County was organized in 1868 following state legislation

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Otter Tail County was organized in 1868 following a state legislative act.

The first group of non-Native American settlers, Cutlerites, came to Clitherall Lake in the spring of 1865 to become permanent settlers. About 35 men, women and children made the trip from Manti, Iowa, on May 6. A second group arrived on July 31.

This was seven years after Minnesota became a state, in 1858, and three years prior to Otter Tail County becoming established.

The second permanent settlement in the county was established in 1866 in Otto and Rush Lake townships, now what’s north of Ottertail city and south of Perham. The leader was a German Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Albrecht.

The third permanent settlement took place in 1871, in what’s now Western Township, west of Dalton in the extreme southwestern section of Otter Tail County. A group of people from New York had first intended to settle in the northern section of the county but later opted for the southern section of Otter Tail County.

Otter Tail County was a prime destination during the post-Civil War westward migration. Among the immigrants were Scandinavia farmers.

By the late 1800s wheat was the king of crops and in such demand that nearly 1,000 mills were operating throughout the state. Otter Tail County was considered a prime location for the construction of mills. 

An abundance of water power from the Red River (now known as the Otter Tail River) lured entrepreneurs with dreams of turning the county into the largest flour producing area west of Minneapolis.

Phelps Mill is preserved today as the one of the most iconic buildings in our area that symbolizes the old rural life. Otter Tail County purchased the mill and surrounding land in 1965 and it is now a popular destination and recreation site.

In September 2018, during the county’s 150th anniversary, theater productions took place in Pelican Rapids, Perham, Ottertail, Parkers Prairie and Battle Lake.