Return to Marmarth

Return to Marmarth

Marmarth is in the far southwest corner of North Dakota, in the Badlands of Slope County, about seventy miles as the crow flies southwest of Dickinson. It’s a town we fell in love with the first time we visited in 2007, because, although there are still over 100 residents there (136 in the 2010 census), there are also a number of very impressive abandoned structures to photograph.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Unfortunately, Marmarth is also a town where we have not had very good luck. In 2007, we were photographing the town when we discovered there was something wrong with the brakes in my Jeep (Jeep stands for “Just Empty Every Pocket” in case you didn’t know) and we were forced to make a side trip to Bowman for repairs. Upon returning home, we posted our photos and discovered there was one quite vocal and rude Marmarth resident who took serious offense that we had the nerve to photograph her town and “brand it a ghost town.” She made her opinion known with comments and emails with LOTS OF CAPS.

Marmarth, North Dakota

This time, we had hoped to have better luck, and to make it clear that we have not ever, nor ever would, brand Marmarth a ghost town. We commonly photograph fading structures in lots of places where people still live. On this trip however, we had a different kind of difficulty — we spent a lot of time talking with local residents and didn’t have as much time to shoot.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Our attraction to Marmarth has a lot to do with the old west ambience — the chalky Badlands landscape, the remote location, and the tendency of local business owners to embrace that role with enthusiasm and a sense of humor. The sign on the front door at Geezer’s illustrates the point. When the door is closed, the store is also closed.

Marmarth, North Dakota

A powerful thunderstorm had moved through the night before we visited Marmarth, and the evidence was visible on the floor of a former service station on Main Street. The rainwater flowed to the hole in the middle of the sagging roof, and poured in torrents onto the floor. This kind of weathering will lead to a collapse of this old service station, if a fire or the bulldozer doesn’t get it first.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Since our last visit, the property owner has thoroughly boarded-up the former 1st National Bank and Barber Auditorium buildings.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The Mystic Theatre, which we’re told is still occasionally used, has been nicely renovated since we last saw it.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The small building next to Marmarth’s Pastime Bar and Steakhouse had a scaffold set up along one wall, like someone had planned to make renovations, but when we looked inside, it looks like the only thing going on is beer consumption.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The Pastime is where we ate last time we were in Marmarth. Their food is excellent, and we tell people about it whenever Marmarth comes up in conversation. If you find yourself there, highly recommended.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The patio outside the Pastime is the kind of place I could sit for a week with some adult beverages and just enjoy the outdoors.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The former railroad bunkhouse has been nicely painted and seemed to be doing more business since the last time we were there. Truthfully, all of Marmarth seemed to be more active since the last time we were there. Although the population is (a little) smaller than it was previously, it seemed like oil and tourist traffic were making it a little more lively place.

Marmarth, North Dakota

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.

18 thoughts on “Return to Marmarth

  1. Hi,
    I love your photographs. I grew up in Marmarth for the first 18 years of my life 1991-2009 and still the place I consider my true home. You so beautifully captured the history, the run-down buildings and the talkative nosey, nature of the residents (trust me, it’s a mild nuisance most of the time). Everyone is so friendly, but it can render a huge distraction. Marmarth is very much one-of-a-kind and I love making my trips back home a few times a year. Thanks for sharing the same appreciation I do for this small, unique corner of the state.
    Many blessings,
    Kelsey Brewer

  2. Howdy, truly enjoyed your phots of where I was raised from 1963-1977. Times and people have changed what was agreat place to live and grow up. My Grandpa was the law in that town for many years as was my dad and a guy by the name of Quinton Hanson. The Old gizzers shop was once a cafe called Merts cafe. My cousin owned the bank building and before she passed away she got it listedin the National Historic Society Registar. Hope to see more of your work .

  3. I look forwatd to each and every post of yours. I grew up and was educated in fargo, lived i GR, cando And dickinson brofare moving toNV

  4. Another great brief photo essay! Makes me want to saddle up and take a trip back to ND. Unfortunately it’s a long ways away. But I get to vicariously enjoy a fantasy trip courtesy of your excellent photography! Seems like that friendly depreciating humor is part and parcel of the old ND that I remember from my parents. Maybe it was a legacy from the pioneering days? Who knows. Keep up the good work gentlemen.

