Phelps Mill County Park
Season: May 1 to October 31
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to Dusk
Off-Season: November 1 to April 30
Park is open on a limited basis as weather permits, facilities are not open and snow is not removed.
Historic Mill Building
Historic Bridge – Pedestrian only
Two Picnic Shelters that can be reserved, free of charge, for Weddings, Family Reunions, Picnics, etc.
Modern ADA Accessible Restrooms, no running water in Restrooms
Play Area for children, 5 to 12 years of age
Running water and electricity available
Areas for Fishing along the bank of the Otter Tail River, No Boat Launching Facilities
No Camping or Overnight Stopping
No Parking or Driving on the Grass
No Beer or Alcohol
No Smoking – The Otter Tail County Smoke – Free Policy prohibits smoking on all county property. However, per the Policy, smoking is allowed in privately owned vehicles while on county property.
history of milling in rural Minnesota is embodied
in the story of Phelps Mill.
By the late 1800's 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.
One such man was William E. Thomas who owned
and operated a flour and feed business in Fergus
Falls. In January 1887, Thomas purchased 37
acres in Section 33 of Maine Township. Running
through this land was the Red River. At a point
in the river was a slight rapids as the river
swept down from hill country to meadow lands.
considered this point a perfect location for
a flour mill. He sold his business and with
his wife Nonie, moved to a log cabin above
the spot on which he planned to build his
the spring of 1888 Thomas began work on the
dam. The first dam was constructed of wood
and had an irritating tendency to leak. Workers
often had to use sandbags and loads of gravel,
dirt, manure, hay and straw to plug the steady
stream of water which gushed through to the
mill was constructed of wood of which Thomas
paid 2 cents a foot for pilings and 3 cents
a foot for sawn logs and square timber. According
to an April 1889 Fergus Weekly Journal article,
the 36' x 30' mill was framed by Royal Powers
without the aid of a blue print or sketch.
Though he had no construction diagram to work
from, Powers put the building together without
marking a stick of lumber - keeping the whole
plan in his head.
mill was furnished with the finest machinery
costing close to $5,000. The water wheel weighed
over 7,000 pounds and was transported from
Underwood by horse and wagon. The trek was
so slow that it took a full day to make the
nine mile journey.
was finally completed in October 1889 and
in December the mill began operating. Known
as the Maine Roller Mills, it was designed
to produce 60 - 75 barrels of flour per day.
It made patent, straight, bakers and low grade
flours under such names as Gold Foil Patent,
Silver Leaf Fancy and Bakers Choice.
The mill met with considerable success, for
a few months after opening the Maine Township
Board had its hand full laying out roads to
the mill. At the height of the wheat grinding
season, 25-35 wagons loaded with sacks of
wheat would line up outside the mill. Farmers
from a distance stayed overnight in the"
Farmers Roost," a bunk house Thomas constructed
north of the mill. He also provided a barn
where horses could be stabled free of charge.
Mill in 1958
1895, after grinding more than 44,000 bushels
of wheat and 25,000 bushels of feed Thomas
decided he needed more machinery and space.
As a result, he constructed a 25'x36' addition
on the north side of the mill. Covered with
sheet iron, the addition was used for the
grinding of buckwheat and rye.
the turn of the century business at the mill
gradually declined. Steam, gasoline and electricity
powered mill more efficiently than water.
In addition, railroads made it cheaper to
ship wheat to Minneapolis/St. Paul than to
mill the wheat in the county. Soon rural mills
Mill Park in 2003
Thomas sold the mills in 1919 to the Farmers
Mercantile Company of Underwood for $35,000.
They never made a go of it as many customers
complained their flour was not up to the mill's
old standards. They sold out in 1928 to H.G.
Evenson of Wall Lake who offered $10,500 for
the purchase of the property. Evenson ground
grain for stock feeding on a limited basis.
The mill closed its doors in 1939.
initial success of the mill brought growth
to the surrounding village. When the stage
line began making regular runs between Perham
and Fergus Falls, one of their stops was at
Leeper General Store across the road from
the mill at Maine, as the village had to come
to be known. There was another hamlet three
miles north that was also known as Maine.
To avoid confusion about which town was which,
the stage line decided that the Maine with
the mill would have to change its name. William
Thomas suggested the name be Phelps, in honor
of his wife Nonie's maiden name. The village
has been known as Phelps since.
was a general store, which has remained open
to the present. By 1900 there was a cheese
factory closed in 1920 when the last cheese
maker left. Other businesses included a restaurant,
a blacksmith shop and a repair shop. These
businesses declined as the business at the
mill dropped off.
Mill has become a symbol of the old rural
Tweten, a seamstress and local activist,
led a campaign to save the neglected mill.
In 1965 Otter Tail County purchased the mill
and surrounding land as a recreational site.
Today it stands as one of the county's picturesque
landmarks, a reminder of an important time
in our local history.
Phelps Mill was listed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1975.