Fergus Falls, Minnesota

Coordinates: 46°17′07″N 96°04′33″W / 46.28528°N 96.07583°W / 46.28528; -96.07583
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Fergus Falls
Clockwise from top: Downtown Fergus Falls, Otter Tail County Courthouse, Fergus Falls City Hall, Otto the Otter in Grotto Park, Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center (former state hospital)
Clockwise from top: Downtown Fergus Falls, Otter Tail County Courthouse, Fergus Falls City Hall, Otto the Otter in Grotto Park, Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center (former state hospital)
Flag of Fergus Falls
Location of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County, Minnesota (left) and of Otter Tail County in Minnesota (right)
Location of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County, Minnesota (left) and of Otter Tail County in Minnesota (right)
Fergus Falls is located in Minnesota
Fergus Falls
Fergus Falls
Coordinates: 46°17′07″N 96°04′33″W / 46.28528°N 96.07583°W / 46.28528; -96.07583
CountryUnited States
CountyOtter Tail
 • MayorBen Schierer
 • Total15.72 sq mi (40.70 km2)
 • Land14.38 sq mi (37.25 km2)
 • Water1.33 sq mi (3.45 km2)  8.20%
Elevation1,194 ft (364 m)
 • Total14,119
 • Estimate 
 • Density981.58/sq mi (378.99/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Code
Area code218
FIPS code27-20906
GNIS feature ID2394758[2]

Fergus Falls (/ˈfɜːrɡəs/ FUR-gəss)[5] is a city in and the county seat of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 14,119 at the 2020 census.[3][6]


Fergus Falls after the 1919 tornado

The falls from which the city gets part of its name were discovered by Joe Whitford (a Scottish trapper) in 1856 and promptly named in honor of his employer, James Fergus.[7] It is not known whether Fergus ever visited the city, but Whitford did not live to see the city develop, as he was killed during the 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 moved from Boston to Minnesota and took over his father's interests in the town. Vernon Wright was also 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.

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.

21st century[edit]

Fergus Falls features different parks, including 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. Its west wing housed the city fire station until the 1970s. Other points of interest include the county museum, Lake Alice, George B. Wright Park, Pebble Lake Golf Course, and Veteran's Memorial Park. Arts in Fergus Falls are booming with a community theater program downtown. Many local and professional artists perform at A Center for the Arts.

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

Fergus Falls received international coverage in early 2017 [8] and late 2018 after a news article in Der Spiegel falsely claimed there was an anti-Mexican sign at the city's entrance and fabricated other things about the town.[9] The story's author, Claas Relotius, admitted to numerous instances of journalistic fraud.[10][11][12] In December 2018 two residents of Fergus Falls, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, published a report pointing out the "11 most absurd lies" of the 2017 article.[13] The same month Der Spiegel also sent a reporter to Fergus Falls to investigate and apologize.[14]


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 divisions along ethnic lines.[citation needed] The small black community, largely Baptist, which clustered in the Southeast section of the city, gradually dwindled as people departed for larger cities.[citation needed]


The dams built on the Otter Tail River beginning in the 1880s were powerful economic forces that shaped the area's development. 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 town's street names: 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.

Hotel Kaddatz, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, 1920


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 on 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[edit]

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 remote workers moved to the city. The bucolic environment, with abundant sporting opportunities that had long attracted summer vacationers, combined with the relatively low cost of real estate and cost of living have brought people wishing to raise their children away from the comparatively commercialized and higher crime environments of larger cities.[citation needed]


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.[15]

Interstate 94, U.S. Highway 59, U.S. Highway 52, and Minnesota State Highway 210 (co-signed), and County Highways 1, 82, and 88 are the main routes in Fergus Falls.


Lake Name Size (Acres)
Alice 31
Chautauqua 229
Devils 348
Hoot 161
Horseshoe n/a
Iverson 54
Jewett 737
Larson 45
Opperman 84
Orwell 782
Pebble 169
Spring 47
Swan 689
Wright 66

Major highways[edit]

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


Climate data for Fergus Falls, Minnesota, 1991–2020 normals, extremes 1893–2018
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 56
Average high °F (°C) 18.4
Daily mean °F (°C) 9.0
Average low °F (°C) −0.4
Record low °F (°C) −38
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.29
Average snowfall inches (cm) 11.9
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 4.1 2.9 4.1 4.4 8.1 9.6 8.4 6.1 6.2 5.5 4.5 4.4 68.3
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 5.2 3.1 3.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 3.5 4.4 20.2
Source 1: NOAA (snow/snow days 1981–2010)[16][17]
Source 2: XMACIS2[18]


Historical population
2021 (est.)14,029[4]−0.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[19]
2020 Census[3]

2010 census[edit]

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[edit]

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 inhabitants 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[edit]

According to the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission's 2015 Community Profile [20] the largest employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Lake Region Healthcare 849
2 Otter Tail Power Company 382
3 Otter Tail County 370
4 Fergus Falls Public Schools 337
5 PioneerCare 306
6 LB Homes 251
7 Northern Contours 230
8 Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs 196
9 City of Fergus Falls 186
10 Productive Alternatives 157
11 Minnesota State Community and Technical College 135


Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls

Fergus Falls Public Schools (Independent School District #544) operates public schools.

