ST. PAUL – COVID-19 threatened to derail a major research project detailing Fergus Falls’ history as the city prepares for its 150th-anniversary celebration next year. Collaboration, dedication and creativity prevailed over the pandemic.

State Rep. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, said the Otter Tail County Historical Society wanted to publish a book chronicling Fergus Falls’ history and hired local writer R.C. Drews as author of “Founding Fergus Falls: A History.”

Drews said the family papers of Fergus Falls’ founding father, George B. Wright, have been preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). Access to those documents was crucial to painting a complete picture of the city’s birth, he said. In-person examination of these records, however, was infeasible after MHS was forced to close its doors to the public in response to the pandemic’s U.S. outbreak.

“We spent nine months exploring any solution,” Drews said. “We knew how important the Wright family papers were to conveying the story of our city, but it seemed that chapter might fall as another victim to the coronavirus’ social and economic upheaval.”

Rasmusson said he became aware of the accessibility issue and worked with MHS to find a solution. He was invited by MHS to attend the group’s annual meeting Wednesday and highlight the successful teamwork which transpired. Rasmusson recounted how a collaborative effort to digitize the MHS’s files related to this project allowed research to be completed on time, with the “Founding Fergus Falls” book on track to be published next year as the city celebrates its 150th milestone.

Drews described the undertaking by MHS staff as “no small feat,” saying that more than 10,000 pages of handwritten letters, newspaper clippings and leather-bound pocket journals had to be carefully scanned over the course of nearly two months.

“We can’t thank the Minnesota Historical Society enough for helping to make the best of our situation by rapidly turning our local research project into a beta test for digitizing files,” Rasmusson said. “This spared untold amounts of time and travel, saved dollars we didn’t have, and ultimately kept our project afloat.”

Rasmusson said this collaboration has laid the groundwork for making history more accessible to “Greater” Minnesota, indicating important records are now available to future History Day students in Fergus Falls and others to access digitally.

“This exercise in resourcefulness and the resultant ‘Founding Fergus Falls’ book is meaningful for local residents on many levels,” Rasmusson said. “Historical documents allow communities throughout Minnesota, such as Fergus Falls, to understand their place and purpose in the big, wide world.”

Drews said the book — the first in a planned series of local histories — is scheduled to be released in late spring of 2022 and will be available in both hard copy at launch and electronic forms to follow. All proceeds, he said, will be directed toward the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

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