Fergus Falls

Fergus Falls

Fergus Falls, city (1990 pop. 12,362), seat of Otter Tail co., W central Minn., on the Otter Tail River; inc. 1872. Agriculture is central to the economy. Poultry, livestock, grain, sunflowers, and sugar beets are produced, and there is dairying. A Lutheran seminary is in the city.

Fergus Falls is a city in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 13,471 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Otter Tail County.


Today the city features many different parks, stores, and other tourist attractions. The Union Avenue Bridge spans the Ottertail River, and was recently reconstructed in 2004. Just below the bridge is part of scenic River Walk Park, which spans about a mile of the river. The part nearest the Union Avenue Bridge was redone along with the bridge. The town hall was modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Once the city fire station, the building later became the city hall. Some other points of interest include: the county museum, Lake Alice, George B. Wright Park, Pebble Lake Golf Course, and Veteran's Memorial Park. Founded in 1914, the Victor Lundeen Company is still an important business in Fergus Falls today. The arts in Fergus Falls are booming with a wonderful community theater program situated in the downtown area. Many local as well as professional talents perform at A Center for the Arts.


Fergus Falls was incorporated in the late 1870s and named for a Scottish trapper who was the first European to find the waterfall which gave the city its name. It is situated along the dividing line between the former great deciduous forest of the Northwest Territories to the East, and the great plains to the West, in a region of gentle hills, where the recent geological history is dominated by the recession of the glaciers from the last great Ice Age, with numerous lakes and small rivers about.


A strong economic division between the earlier English and Scottish war veterans who retained control of the principal businesses of the city center, the banks, and the increasingly important Otter Tail Power Company persisted for decades until several generations of ethnic intermarriage and continuing inward and outward migration largely erased the initially strong divisions of class and power along ethnic lines. The small black community, largely Baptist, which clustered in the Southeast section of the city, gradually dwindled. Two major tornadoes hit Fergus Falls during the early 20th century, the second, the 1919 Fergus Falls tornado, being the greater. The only Church edifice left standing after the great cyclone was the predominantly-black Baptist church.


The dams built on the Otter Tail River beginning in the 1880s were powerful economic forces, which shaped the development of culture and class structure in the area. Returning soldiers from the American Civil War, primarily of British extraction, rapidly settled the region for farming (wheat and corn in the Western plains and dairy and hogs in the Eastern hills and forests), filling the vacuum created by the brutal repression of the Sioux uprising. The importance of the Civil War experience to these early settlers is highlighted by the naming of the streets of Fergus Falls: The intersecting principal thoroughfares are Lincoln Avenue and Union Avenue. The oldest parts of the town have streets with names such as Sherman, Sheridan, and Vernon. The early English wave of settlement claimed control of the falls along the Otter Tail River, and established the first Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches.

Population growth & loss

After the Interstate Defense Highway System built Interstate Highway 94 along the western edge of Fergus Falls in the late 1950s, population mobility increased dramatically, and high school graduates increasingly left the town to attend colleges in Morris, Fargo-Moorhead, or the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. As farming declined as an occupation and lifestyle, with large-scale commercial farming gradually replacing the family farm system during the second half of the 20th century, the city appeared increasingly destined to become a retirement and nursing community, until in-migration of younger families was enabled by the Internet, which allowed telecommuting and e-business. The bucolic environment, with abundant sporting opportunities which had long attracted summer vacationers to the area, combined with the relatively low cost of real estate and cost of living attracted people wishing to raise their children away from the comparatively commercialized and criminalized environments of larger cities.


Almost as soon as the foundational structure of the town was laid, an influx of Norwegian immigrants arrived, by way of the Scandinavian slums of Chicago and Minneapolis, riding the Great Northern Railway. Primarily dairy farmers, they established numerous Lutheran churches in the area. The Lutheran Brethren (Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America) established an academy in Fergus Falls, which today operates a private high school, theological seminary, and mission society. The pietistic, low-church Lutheran Brethren constituted one cultural center of the Norwegian-German community, while the high-church First Lutheran constituted a separate center, which attracted a more upwardly mobile class of parishioner.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.1 square miles (36.5 km²), of which, 13.1 square miles (33.8 km²) of it is land and 1.0 square miles (2.7 km²) of it (7.44%) is water.

Interstate 94 / U.S. Route 52 / U.S. Route 59 and Minnesota State Highway 210 (co-signed) and County Highways 1, 82 and 88 are the main routes in Fergus Falls.


As of the census of 2000, there were 13,471 people, 5,633 households, and 3,306 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,031.5 people per square mile (398.3/km²). There were 5,909 housing units at an average density of 452.5/sq mi (174.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.02% White, 0.62% African American, 0.76% Native American, 0.57% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.20% from other races, and 0.82% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.91% of the population.

There were 5,633 households out of which 28.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.2% were married couples living together, 9.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.3% were non-families. 35.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 2.94.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 10.0% from 18 to 24, 24.5% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 22.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 89.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,454, and the median income for a family was $44,280. Males had a median income of $32,051 versus $20,841 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,929. About 7.0% of families and 10.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.4% of those under age 18 and 10.0% of those age 65 or over.


Fergus Falls is home to Lake Region Healthcare and the Fergus Falls Medical Group. Two separate organizations that work well together. They are on a joint campus located at 712 Cascade St. and 615 South Mill. Lake Region Healthcare is the largest employer of Ottertail County employing about 600 people.

In 2007, Ed Mehl retired as Lake Region Healthcare's CEO. Peter Jacobson replaced him and in March 2008 Jacobson resigned and is temporarily replaced by long term CFO Ed Strand until another successor is found. Also in 2007, Lake Region Healthcare announced the Mehl Center which was completed in December of 2007. The Mehl Center houses the Lifestyle Center (Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation and ECP Therapy) and the Athletic Republic. The Athletic Republic program combines science based sport-specific training with intensive, individualized programs to build speed, power, and agility for real game day performance.

Lake Region Healthcare also is sole owner of the Mill Street Residence, which is also located on the health care campus. The campus will include a cancer center and a larger dialysis center by the beginning of 2010.

Some of the other services you can find at Lake Region Healthcare include acute rehabilitation, full urological services, interventional radiology, full radiological diagnostic services, lymphedema services, pediatric speech therapy, and many others.

Lake Region Healthcare was awarded the Thomson 100 Top Hospitals award for performance improvement 2006. Lake Region Hospital is included in Thomson’s top 20 small community hospitals in the United States.


1-These schools belong to Independent School District #544

On May 8, 2007 Fergus Falls area tax payers voted YES on a $32.5 million dollar bond that will help improve Independent School District #544's school system. This includes an addition at Cleveland School to accommodate grades 3-5, an addition/renovation at the Middle School to create wings for grades 6-8 and 9-12, and renovation in a portion of the High School to accommodate district offices and programs.




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