Over a year ago, the Otter Tail County Historical Society (OTCHS) and former crime reporter R.C. Drews set out to capture the history of Fergus Falls in a comprehensive narrative format. The book titled, “Founding Fergus Falls: A History,” has seen its fair share of ups and downs since the project began, something that future historians will have to research themselves.
The initial plan was to look at the founding of the city with several of the known characters — James Fergus, Joseph Whitford and others — but the book has expanded past its initial plot. Drews stated that the book still has the same focus but several additional chapters were added. The focus would still be on the key events in the first 60 years of the city, but will also include chapters about the Spanish Flu, World War I and II, the Great Depression, early race relations and the height of the city in the fabulous ‘50s.
“It’s a mix of stories that may be familiar, but there is also a lot of content that was surprising to even those that have been studying this for decades. There are new things that we discovered that we are very excited to share with the public,” Drews said.
Believed to be a 12-month project, both Drews and Schuelke thought the book would be smaller. But as research began, interest also picked up and several donors helped allow the duo the time and energy to make the project significant.
“We have been blessed that we have had overwhelming support from the community, and nearly double our initial goal,” Drews said.
As a result, the content of the book and the amount of research allowed expanded. After making a trip out to Montana to look at Fergus’ journals, Drews came back with facts and information that even the OTCHS did not have in its possession.
Although the book was making progress, the closure of the Otter Tail County Museum in March had left Drews without access to local historical documents. The coronavirus pandemic had forced museums and historical sites to close across the nation and the OTC Museum was no different.
“Fortunately, R.C. had gathered much of his research before the shutdown,” OTCHS executive director Chris Schuelke said. “While our research library may not be open to the public, people can still request research via email. I don’t think R.C.’s project has been delayed by the quarantine.”
Drews confirmed that despite the world pandemic, he had a multitude of materials at his disposal to continue to work on the project. This allowed the book to continue on its course.
While navigating the twists and turns of history, the book itself took its own turn. Looking for a satisfying conclusion and having an abundance of research, the Drews saw the book move in a different direction.
This saw the story find a resting place in the 1950s. Drews mentioned that at the beginning of the century, there were so many events impacting Fergus Falls including the 1919 cyclone, that the ’50s were “a breathe” for the community. Although the story ends in the 1950s, the book’s epilogue will look at several events that happened in the last 60 years and what is currently happening now in the city.
As the finalization of the book comes into view, Drews hopes that community members can pick up the book around the holiday season. There are also several planned book signings in the future when the book is launched and read the Fergus Falls Daily Journal for future developments in the project.
“I think people are going to really enjoy this book. It will be the most complete history of Fergus Falls done yet,” Schuelke said.