Fergus Falls Community and Otter Tail Lakes Area
Fergus Falls is a community of 13,500 friendly people, many of whom are of Scandinavian descent. Glacial Lake Agassiz formed the rich farmland to the west of Fergus Falls and the fantastic lakes region to the east of our community.
The vast number of beautiful clean lakes and wooded areas near Fergus Falls is a major attraction for people interested in vacationing in the area. In fact, Otter Tail County has more than 1,100 lakes. This gives us the designation of being the number one county in North America for having the most lakes. In practical terms, it makes the whole area very attractive for those who like to canoe, boat, water-ski, fish, swim, sail or windsurf.
Fergus Falls is also a very family-oriented community with an excellent school system and state college. Housing is affordable, and the job market is strong. The city created and maintains numerous parks within the city limits. Pebble Lake, which is a five-minute drive from the city, has a public beach and DeLagoon Park which offers camping, softball complexes, soccer fields, playgrounds as well as public access to the lake.
The city, located right off Interstate 94, has been very successful in attracting new businesses. Those businesses have strengthened the community and have found a dedicated capable workforce within Fergus Falls and the surrounding area.
Whether you're looking for a good spot for a family vacation, a new location for your business, or you are looking to relocate your family, Fergus Falls should be on the top of your list.
Fergus Falls, a river city, was first settled when transportation and industry were dependent on water power. In 1854, Little Falls land speculator James B. Fergus hired Joseph Whitford to travel northwest to take up a townsite along the Red River. Whitford staked a claim he called Graham's Point. On his way back he encountered a band of Indians who told him of a site 20 miles up river where there was a big falls or rapids.
Whitford went there, staked out the site and named it for the man who financed the expedition. Whitford never saw Fergus Falls as he was killed in the Indian uprising of 1862. James Fergus went to Montana on a gold rush, became very successful and eventually had a county named after him. He died in 1902 thinking that Fergus Falls was too remote to amount to much. Due to the Civil War and an Indian uprising, not much happened in the way of development during the 1860's. The townsite did attract a man named Ernest Buse who in 1865 became Fergus Falls' first permanent settler. He built a cabin along what is now Fir Avenue and he and his family remained alone for two years before others arrived.
It was not until 1870 when Minneapolis real estate agent George Burdick Wright bought land along the Otter Tail River that Fergus Falls developed into a bustling village. Wright saw the potential of the river as a source of power and convinced Minneapolis banker R.J. Mendenhall to purchase land adjacent to his. The two were responsible for building the first wooden frame saw mill and the first dam and bridge across the Otter Tail River. Wright was a promoter of extraordinary skill. He induced people to settle in Fergus Falls by offering free business lots to anyone willing to put up a building. As the owner of the town's only sawmill, he undoubtedly earned back his investment as he sold new landowners their lumber.
Growth was slow at first as rutted paths were turned into dirt roads and log cabins were replaced by storefronts of sawn lumber. The town grew in the early years because of the river. Sawmills, flour mills and woolen mills grew up along the banks of the river, and the rapids were harnessed for electrical power. The services offered by the mills made the town a central trading location, bringing farmers from miles around into town with their grain and wool and lumber.
Other towns were vying with Fergus Falls for dominance along the Red River. When the railroad came through in 1879, Fergus Falls' success was insured. Now settlers and businesses had a guaranteed route into town and locally produced goods had a route out of the area. George B. Wright's vision of Fergus Falls as a regional trade center had come to fruition.