In response to overcrowding in the hospitals at St. Peter and Rochester, the 1885 state legislature commissioned the Third Minnesota State Hospital. When the Fergus Falls State Hospital opened its doors on July 29, 1890, it became the first state institution in northern Minnesota for patients considered insane. The hospital had a sprawling campus and large stately buildings, built according to the influential asylum plan developed by Philadelphia physician Thomas Kirkbride in the 1850s.
When the hospital opened its doors, it received two men from the Judge Probate of Otter Tail County. The next day, it received 80 more patients from the St. Peter hospital. The first patients were all men, and most of them were farmers or laborers. Women were not admitted to the institution until 1893, when 125 women were transferred from St. Peter. As the institution grew, so did the town. The population in Fergus Falls more than doubled between 1890 and 1930.
Like most mental health facilities of the time, however, Fergus Falls State Hospital was unable to effectively meet the variety of needs of the residents which included addiction, mental illness, and even simply poverty. Following World War II, improvements to mental health treatments and outpatient therapy greatly reduced the need for large facilities like this Kirkbride.
The hospital was repurposed in 1971 to welcome different categories of patients, such as drug addicts, behavior disorders, brain injury and so on. It was renamed as the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center in 1985. By the mid-1980s, administrators were consistently lowering the population at the hospital by transferring patients to smaller facilities and community group homes.
The Fergus Falls State Hospital closed in 2005. The building is one of the only intact Kirkbride buildings in the United States and, unfortunately, remains vacant. The state sold the land to the city of Fergus Falls in 2007. Preservationists fought to save the main building. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and it is one of the only remaining examples of the Kirkbride plan.
In 2013, after years of debate about what to do with the building, the city entered into an agreement with a private firm to explore plans to redevelop the site. In July 2015, negotiations between Fergus Falls and the firm ended, with the fate of the building undecided. June 2017 saw a Resolution passed by the City Council for the phased deconstruction and redevelopment of Fergus Falls State Hospital. Plans include the consideration of turning part of the site into a modern facility for mental health patients including a PTSD center.