New piers have been created for historic mill in rural OTC

Photo by Tom Hintgen
Phelps Mill foundation repairs should be completed by September 2022.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Work began on Jan. 24 for the foundation repair of Phelps Mill, following approval by the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.

The county board, on Feb. 15, received a progress report from Kevin Fellbaum, county director of parks and trails.

“Most of the major work should be completed prior to the Phelps Mill arts festival in July,” Fellbaum said. “We foresee final completion by September 2022.”

The building will be lifted and then new piers will be created for the building to be placed back down on. The historic mill was built in 1889, so the Phelps Mill structure is now 133 years old.

“This plan was the most cost effective and sound plan decided on by our architect, engineer and the contractor,” Fellbaum said.

Grants were provided by the state of Minnesota and the state historical society. Other money (matching dollars) comes from county taxpayers through the annual property tax levy to reach the overall cost of $984,673 for the foundation repair and related projects.

“The foundation restoration and repair work are intended to retain as much of the building’s historic fabric as possible, stabilize the structure, and make significant repairs to preserve Phelps Mill into the future.”

Kevin Fellbaum, county director of parks and trails

The work will occur in phases of priority with the repair of the foundation now underway. 

Other work will include repairing the boardwalk and covered unloading dock, replacement of damaged windows, repainting exteriors as well as other structural repairs and restoration.

The work will be completed by Eagle Construction Company of Little Falls.

County board members, in 2019, approved the purchase of 71.8 acres of land just north of the current Phelps Mill Park. This more than doubles the park from the original 51.2 acres.

The nearby picnic grounds, operated by Otter Tail County, is a popular place for family reunions and other gatherings. 

Thousands of photos have been taken at the mill site over the years, and painters have also produced artwork of Phelps Mill.

Phelps Mill history

Located in Maine Township of central Otter Tail County, the mill was designed to produce 60 to 75 barrels of flour per day.

At the height of the wheat grinding season, 25 to 35 wagons loaded with stacks of wheat would line up outside the mill. Nearby was a restaurant, general store and blacksmith shop.

Phelps Mill was very successful until 1900, but after that year business gradually declined. William Thomas sold the mill in 1919.

By the 1930s the railway was in place and it became easier for county farmers to ship their grain to Minneapolis. Phelps Mill went out of business in 1939.

In 1965 Otter Tail County purchased the mill and surrounding land as a recreational site.

Phelps Mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.