  5. I am sure that Jeep,which was about 10 years old in 2007,carried you to many sites to take pictures,and had many miles on it when you got it repaired This site shows clear evidence that things wear out over time,with use,and that everything has a service life,everything.Taking into account what your new car cost,it better make you happy,but i wonder if a garage in bowman could fix it.

  6. You guys have spent enough time in small towns to know people are friendlier. Every small town I’ve ever lived in has been the same way. I simply factor in the extra time that I KNOW will be required when out and about and am thankful to live in a place where I know my neighbors by name and make time to talk. Beats the cold shoulder of the anonymous masses in the city any day.

    1. I know the first guy they’re referring to, and I would not describe him as “friendly” in any stretch. He is a weirdo, confrontational, and nearly impossible to escape once he’s got your cornered. He lives in Bowman. If he gets talking he never stops. He’s also the one responsible for spraypainting the godawful signs you see on the buildings in these guys photos. If I ran into him, it would ruin my visit too. So ease up, John.

      1. Ease up yourself. Having no way of knowing either the guy NOR you, who’s to say YOU aren’t the unpleasant one to talk with?

        1. Thank you for a rude response that has revealed your true nature. Having fully admitted you don’t know either party, you persist in being an asshole. Even though I said I DO know the party in question, and he is not “friendly” as you claimed, you insist these guys are to be blamed somehow, likely because you consider them outsiders. The truth is, you’re one of two things – an internet troll intent on being rude and disagreeable, or you’re the very party in question. Curmudgeon, or guilty party. Which is it?

  7. Wow makes me homesick, I love the pictures I grew up there and miss North Dakota, Badlands and the Little MO OH and can’t forget Pretty Butte. So many buildings missing but its looks like the residents keep the town cleaned up. I would like to say to Mr Austin I see I guess would be you cousin often at Walmart (Preston) always have a nice chat about back home in Marmarth. Hope by some miracle I can come back for a visit one day. Seems to me the minute you drive in from another State to Montana/North Dakota you get the waves, I miss that too, not as friendly in other areas of the US.Now i have to call my friend from there and get caught up. My husbands and mines doctor actually works in Dickinson and Williston for VA i think one week a month, he was kind of shocked by it all when he first started and he has had fun experiences learning the “talk”, so funny.

    1. Yes Jeannie, Preston is actually my Uncle, my moms brother. I live in Miles City MT now so I get to Marmarth on ocassion. How time has changed. When my Grandpa was in charge lol henever allowe a empty lot to be ungulfed by weeds. It was either mowed or horses were stacked out to keep things looking tidy. Those were the days,,,,

  8. Many years ago my husband and I dragged our first camper through Marmarth. We ate somewhere in town and had huge delicious burgers. Husband has also stopped in when hunting deer in the western regions of the state. On that first camping trip, we took a scoria road out into the wilderness; unfortunately, it turned out to be a road to a well head and we had the Dickens of a time trying to turn our rig around. When we finally did, we found a place to camp away from all activity and lights. It was thrilling to be out under the stars, with no light but our campfire and the reflections of shining animal eyes. We need to get back to Marmarth sometime. Re: photos. I noticed what must be a wheelchair cut with the yellow bumpy surface? I wonder if it was the only one in town.

  9. There truly is something unique & intriguing about Marmarth! My first trip to Deadwood, SD from Montana brought me through Marmarth & I fell in love instantly! I immediately told my husband that I’d love to live in this little town! I do admit that at first sight, I too thought it was a “ghost town” as most of buildings I saw were abandoned & there were no residents in view. I was happy to learn it surely wasn’t a ghost town. An interesting place!

  10. Preston Graham was in my 1st grade class when I started school in about 1948. His Dad was nicknamed “Babe”. My father was the Supt of the school for 3 years. Joey Moore, Hastings, Mn

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