Year-long repairs finished at historic county park

Photo by Tom Hintgen
Phelps Mill foundation repairs were universally supported by county residents.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

The year-long foundation repairs at Phelps Mill have been completed by Eagle Construction Company of Little Falls. The total cost was $926,388.

In early 2022 the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved the foundation restoration and repair work in order 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.

Much of the major work was completed prior to the Phelps Mill arts festival held in July 2022.

The building was lifted and then new piers were created for the building to be placed back down on. The historic mill was built in 1889, so the Phelps Mill structure is now close to 134 years old.

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

Grants were provided by the state of Minnesota and the state historical society. Other money (matching dollars) came from county taxpayers through the annual property tax levy to reach the overall cost.

The work occurred in phases of priority with the repair of the foundation underway in early 2022. Other work included repairing the boardwalk and covered unloading dock, replacement of damaged windows, repainting exteriors and other structural repairs and restoration.

Change orders were required as the project progressed in 2022. One example, approved by county board members on March 29, included braces, anchors, jacks, and other equipment.

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. 

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.