Rothsay, Minnesota

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Rothsay is a city in Otter Tail and Wilkin counties in the U.S. state of Minnesota. The population was 497 at the 2000 census. One of Rothsay's major tourist attractions is the large prairie chicken statue near the northwest outskirts of the town.

The Otter Tail County portion of Rothsay is part of the Fergus Falls Micropolitan Statistical Area, while the Wilkin County portion is part of the Wahpeton, ND–MN Micropolitan Statistical Area.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.0 square miles (10.4 km²), all of it land.

Interstate Highway 94, Center Street, and Main Avenue are three of the main routes in the community.

Please put this in a separate History section. Information gleaned from my own (Gary Wigdahl) Twixt Hill and Prairie: A Century of Challenge in the Rothsay, Minnesota, Area' as well as a segment of Rothsay History I wrote for the Rothsay city website ( and from Marilyn Moen's (Cliff and Marilyn Moen) website on local history. Featured Rothsay section

The arrival of James J. Hill's St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway (predecessor to the Great Northern) gave birth to Rothsay in 1879, and the community was officially incorporated in 1883. However, a scattering of settlers had been arriving in the area at least as early as 1867. More were to come in greater numbers after 1869. Many had waited until the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865 before crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to settle on the plains and gently rolling countryside herein. Many of those who decided to settle in the Rothsay area were of Norwegian descent. Typically, friends and neighbors who had lived in the same mountain regions and valleys in Norway also became neighbors here in America as well. The coming of the railroad, however, also provided Rothsay with one of its most turbulent days on record when a group of thirsty tracklayers came to town to christen a newly opened, albeit half-finished, saloon expressly opened to whet the thirsts of those same tracklayers. This was in November of 1879. The tracklayers evidently felt that on the event of a magnitude such as the coming of the railroad, a celebration ought to be in order. Moreover, on such an occasion, the liquor and other fine spirits ought to be free. An early Rothsay grain buyer at the time, Halvor L. Shirley, who later went on to become a Breckenridge bank official, recalls the ensuing brawl that resulted in a number of bruised and broken extremities. The half-finished saloon was left in shambles and the hard liquor supply severely depleted. Some pioneer churches were organized in the area before the then village of Rothsay was organized. Among the churches being organized were those of South Immanuel Lutheran, Hedemarken Lutheran and North Friborg Lutheran, all in 1872. Hamar Lutheran was organized in 1874 and the Swedish Baptist Church of Oscar, also known as the Oscar Baptist Church, in 1882. The latter church is today known as the Rothsay Baptist Church. After Rothsay became a community, Our Savior's Lutheran Church was organized in 1888. There was also a Methodist congregation operating for a time in Rothsay's pioneer days. In 2008, congregants of Hamar Lutheran and Our Savior's Lutheran began worshipping together as a new congregation, New Life Lutheran. Christen Tanberg was the original townsite proprietor. Early residents of the area upon knowing a new railroad station was in the offing wanted to name the fledgling community Tanberg in honor of the Wilkin County farmer upon whose land the proposed townsite rested. Railroad officials nixed that proposal, choosing instead to honor the request of a railroad official whose home territory was in the Rothesay, Scotland, area. But it was left to Halvor G. Stordock to plat the original portion of the townsite on land that had previously belonged to Tanberg. Stordock and Tanberg, according to sources,had traded land parcels. A Civil War veteran as a Wisconsin volunteer, Stordock in the early 1870s moved with his newlywed wife Anna (formerly Venos) to Otter Tail County, Minnesota. In the latter 1870s he moved to a farm near the former community of Manston in Wilkin County. After serving in the Minnesota Legislature in the mid-1880s, Stordock was appointed to the position as warden of the Minnesota State Penitentiary at Stillwater by Gov. Andrew McGill. Anders B. Pedersen was the first to ship lumber to Rothsay for the designed purpose of constructing a business building. However, by the time he opened his general merchandise store business in December of 1879, he learned a competitor, Amund A. Baatten, had opened a rival general merchandise store just days ahead of him. Pedersen, however, did apply to become Rothsay's first postmaster, a wish that was granted by U.S. postal officials. The post office opened in early 1880, operating out of Pedersen's store. Pedersen also proved to be a dedicated public servant, offering his services to the village council as well as the school board, also serving as an early Wilkin County commissioner. George M. Cowie served as Rothsay's first mayor, and, together with his brother Albert E. Cowie, co-published Rothsay's first permanent newspaper, the Rothsay Record. First edition of the Record was published in October 1894. By the early 1900s Rothsay had prospered enough to be able to boast of six general merchandise stores, a physician, livery stables, regular freight and passenger service courtesy of the Great Northern, a weekly newspaper, traveling dentists, hotels and a number of "blind pigs," places which served bootleg liquor, Rothsay citizens having voted to go "dry" by banning the sale of liquor within the village limits. The Rothsay area played host to Plowville, the state plowing contest, in 1955. In 1956, when area turkey farmer Eddie Velo stopped in at the Cyril and Louis Keller machine-blacksmith shop in Rothsay to inquire about the possibility of inventing a machine that would help him clean out his turkey barns instead of having to do the job manually, little did anyone then suspect that the three-wheeled, front-end, skid-steer loader produced in the Keller brothers' shop would eventually evolve into the Bobcat, a piece of agricultural engineering that has been ranked right up there with Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Cyrus McCormick's reaper. When Rothsay was designated the Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota, local transport owner Art Fosse was right on the spot to offer his services to design and build a prairie chicken monument which has graced the northern edge of the community at the interstate exit since 1976. Rothsay's public school system has been twice signaled out by the magazine U.S. News & World Report for being one of America's best high schools, an honor that annually goes out to only about three percent of all secondary schools in the nation.

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