Abandoned Structures: The Stages of Ruin
In our ten years of exploring North Dakota’s ghost towns and abandoned places, we’ve seen structures in all stages of condition. If a building can survive without falling victim to fire, flood, or the bulldozer, it goes through a somewhat predictable process. We’ve learned a few things about the steps each structure goes through on the road to ruin, so please allow us to present our non-scientific, anecdotal observations.
This home in Heaton is an example of stage one — disrepair. When nobody’s around to maintain gutters, shingles, and paint, the deterioration begins.
Decades of wind, rain, and snow do a lot of damage to every structure. The rusty metal siding on the exterior of this building in Knox tells the tale.
3. An opening
The moment when the deterioration of a building really accelerates is the moment the structure becomes open to the elements. That can happen in a number of ways, from a roof that deteriorates to the point that rain and snow can infiltrate, to a fragile plate glass window broken out by vandals or high winds. Once the structure is open, like this home in Lucca, moisture gets inside and a collapse becomes inevitable without intervention. Also note the condition of the paint on this home, which has weathered almost completely away.
4. Encroachment by nature
The moss growing on the floor of this school in Forbes in one small example of the way in which nature slowly reclaims places that have been abandoned by humans. We’ve seen trees growing inside buildings, basements full of groundwater, and plenty of structures where animals have settled in. It’s also very common to see trees growing up in front of doorways and windows — places where birds perch and drop seeds.
5. Structural deficiency
All of the previous stages of decline listed here eventually lead to structural deficiency. Here’s an extreme example — the cinder block foundation of a church in Arena, caved into the basement. The entire structure’s stability is severely compromised as a result and will eventually lead to a collapse.
Here’s another example of a structurally compromised place — the former church in Deisem. One heavy snowfall or strong wind gust might be all it takes to bring it down.
Sometimes collapse happens all at once, sometimes it’s a slow-motion implosion, like the one this home in Nanson is going through. Another example is shown below — a completely collapsed block in Straubville.
When the people are gone, nature reclaims the space we’ve left behind and every reminder of our presence eventually gets erased. Sidewalks crumble and get overgrown. Trees sprout and compromise structures with their limbs and roots, as is the case with the former bar and ice cream parlor in Lincoln Valley, shown in the animation below.
A home once stood on the spot shown below. It eventually collapsed, trees grew up from the basement, someone used it as a dumping spot for a time, and nature never blinked. Year after year, leaves fall, and the site of this former home gets closer to oblivion. Eventually, all this debris and trash will be reclaimed and there will be no sign left above ground that people once inhabited this place.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC