Frazee was originally recorded in 1857 in Stearns County, since Becker County was not yet established. The community was originally named Detroit, and later Third Crossing before adopting the name Frazee.

With Becker County not formally organized until 1871, Frazee was the earliest settlement in the area. The city was officially incorporated on Jan. 6, 1891. It was named after Randolph Lafayette (R.L.) Frazee, the owner of a local sawmill. In 1872, R.L. bought the land and began to lay out the town.

The first known settler, Patrick Quinlan, came in 1868 and built a cabin. The first house was built by James G. Chilton on lots 11 and 12, Block 14, with lumber sawed at the Campbell-Chilton mill.

That brings us to the lumber industry: Absalom Campbell, Charles M. Campbell, William G. Chilton and T.W. Chilton ran a large sawmill starting in 1872, cutting wood from the plentiful white pine that surrounded the area. In 1889, the mills burned, at a total loss of $60,000 and only insured for $15,000. But the business was beginning to boom and was rebuilt.

This Frazee sawmill was one of the biggest white pine mills in the world from the 1880s until 1919. Notice all the logs floating in the pond, which was part of the Otter Tail River. (Photo courtesy Becker County Museum)
This Frazee sawmill was one of the biggest white pine mills in the world from the 1880s until 1919. Notice all the logs floating in the pond, which was part of the Otter Tail River. (Photo courtesy Becker County Museum)

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By 1898, it was the Commonwealth Lumber Company, employing 150 summer employees. The peak year for logging white pine was 1900, when more than 2.3 million board feet of lumber was cut — enough to build 600,000 two-story homes. The lumberjacks lived in String Town, a long, straight line of houses. About 20,000 lumberjacks were working in Minnesota around that time, along with about 10,000 draft horses.

With masses of lumberjacks came interesting business opportunities in Frazee: it was said that in 1890 there were nine brothels operating. One of the busiest sat where the Essentia Health clinic later sat. Inns, hotels, and barber shops were also common. The following barber shop rules are excerpted from an unknown 1897 publication:

“Barbers must take out a license before they can lather and shave in MN. Before receiving his diploma the applicant binds himself to not deposit his breath, redolent with beer, onions and tobacco, in the face of his customer and to confine conversation to the ordinary topics of the day... To inoculate a customer with barbers itch (ringworm of the beard) is made a felony, while a gash on a man’s face too deep to be healed with alum is made sufficient cause for action.”

The earliest recorded crime in Frazee occurred May 2, 1874, when Sol Wells stabbed Bill McDonald at a local cabin. After nearly cutting off his thumb, he stabbed him in the thigh and back, inflicting serious but not fatal wounds. Old Sol was a wild-eyed guy who homesteaded the land on Section 18 where the village of McHugh was later built.

Sometime in 1873, W.C. Darling completed surveying of the area, and in December of that year, the Briggs House (Frazee Hotel) was built and opened for business. The first school house appeared in 1874, serving 17 pupils. It was later enlarged and subsequently replaced by the first brick schoolhouse in 1898.

The first brick schoolhouse was built in Frazee in 1898. (Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)
The first brick schoolhouse was built in Frazee in 1898. (Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

Two years later, in 1890, R.L. sold his mill to A.H. Wilcox. It later became the Nichols-Chisholm sawmill and ran until 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, 1919. It was then dismantled and moved. By this time, agriculture had begun to take over and the incomes of families had migrated to that.

The town eventually became a center of turkey farming. Turkey farming became such an integral part of Frazee that in 1954 the community began hosting Turkey Days. Over the years, countless businesses have called Frazee home. The turkey industry still booms today, along with Daggett Truck Lines, Frazee Care Center, Frazee Public Schools, Anderson Bus and Coach and dozens more.

Dubbed "The Turkey Capitol of the World," Frazee erected a huge turkey statue in town in 1986. It burned down in 1998 after a repair accident, and was replaced with the one that still stands now.

Backing up a bit, an interesting tidbit is that R.L. Frazee once negotiated with Northern Pacific Railroad to quietly move the depot at Hobart to Frazee. The following is an excerpt from his writings on Oct. 25, 1874:

“I graded a sidetrack alongside my warehouse and furnished ties for the rails, and prevailed upon C.W. Mead, the general manager of the NP Railway Company, to move the depot over from Hobart. There were strong objections to the removal made by the Lake Superior and Puget Sound Townsite Company, who owned the townsite at Hobart, and also David Wellman, who had just recently surveyed out an addition thereto; but Mr. Mead told me to keep quiet until they had subsided somewhat, and that he would send a crew some evening and make quick work of the removal. The crew came up on a Saturday evening and by Sunday night the depot was at Frazee safe and sound.”