New book details early years of Fergus Falls area

By Chad Koenen


Ben Underwood always wanted to write the story of his great-great grandfather A.J. Underwood—but the journey of making the story come to life took the better part of the past three years. 

“You always wonder what the finished product will look like,” said Ben. “It’s kind of rewarding to see what it looks like in its final form.”

A.J Underwood was Ben’s great-great grandfather and was instrumental in getting the railroad to come to Otter Tail County and Fergus Falls. As the story details, the Civil War veteran and part-time legislator had recently met George B. Wright who was a surveyor and land developer at the state capitol. Wright convinced the 40-year-old Underwood to start a competing newspaper in Wright’s new development in Fergus Falls. 

A printer by trade, Underwood was reluctant to accept the offer at firs,t and encouraged Wright to purchase the existing newspaper, known as the Fergus Falls Advocate. Underwood eventually agreed to come to the area and started what would be known as Fergus Falls Weekly Journal and now the Fergus Falls Journal. The first edition of the newspaper came out on July 24, 1873 as a weekly newspaper and transitioned into a daily format about 10 years later. 

The Underwood family owned the newspaper until 1985 when it was sold to a larger company, ending over 100 years of ownership in the Underwood family. 

In addition to working at the Fergus Falls newspaper, Ben worked as a financial planner and founded Lake and Home Magazine. 

The book not only details the life of his great-great grandfather, but of the early days of Otter Tail County. Ben details how the small western Minnesota community of Fergus Falls transformed following the Civil War into a bustling community. The neighboring town of Underwood was even named after him as a tribute to his contributions to the area. 

“I had it rattling around in my head that it would be a good story from 2013-15, but it kind of scared me on how I would develop it into a story,” he said. 

As with many things in life the COVID-19 pandemic changed Ben’s perspective on being overwhelmed about the idea of writing the book and he took a year-long class in 2021 designed to give aspiring writers the tools they would need to write a book, or whatever else their heart desired. 

“I thought this would force me to write,” said Ben of the class. 

By January of 2022, Ben had a manuscript of the story but wasn’t sure how to transform the writing into a book. A few months later, he found a publisher as the book was transformed from an idea to a finished product. Over the next 7-8 months the writing underwent extensive proofreading, historical fact checks and critiques to make it flow. 

The book, entitled A.J. Underwood Pioneer of Print is currently sold at Victor Lundeens in Fergus Falls, the Otter Tail County Historical Society and online at