|Al and Helen serving their famous nickel ice cream cones at Alexander Drug Store in Branson. (Courtesy the Branson Centennial Museum and the White River Valley Historical Society).|
Henry Cave, his wife Sarah and their family came to Missouri from Kentucky prior to 1840. They resettled in Callaway County and a small village called Wainwright, not far from the state capital. The couple was the great-grandparents of Helen Cave who later married Al Alexander in Taney County.
“My Granddad was running a little store there in Wainwright,” Robert Alexander said recently from his home in Branson. “He was H.S. Cave. They called him Shannon; her name was Rose. Mom came down here to teach school at Branson. Her brother had come down in 1927 to the School of the Ozarks to teach and Mom came in 1930.”
Helen, born in 1911, taught three years then married Alfred, Robert’s father. In those days, school boards didn’t like female teachers to be married so she retired from the profession to raise a family, itself a full time job.
Alfred was born in 1898 in Jackson County, Missouri to Thomas and Mary Patterson Alexander. In 1905, the family, including Al’s brothers Harmon, Peter, William, Joseph and George, relocated to Branson. Their father, Thomas, went to work for the Winch Spoke Company, located today near the railroad depot not far from the Branson lakefront. The Alexander’s had migrated up from Kentucky to Missouri prior to 1850 as well. Some sources say Alfred was named after a great grandfather.
In that day, spokes were manufactured and used as bars connecting the center of a wheel to its outer edge. Horse and mule drawn wagons were still the principal mode of hauling freight and people short distances during World War I. In the war, Al served on the West Coast a couple of years in the Navy after graduating from school in Branson. He and his brother William had gone to Solomon, Kansas to finish their schooling; Branson had only a two year high school then.
The timber industry in the upper White River basin was dry wood for fueling the local economy, red hot after construction of the railroad in 1905 and Powersite Dam in 1911. By 1920, when Al was back from the war, he was inspecting railroad ties on Commercial Street for his dad who was then a lumber merchant.
By 1922, Al was in business with a partner. It was called Donavon Drug Store. Later, he bought out his partner and the name was changed to Alexander Drug. It was here that Helen eventually re-entered the job market. The couple served their famous nickel ice cream cone for decades and was once even featured in the Wall Street Journal. The pharmacy was closed in 1982.
“At that point,” Robert said, “Dad was not in very good health; in fact he died in 1984. Helen lived another 14 years and was buried next to her husband in Ozark Memorial Park.
Robert, who was their only child, continues to make his home in Branson.