FERGUS FALLS -- Many current residents of Otter Tail County recall the vibrant days of the Fergus Falls State Hospital, later referred to as the Regional Treatment Center.

This facility opened for patients in 1890. The state hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and was closed in 2007.

The state hospital, over the years, was operated as a facility for the mentally ill and also for people with developmental disabilities and chemical dependency issues.

Various proposals have been submitted in recent years to use parts of the facility for other purposes. For many years the Fergus Falls State Hospital, on the north side of town, had its own farm.

“The complex had a complete farm with machinery, fields and livestock,” said Sue Wilken, Fergus Falls Daily Journal columnist who worked at what later became the Regional Treatment Center.

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“My grandpa, Henry Hauptli, a former farmer, worked side by side with patients in the field,” she said. “He believed that farm work was excellent therapy for them.”

According to Wilken, in farm work many found a purpose and felt needed.

“Grandpa believed that caring for the livestock helped many of the men battling depression.”

The state hospital campus also boasted a large kitchen that was fully stocked.

“Much of the food was produced right on the campus,” Wilken said. “Old timers raved about the homemade pickles that were offered on a regular basis.”

In the early days everything was made from scratch.

“The state hospital smelled wonderful when bread was baking,” Wilken said. “In 1976 the food was excellent. There was still a baker who took great pride in his pies.”

In the cafeteria, called the congregate dining room, employees and patients shared tasty meals.

“There also was a beauty shop, barbershop, canteen, gymnasium and woodworking shop for vocational training,” Wilken recalled.

In the early days the people at the state hospital were called patients because it was, in fact, a hospital.

“During my days as an employee people were called residents because it was their home,” she said.

“I will always recall the laughter and tears as we at the state hospital cared for and loved people who struggled with their disabilities. Those were the days.”