Courthouse History

Otter Tail County Courthouse

The Minnesota State Legislature made Fergus Falls the county seat in 1872. The building, located at 121 West Junius, has been the seat of county government since 1922. The original courthouse occupying this site was built in 1881 and was destroyed by the cyclone of 1919. The cyclone demolished the top 2 floors of the building, leaving the first floor intact.

Action taken by the county commissioners put a roof over the remaining first story. This gave sufficient space for several county offices.

Otter Tail County Courthouse 1881
Otter Tail County Courthouse 1910
otter tail county court house in the 1920s
Otter Tail County Courthouse 2001

It was not until the spring of 1920 that state legislature mandated that a new, larger building should be erected for the county. Buechner and Orth, an architectural firm from St. Paul, drew up plans for this Beaux Arts design courthouse. Specifications included general work, plumbing, heating, ventilating, electric wiring, furniture, electric light fixtures and decorations. L.P. Jorgenson of St. Paul, was contracted for the general construction of the building. A dome was proposed in the original plans but was omitted to allow money to be spent on metal doors and frames, and addition that would help make the building fireproof.

Ground was broken on May 4, 1921, and the courthouse was opened to the public in December of 1922.

Courthouse Exterior

The three story cream colored brick and Bedford limestone building is in the Beaux Arts Classicism style. The front entrance consists of glass and bronze doors with an arched opening and cast iron lamp posts. Stone pillars support a carved, stone eagle architrave. Side entries are of the same design, but are without the eagle. The foundation is made of stone, while the first floor is of brick laid in horizontal bands. The second and third stories have paired columns and brick pilasters. Stone balustrades are set below the second floor windows and between the columns and pilasters. An interior dome is by a flat roof with a parapet wall.
Otter Tail County Minnesota Courthouse Stone Eagle Statue

In 1973 a law enforcement center was added to the rear of the courthouse. A new county jail was added to the east side of the building in 1987. The details of the new facilities mimic that of the original courthouse.


Courthouse Interior

The main interior attraction is the false dome. Four paintings done on canvas and glued to the ceiling, are thought to have been commissioned by an artist named Holloway. The four paintings seem to depict people who were influential in the development of the county – a Native American, a fur-trader, settlers arriving in covered wagons and settlers plowing and seeding the land. The interior dome is of stained glass and is protected on the outside by glass enclosures.

Otter Tail County Minnesota Courthouse interiror

otc otter door knob courthouseDoor knobs commissioned by the architect are adorned with brass molded otters. Above each otter are the letters “OTC.”


Other attractions in the building are the W/P/A/ paintings that are hung on the first floor. These include “Market Day in Pelican Rapids-1882,” “First Saw Mill at New York Mills,” “First Electric Light Plant and Dam,” and the “Cyclone at Fergus Falls.” The paintings were commissioned by the Otter Tail County Historical Society during the depression and printed by Charles Grant, a Minnesota artist. The Works Project Art Program originated as a relief project for unemployed artists. Several murals depicting the townships of the county were painted on the walls of the courthouse offices, but most were lost when the rooms were painted.

First Electric Light Plant and Dam
Market Day in Pelican Rapids -1882
Market Day in Pelican Rapids -1882
Cyclone at Fergus Falls
First Saw Mill at New York Mills

The Otter Tail County Courthouse building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

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