Werner, North Dakota is in Dunn County, about 13 miles east of Killdeer. We’re unsure of the exact population, but in 1971, when residents voted to dissolve the town, the vote count was 7-2 in favor of dissolution, so the headcount is quite likely in the single digits these days. Although we were really a couple decades late in photographing the town as it once was, we decided to visit and shoot Werner, North Dakota and a bridge to nowhere.
Werner was a rare town in at least one respect — it was incorporated as a Northern Pacific Railroad town in 1917, but the Post Office wasn’t established until two years later. In most cases, the Post Office would have been established before, or concurrently with, a town’s founding.
The bridge shown here spans Spring Creek on the southwest edge of Werner.
We looked for a plaque on this bridge that would identify the builder, but we couldn’t see one anywhere. In the early days of North Dakota statehood, most bridges like this were built by out-of-state bridge builders like Gillette-Herzog Manufacturing Company out of Minneapolis, Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, and the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Works, but by the time Werner was founded, North Dakota bridge builders, like Fargo Bridge and Iron Company, had entered the market. If you know who built this bridge, please leave a comment below.
Visiting these places in modern day, sometimes nearly a century after they were built, it’s frequently hard to imagine how useful they were. This bridge spans Spring Creek as part of a road that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, and its main purpose seems like it might have been to make access to the nearby fields easier.
Tire tracks in the long grass leading to this bridge made us think that someone occasionally still drives over this bridge–a brave someone. We got nervous just walking on it.
As for the town of Werner, it was like other places we sometimes encounter, where we were unsure if we were going to be seen as trespassers. On the west side of town, there were three deteriorating vacant homes down one seldom used “road,” abandoned so long ago that it was more like two rutted wheel tracks in the tall grass, and we weren’t sure if we could respectfully wander down the road without upsetting someone, so we stayed out.
The rest of Werner’s vacant properties are somewhat spread out around the town site, with open spaces in-between. When it had a population of over 200 residents, these vacant lots were full of homes and businesses. Werner even had its own newspaper at one time, the Werner Record. According to the out-of-print North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick, the last business in Werner was the service station, which closed when operator Arthur Kummer passed-on in 1970.
What do you know about Werner, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy