Heaton

The Last Resident of Heaton

North Dakota has dozens of small towns approaching ghost town status. As the population declines, they tend to go through a transition period during which the population fluctuates. Aging residents pass away and young people go off to college. It’s not uncommon for a town to be abandoned, only to be re-inhabited for a time–drawing in those who are attracted to the solitude and the dirt cheap cost of living. Heaton is one of those towns.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Miller, the sole remaining resident of Heaton. We found him on the tractor, working well past sundown on a chilly November evening.

Only twenty five years old, Miller was raised on a farm about a half mile outside of town. As a child, Miller and his friends used to ride their bikes into town to get a can of pop and a candy bar at the local store. “There used to be an old bank there,” Miller says. “We’d sit on the steps and eat our candy bars.”  The store closed in 2003.  Miller says the Post Office closed when he was quite young, but he remembers going into Heaton early one morning to get their baby chickens off the mail truck. “We were excited about that,” he says.

There were perhaps fifteen residents in town in those days, enough to justify a trip to town on Halloween. “I remember we used go there and trick or treat when I was real young, too,” Miller says. There were two elevators, a lumber yard, a post office, a bank, and a church in Heaton back then.

But over the years, the population steadily declined. “Everybody that was there was getting older,” he says. “People passed away. Some just moved.” A tornado that wiped out some of the structures contributed to the decline.

The owner of the gas station went into the nursing home and then passed away some time later. Miller’s father bought the place and turned it into a meat processing facility. “That’s going pretty good for us,” he said.

In 2009, he bought a house and moved it to a vacant lot in the center of town. “I got in there about January of 2010,” he said.  He wasn’t the only resident at that time, however. “When I moved in, there was another family living in town and they had three kids,” he said. They split up and moved out of town last summer, leaving Miller and his dog as the only remaining inhabitants. Miller’s closest neighbors are now an elderly couple who live just west of town.

When asked if he gets lonely, Miller said “Yeah, I guess. I grew up on the farm and I’m pretty self-sufficient. I enjoy the freedom of that.” Miller had planned on returning when he finished college, and had hoped to find a farm to buy. But when he bought his house, he was attracted to the Heaton lot by the availability of water and electricity.  “I enjoy the freedom,” he says. “You can go and do what you want, but I guess it does get a little lonely.”

A farmer by trade, Miller works for a local rancher and maintains his own cows and chickens. Like any other farmer, Miller starts his day by feeding his animals, then spends most of the day at work. “You never know how many hours a day you’re gonna have to work,” he says. “During the busy times it’s morning ’til dark pretty much.” In his free time, Miller goes hunting and fishing.

In addition to water and electric, Heaton even has fiberoptic internet service. Last summer, Daktel installed it for all the farms in the area, Miller said. “Every farm in our area has it too, so we’re livin’ pretty good.” Miller has to provide his own heat in the winter via a propane furnace.

Despite the modern amenities, living in a ghost town is not without challenges. Although the mail comes via rural mail delivery, Miller drives to Jamestown or Bismarck about once a month for groceries. He visits the grocery store in Carrington, about twenty five miles away, for more immediate needs. The small town of Bowdon about eight miles away is a frequent stop as well. “They have a credit card gas pump there, and a little grocery store too,” Miller says.

We noticed on our last trip to Heaton that things had changed quite a bit in the six years since our previous visit–many structures were gone. Miller says many of the properties were forfeited to the county due to unpaid property taxes, and then Speedwell township took over and razed many of the properties due to health hazards.  And the process of ‘cleanup’ will continue. “They plan on burning a couple of the old buildings down this winter,” he said.

Miller says the property owner of several lots in Heaton is a Montana resident who only occasionally comes to town.  “He was back here about a month ago,” Miller says, “And he was coming to get some of his stuff out of these old houses, and he said a bunch of stuff was missing. And I said, the front door’s been open on the place, and there’s been a lot of people coming through and going through these places. It’s kinda like, what do you expect?”

Although proud to be a resident of Heaton, Miller doesn’t plan on spending the rest of his life there. “I’d still like to get out on a real farm,” he said. He expects to end up on his parents’ farm or his grandmother’s farm, which is just a couple of miles from Heaton.

I asked Miller if he plans to leave Heaton empty when the time comes. “I’d hope… I plan on selling my house, I mean if I could leave it there and sell it or if I have to sell it and have it moved, either way.” I asked him what are the chances he could sell his house to someone knowing they would be the only residents of Heaton. “You’d be surprised, I think. It would be pretty easy to sell it.” What does a house sell for in Heaton? Miller estimates he could get twenty thousand for his. And if he can’t sell it, he’s open to renting it. “There are a lot of jobs here,” he says.

Being the last resident of Heaton does have it’s advantages. “People ask me where I live and I tell them I’m the only one left in Heaton. I’m the Mayor, the Sherriff and everything,” Miller says. “They get a kick out of that.”

See our Heaton Galleries here and here

Comments
24 Responses to “The Last Resident of Heaton”
  1. miller says:

    Thanks again Troy, iam glad i could share some info. with you and great article, what you guys do is great, keep up the good work.

