Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

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Country  United States
Elevation  1,181 ft (360 m)
Area code(s)  218
Zip code  56537
Local time  Friday 4:32 PM
County  Otter Tail
Time zone  Central (UTC-6)
FIPS code  27-20906
Population  13,351 (2013)
Fergus Falls, Minnesota httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Weather  -12°C, Wind N at 8 km/h, 37% Humidity
University  Minnesota State Community and Technical College

Fergus Falls is a city in and the county seat of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 13,138 at the 2010 census.


Map of Fergus Falls, MN 56537, USA


Fergus Falls features many different parks (tallgrass prairie and eastern woodlands), stores, and other tourist attractions. The Union Avenue Bridge spans the Otter Tail River, and was 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. The building's west wing housed the city fire station until the 1970s. Some other points of interest include: the county museum, Lake Alice, George B. Wright Park, Pebble Lake Golf Course, and Veteran's Memorial Park. 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.

The city also lends its name to a song "Fergus Falls" by the band Field Report on their self-titled album (2012).


The falls from which the city gets part of its name were discovered by Joe Whitford (a Scottish trapper) in 1856 and was promptly named in honor of his employer, James Fergus. It is not known whether James Fergus ever visited the city, but Joe Whitford did not live to see the city develop, as he was killed during 1862 Dakota war in western Minnesota. In 1867, George B. Wright was at the land office at St. Cloud and found Whitford's lapsed claim, purchased the land, and built what is now the Central Dam in downtown Fergus Falls around 1871. After Wright died in 1882, his son Vernon would move from Boston to Minnesota and take over his father's interests in the town. Vern Wright would also be one of the two people who established the Otter Tail Power Company in 1907. The city was incorporated in the late 1870s and 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.

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.


A strong economic division between later Scandinavian immigrant farmers and 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.


The dams built on the Otter Tail River beginning in the 1880s were powerful economic forces, which shaped the development of the area. Returning soldiers from the American Civil War settled in the region, mostly as farmers (wheat and corn in the Western plains and dairy and hogs in the Eastern hills and forests). 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.


Almost as soon as the foundational structure of the town was laid, an influx of Norwegian immigrants arrived, by way of the Scandinavian migration of Chicago and Minneapolis, often arriving by 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, with an office in Fergus Falls. The pietistic, low-church Lutherans 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.

Population growth and loss

After the Interstate Defense Highway System built Interstate 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 a new migration of younger families was made possible by the Internet, which created opportunities for 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 has brought a new source of people wishing to raise their children away from the comparatively commercialized and higher crime environments of larger cities.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 15.37 square miles (39.81 km2), of which 14.11 square miles (36.54 km2) is land and 1.26 square miles (3.26 km2) is water.

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

Major highways

The following routes are located within the city of Fergus Falls.

  • Interstate 94
  • U.S. Highway 59
  • Minnesota State Highway 210
  • Otter Tail County Highway 1
  • Otter Tail County Highway 82
  • Otter Tail County Highway 88
  • 2010 census

    As of the census of 2010, there were 13,138 people, 5,814 households, and 3,262 families residing in the city. The population density was 931.1 inhabitants per square mile (359.5/km2). There were 6,342 housing units at an average density of 449.5 per square mile (173.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.5% White, 1.1% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.4% from other races, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.6% of the population.

    There were 5,814 households of which 25.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.0% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.5% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.9% were non-families. 38.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.84.

    The median age in the city was 43.4 years. 21.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22% were from 25 to 44; 25.9% were from 45 to 64; and 22.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.0% male and 53.0% female.

    2000 census

    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 per square mile (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 a micropolitan with a diversified economy that includes healthcare, manufacturing, commercial, agricultural, information technology, and utilities. The largest employer is Lake Region Healthcare, an integrated health system with a 108-bed hospital, cancer research center, assisted living community, and multiple clinics.

