Sanish was a thriving North Dakota town until 1953, when residents began to evacuate to higher ground. The construction of Garrison Dam, a project to provide hydroelectric power and flood control, would turn the Missouri River Valley in this part of North Dakota into a large reservoir to be named Lake Sakakawea. Sanish succumbed to the rising waters soon after the Garrison Dam embankments were closed in April of 1953, and the townsite disappeared beneath the waves of Lake Sakakawea.
Although some residents established “New Sanish” just across the highway, on higher ground to the south, most of the town’s residents moved to the newly established “Newtown”, several miles to the east.
Although the remains of Sanish are underwater most of the time, in dry periods, the lake level drops and portions of the town reappear. In 2005, we visited Crow Flies High Butte, and we were surprised to find the lake levels so low that we could see the remains of Sanish from the scenic overlook.
Looking down from the butte, lake eroded foundations were visible where Sanish once stood.
Thanks to some photos rescued from the trash by Staci Strand Roe, we got a glimpse of life in this town before the flood in Christmas in Sanish.
Terry made the trek down into the valley to get some up-close shots of a town long abandoned. Only foundations remain, since most of the structures were moved or torn down before the flood. You can read more about that in Before the Flood: Leaving Sanish.
The Four Bears Bridge, below, once stood in another now-submerged town downriver, Elbowoods, North Dakota. When the flood came, it was floated upriver to this spot and re-erected here with new approach spans. The old Missouri River crossing at Elbowoods, now without a bridge, also sank beneath the rising water and left a North Dakota highway submerged forever. We hiked the highway and photographed its remains in 2016. Read: This Lost Highway Leads to the Bottom of a Lake.
Above: Looking down on Four Bears Bridge from Crow Flies High Butte. In the backround, the old Four Bears Bridge, and in the foreground, construction of the new Four Bears Bridge is underway.
Below: A view of the bridge from the opposite shore. The white arrow indicates where we were standing when we took the photo above.
When the new Four Bears Bridge was completed, the old one was imploded.
We featured Sanish in our book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 3.
See also: Building Four Bears Bridge
See also: Memories of Silver City Ghost Town
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. @NorthDakotaTroy