  2. colin says:

    Excellent, most interesting
    Colin in UK

  3. That was funny and very interesting. I enjoyed reading it. Right now at this point in my life I would love a little of that peace and quite! LOL

  4. How much did you day you wanted for that house? I’m good at fixing things up a bit.. LOL

  5. Sharon Klemm says:

    I think Miller is the luckiest guy alive. Living in an area that is under ever increasing development pressures and a Chicago population that doesn’t seem to understand that the tourism season ended months ago and it’s time to go home, I would give anything to be in his shoes.

    How about a new neighbor?

  6. Jake says:

    My Great-Great Grand parents Don and Mary Grant Lived up there in Heaton ND after they moved here from scottland. I would like more info on them.

    • Mike Wilson says:

      I do have cousins that are either Grants or some more of them that married into them. Might be able to put you touch with some of them if wanted.

      • Jake says:

        If they came from Cromwell, Scotland around the 1900′s that would be awesome. I am the great grandson of Alexander Grant, His sister is Mary Grant

        • Hi Jake: I’m your relative! My grandmother was Mary (Grant) Norgard, daughter of Donald & Mary (Rose) Grant from Cromwelll, Scotland. I have done a bunch of family research that I can share with you & have visited the area in Scotland they emigrated from. Please get in touch with me: sarah (at) sarahchristianson.com

        • Julie says:

          Hi Jake, just ran across this. My husband is your relative. His mother, Margaret, was a Grant. She married Vic Seil, hence our last name is Seil. We live on a farm east of Heaton by Sykeston, ND.

  7. Sharon Klemm says:

    From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, Merry Christmas to you, Brian Miller, and a Happy New Year. s.

  8. Steve G says:

    I grew up in Jamestown and retired from the Army in 2004 in Indiana. My oldest son moved to Jamestown after he graduated from HS in Indiana. I think he would love to live like Brian Miller. It sounds good to me too.

  9. John H says:

    L lived in Jmaestwon then Heaton I miss the town I might move back to Heaton The cold does not bother me or my dogs. Heaton was a great place to raise a family in the 70s I miss the 70s part being in Heaton. My fathers name was JJ .

  10. Allen Iverson says:

    This is my grandparents house – Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Hollingsworth. We would spend two weeks with them every summer. No running water – only sistern water. We had to pump drinking water from the well downtown by the grain elevator. I remember another named Iverson – an older bachelor.

  11. Jim Mack says:

    My Uncle Albert Mack was the Grain Elevator Manager in Heaton for quite a number of years and also lived there with his family.

  12. Tamra Brannon says:

    My name is Tamra Brannon, I live in Spokane, WA. I am a real estate agent that primarily works with estates. After people have passed, I am brought in to clear out the houses in preparation to sell the property. In a recent clearing of a home I came across some old trunks and boxes filled with paperwork and photos. In sorting through these items that were marked for the trash…I found an abundance of historical documents (original homestead agreement-signed by Roosevelt, banking info, tax levy info, voters registrations, receipts and property deeds) all for Heaton, ND. These documents date back to the late 1800′s. I began matching names with the photos in the boxes and I created a complete snapshot of what life was like in this town when it was thriving! So, I began doing research on the people and places and I stumbled upon this site. I now feel a tremendous responsibility to somehow remember this town and it’s people that have been long forgotten and abandoned. What do I do with all of this paperwork and historical memorabilia? I need to get it to someone who cherishes and loves history as much as I do. This is a mission of mine…strange as it may seem! I have been blessed for years in being called to put families memories to rest – the younger generations want to throw so much of this beloved history in the garbage and it nearly brings me to tears at times! With that said, I would love it if someone could point me in the right direction to have these precious items placed where they should be to keep the memories of these long since passed people alive!

    • Lyel says:

      Hi Tamra,

      I hope you get a reply from someone who will take the information you have and keep it for historical reasons.

      I am a fan of the ghost town site of North Dakota and I wish I was writing you with a better reply than this.

      I see you are from Spokane. I’m from the Bremerton area.

      I looked up Heaton on the map and it appears to be approximately 50-60 miles NW of Jamestown, ND. Hopefully, an easy look-up on line will give you the Chamber of Commerce’s email address. From there an email to them to assist you will hopefully, result in the response you are looking for.

      I compliment you for taking your time/effort to try to find a home for the wonderful information you found. I know someone, somewhere will be greatful to have the town’s history. With Jamestown being such a large city in ND, I hope the people of Jamestown come to your aid and provide you with the proper home for such historical information.

      We’re proud of you for making this effort.

      God Bless,

      Lyel

    • Craig says:

      Perhaps the ND State Historical Society

    • Karen says:

      Tamra, my family would be very interested in some of the information you may have from Heaton. Brian is the nephew of one of my uncles and a great friend of my son’s. So in that aspect I would love to hear or see what you have found from Heaton along with any info you may have found for surrounding areas like Sykeston, Carrington, Bowdon, Etc.

    • Sheila Heiden Wiesz says:

      Tamara,
      Wells County has a historical society/museum in Fessenden for historical material. Let me know if you need a contact person. I can point you in the right direction.

      I am a life long north of Heaton resident. My mother worked at the bank until it closed. Grandmother and Aunt ran the post office. Such memories!

  13. Larry Munson says:

    Tamra, if you still are in possession of the Heaton memorabilia, there is a Wells County Museum in Fessenden, ND…I am sure they would be very happy to display it.

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  1. […] Heaton has gone down quickly over the last decade, with most of their abandoned buildings razed and only one resident remaining. […]



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