near Pine Island. Joseph and Hannah built a house near the new mill and it was there that their last child, William, was born in 1870.
Joseph Alexander started the operation of his grist mill about 1873 or 1874. He used the same water power that ran the woolen mill and the two mills were attached. It probably about this time that the wooden water wheel fell into disuse. Joseph Alexander’s power came from a horizontal wheel, similar to a turbine. The mill was first run by water power and later converted to steam power.
The woolen mill was established in 1872 by Joseph Alexander and W. G. Barley. Some time later Mr. Alexander took over sole ownership and operation of the mill. The mill manufactured yarn, blankets and flannel; made wool into batts, and single yarn to be used in making wool cloth; made wool into rolls about 3 feet long and 1/2″ in diameter for use on old fashioned spinning wheels. Joseph and Hannah Alexander were the parents of thirteen children.