We first visited Fillmore in 2006 and we were completely blown away. Fillmore was one of the most impressive near-ghost towns we had ever been to. At the time, there just a couple of part-time residents, and more than a dozen abandoned structures including a bar, a store, a community hall/gymnasium, an auto shop, and numerous homes.
For some time, we had known the gymnasium had been listed for sale. In summer of 2012, we started hearing from people who said something had happened in Fillmore. A centennial celebration had taken place, and in the process of cleanup before the celebration, a number of structures had been burned. We heard rumors of lawsuits, and got emails from people who told us stories about angry property owners. In an effort to get a little clarity on it, I emailed and spoke with several people on both sides of the conflict over what happened in Fillmore, and this is what I was told:
- Organizers of the centennial had concerns about the safety of attendees due to the large number of abandoned properties, and attempted to contact property owners about remedying the situation.
- Property owners gave me varying accounts of whether they were contacted, and whether they were given enough time to comply with requests to secure their properties.
- Prior to the celebration, a number of properties were cleaned out and valuables removed.
- The bar, the store, the gymnasium, and the auto shop, all burned. Numerous houses are all gone from the Fillmore town site since our last visit too.
- Fire investigators determined the fires which took down the gymnasium and neighboring structures were intentionally set, but nobody can prove who did it.
These are conclusions I was able to draw based solely on conversations and correspondence with people involved. And it brings several things to mind. The importance of respecting property owners’ rights, for instance, regardless of whether the property owners are local residents. On the flip-side, if a property owner lives in a distant location and purchases a property for a song with the intention of ‘doing something with it, someday,’ what responsibility do they have to visit their property regularly and maintain it? And how can these disputes be resolved respectfully?
In a state like North Dakota where properties in remote locations are frequently forfeited to the county for back taxes, then purchased by someone else for a dirt cheap price, these are not easy questions to answer. But what we can say for sure is that Fillmore, North Dakota will never be the same. We left with heavy hearts after seeing that fifty percent of the town is now gone.
Here’s a photo from 2006 on the sidewalk in front of the bar and store.
And here’s a photo we took in 2012 looking down the same sidewalk. Both buildings gone.
Here’s a photo of the gymnasium/community center in 2006.
And here’s what remains today. Just the front steps.
Here’s another view of the bar and store in 2006, note the position of the double pine trees behind the building.
Here’s a photo from 2012. The double pine trees are still there, but both buildings are gone.
A Fillmore home in 2012.
Here’s the same home in 2006.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC