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Otter Tail County, Minnesota
Map of Minnesota highlighting Otter Tail County
Location in the state of Minnesota
Map of the U.S. highlighting Minnesota
Minnesota's location in the U.S.
Founded March 18, 1858 [1]
Named for Otter Tail Lake and Otter Tail River
Seat Fergus Falls
Largest city Fergus Falls
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

2,224.91 sq mi (5,762 km²)
1,979.71 sq mi (5,127 km²)
245.20 sq mi (635 km²), 11.02%
 - (2010)
 - Density

29/sq mi (11/km²)
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Otter Tail County is a county located in the U.S. state of Minnesota. As of 2010, the population was 57,303.[1] Its county seat is Fergus Falls[2].

Geography[edit | edit source]

According to the 2000 census, the county has a total area of 2,224.91 square miles (5,762.5 km2), of which 1,979.71 square miles (5,127.4 km2) (or 88.98%) is land and 245.20 square miles (635.1 km2) (or 11.02%) is water.[3] According to the official web site, Otter Tail County contains over 1000 lakes and two Minnesota state parks, Maplewood State Park and Glendalough State Park. The highest point in Otter Tail County is Inspiration Peak in the Leaf Mountains, at 1750 feet above sea level.

Major highways[edit | edit source]

Adjacent counties[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

Native Americans used the survey area for hunting and fishing and had permanent dwelling sites. Two Native American tribes were in constant conflict. The Dakota (Sioux) were being pushed from their home area by the Ojibwa (Chippewa) during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Burial mounds and artifacts can still be found. Some of the oldest remains of Native Americans were found near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. The remains, nicknamed Minnesota Girl, were dated at about 11,000 B.C. (Otter Tail County Historical Museum).

The first white men to enter the county were French and British fur traders. Efforts were made to set up trading posts on the Leaf Lakes and Otter Tail Lake. In the late 19th century, most of the towns were built along the railroad lines. Lumber and agriculture were the major industries in the county at that time. The pine and hardwood forests, transportation system, and markets were instrumental in the development of Fergus Falls into a lumber center.

In 1870, the population of the county was about 2,000. At that time the principal languages spoken in the county were Norwegian, Swedish, German, and English. Otter Tail County was established in March 1858 by a legislative act. It was organized in 1868. The original county seat was Ottertail City.

The people of Fergus Falls organized a new county named Holcomb. In 1872, a legislative act abolished Holcomb County, added additional townships to the west, and established Fergus Falls as the county seat of Otter Tail County. There are 62 townships in the county. The county is named for Otter Tail Lake and the Otter Tail River.[4]

Demographics[edit | edit source]

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1860 240
1870 1,968 720.0%
1880 18,675 848.9%
1890 34,232 83.3%
1900 45,375 32.6%
1910 46,036 1.5%
1920 50,818 10.4%
1930 51,006 0.4%
1940 53,192 4.3%
1950 51,320 −3.5%
1960 48,960 −4.6%
1970 46,097 −5.8%
1980 51,937 12.7%
1990 50,714 −2.4%
2000 57,159 12.7%
2010 57,303 0.3%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census[5] of 2000, there were 57,159 people, 22,671 households, and 15,779 families residing in the county. The population density was 29 people per square mile (11/km²). There were 33,862 housing units at an average density of 17 per square mile (7/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.11% White, 0.29% African American, 0.51% Native American, 0.44% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 0.84% from other races, and 0.78% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.67% of the population. 35.5% were of German and 31.2% Norwegian ancestry according to Census 2000.

Age pyramid of county residents based on 2000 U.S. census data.

There were 22,671 households out of which 30.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.1% were married couples living together, 6.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.4% were non-families. 26.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the county the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 7.2% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 24.7% from 45 to 64, and 19.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 100.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.8 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $35,395, and the median income for a family was $42,740. Males had a median income of $30,151 versus $20,930 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,014. About 6.7% of families and 10.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.1% of those under age 18 and 11.1% of those age 65 or over.

Politics[edit | edit source]

In the U.S. presidential elections, Otter Tail County has mainly been a Republican county.

During the time period of the Great Depression, however, there was actually a communist faction within the county. The areas where the movement was centered in the county are quite desolate today, however, during mid-1932, the worst possible time for farmers, there were over 900 members involved with one of the state's communist organizations.[6] “The members of the communist party were very active in the New York Mills area of Newton, Leaf Lake, Blowers, Deer Creek and Paddock Townships. They held meetings, recruited members, placed candidates on local and state tickets, and distributed propaganda. They held dances in Heinola, Menahga, and Sebeka where the Soviet hammer and sickle was proudly displayed and ran a summer camp on East Leaf Lake.”[6] Heinola is a ghost town today. The low activity and population among these areas today suggests that they were set up by outsiders during the Depression. When the communist movement died out, so did much of the activity and population has been on the decline ever since. This leads to the idea that the most of Otter Tail had strongly conservative roots; the few "communists" in the area were farmers under the influence of outsiders.

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented some of the New Deal programs in the county, most of the communist movement began to lose all its steam. In addition, the Winter War in Europe between Finland and the U.S.S.R. soured the taste of communism to many Finnish immigrants (the Fins were a major denomination among the communists at the time). Carl Peltoniemi, a former supporter of the organization, said, “The communist movement within the Finnish community basically ended at the start of the Winter War in 1939-1940.”

Ever since the United States presidential election of 1936, Otter Tail County has voted Republican for every Presidential election. In the U.S. Presidential Election of 2008, 55% of the voters voted for John McCain while 42% voted for Barack Obama.

In the Minnesota House of Representatives, Otter Tail County is divided into two districts. District 10A and District 10B. Both are represented by Republicans Bud Nornes (10A) and Mark Murdock (10B). Both Nornes and Murdock won the 2008 state House elections with more than 50% of the vote. Districts 10A and 10B make up the Minnesota State Senate district 10, which is represented by Republican State Senator Gretchen Hoffman. Senator Hoffman won the 2010 election with just under 55% of the votes.

Presidential Election Results 1960-2008
Year Democrat Republican
2008 42% 13,856 55% 18,077
2004 37% 12,038 61% 19,734
2000 35% 9,176 59% 16,963
1996 40% 10,519 45% 11,808
1992 34% 9,844 41% 11,074
1988 42% 10,373 57% 14,015
1984 38% 9714 61% 15,664
1980 34% 9,108 57% 15,091
1976 48% 11,881 49% 12,113
1972 36% 7881 62% 13,519
1968 35% 7400 60% 12,483
1964 48% 9997 51% 10,542
1960 36% 8054 59% 16,080

Cities and towns[edit | edit source]

The Otter Tail River as it passes Phelps Mill in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. Photo by Scott Backstrom. June 2004

Fergus Falls City Hall in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Cities Townships Unincorporated

† a part of Rothsay extends into Wilkin County.
‡ Wadena is in Wadena County, but a small part of the city extends into Otter Tail County.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "2010 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File". American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ "Census 2000 U.S. Gazetteer Files: Counties". United States Census. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  4. ^ Otter Tail County Website
  5. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  6. ^ a b Tweton, Jerome (1988). The New Deal at the Grass Roots: Programs for the People in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 29–31. 

External links[edit | edit source]

Coordinates: 46°25′N 95°43′W / 46.41, -95.71

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