Elementary schools[edit]

    • Adams Elementary (1-2)
    • Cleveland Elementary (3-4)
    • McKinley Elementary (K-1)
    • Prairie Science Class (4-5)

Middle school[edit]

    • School of Choice, Homeschool Co-op (K-8)

Secondary school[edit]

Private schools[edit]

  • Claire Ann Shover Nursery School (Pre K)
  • Trinity Lutheran Elementary (Pre K)
  • Morning Son Christian School (Pre K-6)
  • Our Lady of Victory School (K-6)
  • Hillcrest Lutheran Academy (9-12)

Higher education[edit]

Arts and culture[edit]

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

A Center for the Arts 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.

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.[21]



Fergus Falls is the proud home of the Fergus Falls Otters as well as home to M State - Fergus Falls sports and many other local teams and organizations for children, teens, adults and seniors.[22]


Fergus falls is twinned with:

Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom
Hordaland, Norway

Notable people[edit]

City Council[edit]

The Fergus Falls City Council holds an Open Forum session from 5:20-5:30 pm in the City Council Chambers. Those wishing to address the City Council regarding an item not on the agenda are asked to completely fill out the Open Forum registration form by noon the day of the City Council meeting.[26] Local city positions besides Mayor are up for election every two years as one Council Member from one of the four wards makes up the city council with the whole council being the Mayor and two council members from each ward.[27]

The list below is the recent history of the Mayor of Fergus Falls, MN.

Full Name Term Years
Ben Schierer 2017-2024
Hal Leland 2008-2017
Russell Anderson 2002-2008
Calvin (Kelly) Ferber 1981-2002[28]
Gus M. Kantrud ?


  1. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Fergus Falls, Minnesota
  3. ^ a b c "Explore Census Data". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "City and Town Population Totals: 2020-2021". United States Census Bureau. June 19, 2022. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  5. ^ "Minnesota Pronunciation Guide". Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved July 4, 2011.
  6. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  7. ^ Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 394.
  8. ^ "DER SPIEGEL 13/2017 - Inhaltsverzeichnis".
  9. ^ Ferber, Matt; Smith, Mitch (December 30, 2018). "Minnesota Town Defamed by German Reporter Is Ready to Forgive". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018 – via MSN.
  10. ^ Thomas Borgböhmer (December 20, 2018). "Der Spiegel and its noble Faker: Two inhabitants of a small US town show how boldly Relotius falsified reports". MEEDIA (in German). Retrieved December 20, 2018. The extent to which Relotius has falsified his reportage is now demonstrated by an article published Wednesday evening on the portal Medium.com, which refers to the Der Spiegel story of late March 2017, a snapshot from Fergus Falls in Minnesota
  11. ^ Kelly Smith (December 20, 2018). "German journalist admits to fabricating 2017 article on Fergus Falls". Star Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2018. Relotius traveled to Fergus Falls, a city of 13,000 residents in Otter Tail County, and spent three weeks there, hoping to interview voters in one of the rural Minnesota counties Trump won. Der Spiegel said it sent Relotius to write an article to give readers better insight into Americans.
  12. ^ IAN STEWART (December 19, 2018). "Celebrated 33-Year-Old German Journalist Adds A Line To His Resume: Fraudster". NPR. Retrieved December 20, 2018. A 2017 piece about a rural Minnesota town's love of President Trump opened with a striking anecdote about a sign at the city's entrance that read "Mexicans keep out." Der Spiegel now says the sign never existed. Two residents of the town posted an article Wednesday outlining other fabrications in the piece.
  13. ^ Michele Anderson, Jake Krohn (December 17, 2018). "Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town". Medium.com. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  14. ^ Christoph Scheuermann (December 23, 2018). "Fergus Falls - A Fantastic Town". Der Spiegel. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  15. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 25, 2012. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  16. ^ "U.S. Climate Normals Quick Access – Station: Fergus Falls, MN (1991–2020)". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  17. ^ "U.S. Climate Normals Quick Access – Station: Fergus Falls, MN (1981–2010)". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  18. ^ "xmACIS2". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  19. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  20. ^ "Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission 2015 Community Profile". Archived from the original on June 10, 2016. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
  21. ^ Steven Hyden (May 4, 2012). "Field Report Set a Course for Breakout Debut | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  22. ^ "Fergus Falls Sports Teams & Organizations | #FFGameOn". visitfergusfalls.com. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "Frank Albertson". IMDb.
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ "ShieldSquare Captcha". mn.gov. Archived from the original on January 5, 2014.
  26. ^ "Mayor and City Council Members". Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  27. ^ "Elections". Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  28. ^ "VRNA's Veterans Resource: VRNA President Kelly Ferber 1932-2002". www.vrna.org. Retrieved March 30, 2021.

External links[edit]