The Otter Tail County Historical Society is sponsoring a tour of the Fergus Falls State Hospital and Poor Farm Cemeteries on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. Cost of the tour is $10. Parking is available in the back lot of the Fergus Falls Veterans Home; look for a blue historical society banner.
Before there was any sort of government safety net, who was responsible for the poorest of the poor? The state of Minnesota put that burden on individual counties. For Otter Tail County, that meant establishing a county poor farm in 1881, on land two miles north of Fergus Falls on what is now County Highway 27. The farm also had a cemetery adjacent to the state hospital cemetery.
Much like the state hospital itself, the cemeteries elicit mixed emotions. From the first burial in August 1890 to the last in 1968, some 3,200 people were laid to rest there. Most of the graves are unmarked. The tour will attempt to uncover bits and pieces of their lost history, to give some of the people buried there names.
The tour will make a big loop to visit both cemeteries. Tour-goers should dress appropriately and wear comfortable footwear; the walk is fairly long. The tour is not handicapped-accessible and no motor vehicles are allowed.
Poor Farm cemetery volunteers Bob Riepe and Vern Barker will be on hand to talk about their efforts to locate and mark grave sites.
For more information, contact the Otter Tail County Historical Society at 218-736-6038.