Township History

Article: The Petersons of Star Lake

Written by Jeff Hedtke (Minnesota Waterfowler 2002)

Ottertail County with over 1,000 lakes has the most surface water acres of any county in Minnesota. High-quality lakes and important wetlands are found through the county. The abundant water resources, woodlands and fish and wildlife resources probably attracted immigrants to the area.

Star Lake is located in the north-central part of the county. The surface water is over 4,700 acres and the lake is more than 90 feet at the deepest point. A one-mile-long point of land juts into Star Lake from the southwest shoreline.

The point dissects the lake, forming the south bay with its scattered islands. It was on this point where a Swedish immigrant, Charles G. Peterson, homesteaded and settled.

Peterson was born October 1858 in Sweden. After completing his school education, he became a carpenter and mason. He came to the Fergus Falls area with his parents, Peter and Kristine, and a brother Walter, in 1882. Another brother, Peter, came to the Fergus Falls area a year earlier to start a carpentry business. At first, the family lived with him. Continued...

Click link to view PDF of full article with photos: "The Petersons of Star Lake"

Did you Know?

The township of Star Lake was organized by the commissioners on January 18, 1880, in response to a petition signed by twenty-five legal voters living in township 135, range 41. Its name and territorial limits have never been changed since its organization.

The first election for township officers was held on the 24th of January at the house of Minder Born. The petition, bearing the signatures of the twenty-five legal voters, was dated June 2, 1879. Their names follow: Sylas Mansfield, Newton Jenne, Dayton W. Jenne, August Bon, Jasper Jones, Leemon Loop, H. C. Jenne, Niel A. Perry, Charle,s C. Perry, Mahlon M. Morris, Leonard Jenne, William Doyle, Morris Fullberton, Herman Biersdorff, Asa Phelps, Frederik Vogel, Montgomery Berfield, T. W. Aldrich, C. W. Jenne, R. S. Miles, B. F. Berry, C. Farrand, D. Barly, F. Hodge, Jefferson Durman, D. Corey, William Dalton, Jacob Ott and M. A. Boen.

The township was named from the lake which in shape bears a striking resemblance to a star fish. This lake is spread out over the northeastern portion of the township and touches fourteen sections. Dead lake is partly in the township and it covers two more sections of land. A dozen or more smaller lakes are to be found scattered over the township, so that, in all, over one-third of the land is covered by water. Notwithstanding the large water area there is considerable valuable farming land in the township. The surface of the township is decidedly rugged, with sharp hills and deep valleys in many parts.

There has never been a platted village in the township and only one store. At this one store was maintained a postoffice for many years which went by the name of Star Lake. It was located in the northern part of section 34.

Source: Otter Tail County MNGenWeb from the book "History of Otter Tail County" Volume I - 1916 by John W. Mason

Early-day Stories from Star Lake

According to legend, Star Lake got its name when Native Americans witnessed a falling meteor that appeared to land where the lake is located. They called this body of water Star Lake.

During the 1800s, at the height of the lumber era, the area around Star Lake was dotted with sawmills. One of the first and larger mills was that of Burfields, later Spruce Lodge. Other names associated with sawmills were Drake, Ross Martin, Wheel and Holms, Mader, Sherwood and Charley Demmer.

Another of the early industries in and near that area was hunting wild ginseng to sell. Some people also cultivated the plant, which was shipped out to Japan where it was purchased for medicinal purposes.

Around the turn of the century, a man by the name of David Cunningham purchased a tract of land on the south arm of Star Lake. David Cunningham was a civil engineer. He drew up the blueprint for the first Star Lake Bridge over the west arm. The bridge was made of wood. Charlie Peterson, on the point, donated one week's work and lumber from an elm tree that grew near the entrance of his property. That elm produced 800 board feet of lumber. Other neighbors donated help, too. The bridge became noted for its good fishing, and as a picnic area and visiting spot.

The completion of the Star Lake Bridge across the west arm of the lake drew the locality closer. It became the meeting place for many picnics, Sunday gatherings, holiday celebrations and family reunions. For a while, there was even a Star Lake Fair each year where they had exhibits and held races and contests. Some of the get-togethers were held at the Star Lake Bridge and others at Spruce Lodge.

There was another bridge on the south arm of Star Lake that was rather unique. The land there was owned by Peter Lofgren, who needed pasture for his cows. In the south arm was an island that had abundant grass and few trees. If he could just get those cows over there! Pete, being a pioneer in ingenuity, hit upon a plan. He made a corduroy bridge. That first winter he cut enough logs from the points to build half of the bridge. He hauled the logs on the ice along with any other filler, piling them about 3 feet high. As the ice melted in the spring, the logs settled to the bottom. The next winter he completed the bridge, and the cows had summer pasture. It was still being used in the 1930s but most of it has now been washed away or decomposed.

In 1954, the county diverted the water of the west arm and put in a huge concrete culvert and the area changed from the fishing mecca it used to be.

Source: MUSE-INGS by Lina Belar. This article is from the East Otter Tail County History Books. Lina Belar is the founder and former executive director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.