The History of Phelps Mill
Formerly known as the Maine Roller Mills, Phelps Mill was built by William E. Thomas and opened for operation in December of 1889. Phelps Mill is located in section 33 of Maine Township. It was designed to produce 60-75 barrels of flour per day. The mill was very successful through turn of the century. After 1900 business at the mill gradually declined. Phelps Mill, like many other rural flour mills, became a thing of the past.
Thomas sold the mill in 1919. It closed its doors for good 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.
Photograph of Phelps Mill taken about 1915.
1886 – The site of the mill was purchased by William E. Thomas in 1886. The next year was spent constructing a dam, however, it was not until 1889 that work began on the mill.
1887 – Wood dam built.
1889 – The flour mill took eight months to build and by December of 1889 “The Maine Roller Mills” began operation.
1895 – A three story addition was built in 1895 to meet the demands for grinding feed, buckwheat and rye.
1906 – Ray Phelps becomes head miller
1908 – Wood dam developed serious leaks and in 1908 was replaced by the concrete and rubble rock dam
1920 – William E. Thomas sold the operation in 1920 to the Farmers Mercantile Company for $33,500.00
1928 – The Farmers Mercantile Company sold building to H. G. Everson for $10,500.00
1939 – Mill closes
1965 – Otter Tail County Board purchased property for parkland
1975 – Phelps Mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Friends of Phelps Mill
Since its formation in 1993, the Friends of Phelps Mill (FOPM) have been preserving the historical, cultural, and physical fabric of the mill through educational opportunities, interpretive activities, and fundraising efforts. The Friends joined the Otter Tail County Historical Society in 1995 in order to further expand their preservation and educational efforts.
The Friends of Phelps Mill is an active group of volunteer mill enthusiasts. They are a standing committee of the Otter Tail County Historical Society. The goals of the group includes the collection, preservation and interpretation of Phelps Mill and its history.
Some of the activities of the Friends of Phelps Mill include the generation and installation at the mill of visual aids, such as a seven-minute video presentation; display panels on each floor explaining the process and machinery; and, a self-guided tour brochure. The group also provides guided tours of the mill during public events at the park and an ice cream social and band concert are held each year in August.
An ongoing project of the group is the physical restoration of mill equipment. The goal being to preserve the historical integrity of the mill and to enhance the education of the visitors to the mill.
Related Groups & Links:
Link includes a history of the mill and milling in Otter Tail County.
The Phelps Mill Festival is sponsored by Phelps Mill Country Board. The Phelps Mill Festival is held annually the second weekend in July, at the Phelps Mill Park, near Underwood, MN.
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