The first settlers arrived in the Pelican Rapids area in 1868 to locate and establish trading posts for the British Northwest Company, which was interested in trading with Chippewa Indians living in the area. Word soon spread of the beautiful countryside and the area was quickly homesteaded.
The City of Pelican Rapids, located in the northwest part of Otter Tail County, was located close to a trail leading from the Minneapolis–St Paul area, about 200 miles to the southeast, through St. Cloud and Alexandria, to Fargo–Moorhead, which are 45 miles to the northwest. The railroad arrived in Pelican Rapids in 1882, a branch line from Fergus Falls which was to continue northward. This never happened, however, and the lines remained a “dead end” until its removal some 100 years later. The City was incorporated in 1883.
Originally the area depended on agriculture, with numerous small farms dotting the countryside. Over the years, the dependence on agriculture has broadened to include processing of farm products, notable turkeys. At the same time, growth has been enjoyed in tourism and a variety of other industry: heavy manufacturing, electronics, wood products, precision machining, etc.
The opening of Maplewood State Park, six miles east of Pelican Rapids, provided additional growth in tourism. Visitors can view the “World’s Largest Pelican”, a 250 foot steel and concrete structure, a pedestrian suspension bridge, and two city parks connected by the walkway: E.L. Peterson Memorial Park and Sherin Memorial Park.
The Minnesota Woman
Nimuue is the name of the Glacial Woman discovered on June 16, 1931, beneath the center of what eventually would become U.S. Highway 59, located along the east side of Prairie Lake, north of Pelican Rapids, in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. Analysis of the bones indicated they were mineralized and had turned into phosphate rocks, suggesting the ancient timeline.
From its discovery in 1931 until 1968, the skeleton was referred to as “Minnesota Man.” In 1976, the name was correctly changed to “Minnesota Woman.” Recently, members of the Glacial Minnesota Woman Organization bestowed upon her the name “Nimuué” — “Lady of the Lake.”
Following the 1931 excavation, her bones were taken to the University of Minnesota. They later were placed on display at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul for 10 years prior to being retired from view. In 1999, in response to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Minnesota Woman’s bones were repatriated by the Dakota tribe to a site in South Dakota.
The “world’s largest pelican” is no doubt the most photographed object in Pelican Rapids and continues to draw attention at the base of the Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River in downtown Pelican Rapids.
The 15 1/2 steel and plaster symbol was erected in 1957 at the urging of civic leader Truman Strand, but it wasn’t until much later that the big pelican was named “Pete” in a contest sponsored by the Pelican Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
As part of the 50th birthday of Pelican Pete, the world’s largest pelican, in 2007 a group of local businesses created a flock of pelican sculptures called the “friends of Pelican Pete”. Over three dozen of these four–foot birds were decorated by local and regional artist commissioned by the owners of each bird.
The completed works of art were unveiled in a public ceremony during the summer of 2007. Each “friend” was given a name by the artist and or owner and taken home or to a place of business where they were placed so as to be viewed by the public following a Pelican Tour Brochure available at the Chamber Information Center, 25 North Broadway. To receive brochure by mail call 218-863-1221. Click here to request a brochure by email.
When the snows of winter arrived most of Pete’s friends were moved inside until spring. A separate Winter Pelican Tour Brochure was prepared and a majority can be seen in stores and other places of business.
The tours are self directing and begin at the Visitor’s Center where the world’s largest pelican, Pete himself can be viewed from the deck.
In addition to the Pelican Tour, four self directed historical tours called VISITOURS facilitated on cassette tape or CD are available to rent or purchase at the Visitor’s Center