    Largest employers

    According to the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission's 2015 Community Profile the largest employers in the city are:


  • Elementary schools
  • Adams Elementary1
  • Cleveland Elementary1
  • McKinley Elementary1
  • Morning Son Christian School
  • Our Lady of Victory School
  • Trinity Lutheran Elementary
  • Secondary schools
  • Kennedy Secondary School1
  • Hillcrest Lutheran Academy
  • Higher education
  • Minnesota State Community and Technical College
  • Lutheran Brethren Seminary
  • Park Region Luther College (no longer exists)
  • 1—These schools belong to Independent School District #544.

    Arts and culture

    Fergus Falls is home to several arts and culture organizations and has a reputation of being a cultural hub in West Central Minnesota.

    A Center for the Arts mission is to connect artists and audiences by providing the best possible arts experiences that inspire imagination, curiosity, creativity and learning. The building was originally built in 1921 and was home to The Orpheum Theater, producing live theater and vaudeville performances and movies. In the early 1990s, after several decades of change and transition, over $1 million was raised to renovate the theater and A Center for the Arts was founded. The Theater is also home to one of the largest pipe organs in the midwest, the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ.

    The Kaddatz Galleries is a nonprofit art gallery located in historic downtown Fergus Falls, whose mission is to foster visual arts education and appreciation, and to maintain a gallery where the works of Charles Beck and other recognized local artists are accessible to the public. The Kaddatz Galleries were founded in 2001 when Artspace bought The Kaddatz Hotel building in partnership with the Hotel Kaddatz Preservation Association. The upstairs of the Kaddatz Hotel Building is home to artist live/work spaces.

    The Lake Region Arts Council serves 9 counties (Becker, Clay, Otter Tail, Wilkin, Traverse, Stevens, Grant, and Pope) and has its main office in the River Inn Building in Fergus Falls. The Lake Region Arts Council's mission is to encourage and support the arts in West Central Minnesota. Their programs and services are made possible through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature, Legacy Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund and the McKnight Foundation.

    Springboard for the Arts, a nonprofit artist service organization based in St. Paul, has its only satellite office in the River Inn Building, which serves as an artist resource center. Springboard for the Arts' mission is to cultivate a vibrant arts community by connecting artists with the skills, contacts, information and services they need to make a living and a life.

    The band Field Report has a song named after Fergus Falls on their eponymous debut album. Lead singer and songwriter, Chris Porterfield, once dated a woman from the town, but the song is actually about a woman he spotted at a downtown Milwaukee music festival. "I saw a girl who was pregnant, and she was with a guy who looked like an asshole," he said. "She looked like she wanted to get out of there. The song was written from her perspective." The song has received critical acclaim.


  • Television
  • Public, educational, and government access
  • Radio
  • 1020 AM KJJK (AM) (Christian), Result Radio, Inc.
  • 1250 AM KBRF (Country), Result Radio, Inc.
  • 88.7 FM K204FS (Christian), CSN International
  • 89.7 FM KCMF (Classical), Minnesota Public Radio
  • 91.5 FM KNWF (News), Minnesota Public Radio
  • 96.5 FM KJJK-FM (Country), Result Radio, Inc.
  • 99.5 FM KPRW (Adult Contemporary), Result Radio, Inc.
  • 103.3 FM KZCR (Adult Album Alternative), Result Radio, Inc.
  • Newspaper
  • Fergus Falls Daily Journal
  • The Midweek Inc
  • Notable people

  • Frank Albertson (1909–1964), actor who appeared in over 100 Hollywood movies including It's a Wonderful Life and Psycho.
  • Marcus Borg, theologian; one of the leaders of the Jesus Seminar
  • Peter Brandvold, author
  • Moses Clapp, Minnesota politician
  • Chad Daniels (b. 1975), comedian, "Comedy Central Presents: Chad Daniels" (2008, 1/2 hour TV special)
  • Roger L. Dell, Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court
  • Richard Edlund, multi-Academy Award-winning visual effects artist for his work on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi
  • Clifford L. Hilton, Minnesota Supreme Court justice
  • Charles Lundy Lewis, Minnesota Supreme Court justice
  • Mark W. Olson, former member of Board of Governors of U.S. Federal Reserve
  • Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964), innovative and influential artist and cartoonist
  • Dave Theurer, creator of Atari's Missile Command, Tempest (video game), and I, Robot (video game)
  • References

    Fergus Falls, Minnesota Wikipedia