Flour mill was a staple in OTC in late 1800s, early 1900s

Photo by Tom Hintgen
Phelps Mill attracts visitors from near and far at the county park north of Underwood in Otter Tail County.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

People originally from Otter Tail County, and others from across the nation, are attracted to Phelps Mill not only for its picturesque setting, but also for its rich history in the production of flour in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In early June Fergus Falls native Bob Liedl, currently a resident of Neenah, Wisconsin, southwest of Green Bay and northeast of Oshkosh, was back in Minnesota to attend a high school reunion with his wife, Melissa.

“We found Phelps Mill to be a beautiful, picturesque historical site complete with signage and videos explaining the equipment,” Liedl said, “also with information about the history of the mill.”

Adds Liedl, “We often take what we have for granted and don’t appreciate, in this case, what it took to process flour in past decades.”

The visitors from Wisconsin met two young boys looking around inside the mill “They were somewhat uncomfortable, roaming the stairs not knowing what to expect on other floors,” said Bob, “so we went with them as they seemed to be truly interested in historical machinery. They thanked us and said they wouldn’t be scared next time.”

The Liedls also met a local farmer touring the mill. “He was full of information about wheat farming and flour making in days gone by,” Bob said.

They enjoyed seeing the adjoining park in use and people fishing near the river. “The nearby Phelps Mill store restoration has not been completed but when done will add to the site’s tourist attraction,” Bob said.

The store is where visitors, in previous years, purchased ice cream, pop, mill-related memorabilia and other items. Once repairs are completed, county officials are confident that a renter will again operate the Phelps Mill Store.

Bob has good memories of his growing up years in Otter Tail County during the late 1950s and early 1960s. His wife Melissa grew up in the state of Indiana.

Phelps Mill history

Located in Maine Township of central Otter Tail County, Phelps Mill dates back to 1889 and 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.