Phelps Mill Lightning Rods

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
Otter Tail County Historical Society
Start Date
August 2010
End Date
February 2011
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Otter Tail
Otter Tail
Project Overview

The most imminent threat to Phelps Mill, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is fire. If struck by lightning the wood frame building would be destroyed in minutes. Period photographs indicate that at least three lightning rods were on the mill as early as 1900. When the mill closed in 1939, the rods remained on the roof until 1965 when the county board purchased the site as a county park. Shortly thereafter, the rods were removed when the roof was repaired and shingles replaced. The Otter Tail County Historical Society in cooperation with the Friends of Phelps Mill and Otter Tail County reinstalled six new, period looking lightning rods to add a layer of protection to the mill. Three were placed on the original 1889 mill and three on the 1895 addition on the north side.

Utilizing photographs from the Otter Tail County Historical Society collection, the contractor will worked closely with Thompson Lightning to obtain materials to match the appearance of the mill's original lightning rods. Contact was made with the State Historic Preservation Office to adhere to the Secretary of Interior standards.

The history of milling in rural Minnesota is embodied in the story of Phelps Mill. By the late 19th century, flour was in such demand that hundreds of mills operated throughout the state. Fanners and millers were suppliers for a world market.

Located in Maine Township where the Otter Tail River is narrow and swift, the site was purchased in 1886 by William E. Thomas. Thomas considered the property a choice location for a power dam. Construction of the dam began in 1887, but not until December 1889 did the mill begin operations.

The four story structure is framed with hand hewn timbers and covered with wood clapboard planks painted white. An addition was constructed in 1895 for the milling og buckwheat and rye. This three story section is timber framed and covered with red painted pressed metal siding.

The mill ceased operations in 1939. Despite remaining empty for nearly four decades, the mill and its original machinery stayed relatively unscathed. The mill has been restored and is owned by Otter Tail County as part of a county park.

Project Details
To install lightning arrest on Phelps Mill, listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Legal Citation / Subdivision
LAWS of MINNESOTA for 2009 Ch. 172, Art. 1, Subd. 4 (b), Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants
Appropriation Language

(b) Statewide Historic and Cultural Grants. (i) $2,250,000 in 2010 and $4,500,000 in 2011 are appropriated for history programs and projects operated or conducted by or through local, county, regional or other historical or cultural organizations; or for activities to preserve significant historic and cultural resources. Funds are to be distributed through a competitive grants process. The Minnesota Historical Society shall administer these funds using established grants mechanisms, and with assistance from the advisory committee created herein.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Street Address
1110 Lincoln Ave. W.
Fergus Falls
Zip Code
Administered By
Administered by

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155