What Happened to Ghost Town Omemee, North Dakota?

What Happened to Ghost Town Omemee, North Dakota?

Omemee, North Dakota, a ghost town in Bottineau County, has been a source of intrigue since we first became aware of it in 2005. We were initially made aware of Omemee by a North Dakota resident who alerted us that someone was trying to sell lots in Omemee to out-of-state buyers under questionable circumstances, an effort which amounted to nothing in the end. Later, Fargo resident Mark Johnson sent us some photos of Omemee taken around 2010, and we also received some correspondence and photos from people who had family roots in Omemee, too, but we had never visited Omemee ourselves until Easter weekend, 2017.

Omemee, North Dakota

It’s hard to appreciate the vanishing act Omemee pulled by just looking at photos, but the postcard shown above gives you some idea of the magnitude. The view is from 1904 (approximately) and Omemee’s peak population was reported at 650 in 1906. The postcard shows us grain elevators, a school, a church, and dozens of homes. Like any growing prairie town of the era, Omemee had a bank, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, a restaurant, an opera house, and even its own newspaper, The Omemee Herald.

Something happened, though, and Omemee vanished from landscape.

Omemee, North Dakota

On the site of Omemee in 2017, we struggled to find many structures to photograph.

Omemee, North Dakota

At first glance, this place looked like a former residential dwelling, with a garage and a home surrounded by a crumbling picket fence.

Omemee, North Dakota

There’s even an outhouse in the back.

Omemee, North Dakota

Upon closer inspection, it looked too small to have been a house. Below: a peek inside.

Omemee, North Dakota

The story of this particular structure remains a mystery. Hopefully, someone can fill in the facts in the comments.

Omemee, North Dakota

Above: a look inside the garage.

Omemee, North Dakota
photo by Mark Johnson

When we arrived in Omemee, we were most interested in photographing the building above, sometimes referred to as the “Superintendent’s House”. For many years, it had been the most significant remaining structure in Omemee. However, we looked around, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Then Terry ran across a pile of bricks.

Omemee, North Dakota

A look at Google Earth revealed the tale… sometime between 2010 and 2013, someone bulldozed the structure. As a result, almost all of the structures in Omemee, particularly the ones built from manmade materials like wood and brick, are now gone, with the few structures shown on this page as the exceptions. It won’t be long before Omemee is no longer a ghost town, but an archaeological ruin.

Omemee, North Dakota

Omemee, North Dakota

What happened to Omemee, North Dakota? What would make 650 people pack up and leave town? Documented answers aren’t easy to come by. A 1906 review by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture listed competition from nearby Bottineau, and the lack of a townsite promoter, as reasons for Omemee’s decline. Someone also once told us that there were water problems in Omemee. Whatever the cause, the junction of two railroads (the Soo Line and the Great Northern) couldn’t save Omemee. The last census which listed Omemee as inhabited was in 1990, and the population was 3.

On a separate post about Omemee, there is a comment from Stacy, a former resident of Omemee, which reads:

I was one of the last people to truly reside in the town. I lived there until I was 15 in 1996. I moved from there to Bottineau and my family stayed there several years after that. I just wanted to let you know that from what I know most people actually picked up there houses and moved. I don’t mean their belongings, but their actual houses. A few buildings were left standing when my family purchased the land, but not many. The buildings that were left we used to house farm animals and they didn’t last long. The town didn’t vanish, those of us that lived there moved on. The spirit of the town will forever and will also haunt me forever. I have no plans of ever returning to the “ghost” town of Omemee.

Omemee, North Dakota

In places, there are remnants of pavement and sidewalks still showing.

Omemee, North Dakota

Unless someone razes the remains, the structures made from fieldstone will be the last aboveground clues to Omemee’s existence.

Omemee, North Dakota

A local farmer still uses the Omemee town site to store some equipment and straw bales.

Omemee, North Dakota

There are open holes around the site which makes it somewhat perilous to visit. Above: possibly a former cistern with rubble dumped in it.

See Cathy Zabel’s photos of Old Omemee. See Tim Brannon’s photos of old Omemee. What do you know about Omemee? Please leave a comment below.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp except where noted, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

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

11 thoughts on “What Happened to Ghost Town Omemee, North Dakota?

  1. I remember in 1972, my grandfather, whom owned and operated Festvogs Welding and Machine in nearby Landa, N-Dakota, told me about the blacksmith whom worked in Omemee, ND. I asked about the town as my girlfriend and I would always drive by there on our way to my grandfathers cabin at Lake Metigoshe. He basically said that the larger towns drew people out of there. A few years of bad crops, can always force populations to larger cities for work.

  2. That little red shed or building could have been a Summer kitchen or possibly a chicken coop, years ago homes were quite small and a Summer kitchen was used to cook meals in to feed farm workers, but not seeing much for windows, in that building lean more to a chicken coop. to house chickens that were used for meat and eggs. just know that from our own area, in seeing little buildings like that.. So sad that there is no other reminder of this town, so possibly some one could have a large Rock moved in with the name painted on it as a location marker. so not all is lost of this town.

  3. When we were there in 2012 the Superintendent’s house only had a corner standing. We had been told someone had burned the interior a year or so before.

  4. Mother nature reclaims everything in the end. The human need to say, “I was here,” is very strong. Memorials, signs, rocks, those too will be reclaimed in time. Leave some tobacco and smudge and leave the place to itself.

  5. Wanamaker North Dakota vanished in 1905. The Great Northern Railroad decided not to run tracks to it. Most buildings were moved 4 miles east to the existing terminus and Turtle Lake was founded from those buildings. As I heard it told, Wanamaker didn’t even get to be a ghost town.

  6. My brother and I have been collecting postcards of Omemee for the past 15 years. We spent many summer vacations there visiting my grandparents, Grace and Erick Schultz. My grandma was the last postmaster of Omemee with the little post office in the back of their house. If anyone is interested in seeing the pictures, go to PINTEREST and “search” for Omemee, ND and click on my board with the name Betsy Lien – there are 38 photos !

  7. In an effort to piece the town together I bought up 35 lots that had been sold to the corners of the world. Omeemee was supposed to be the county seat. With two railroads crossing it should have been the city……. sone of us talk about having a party there in the summer

    1. Note my reference to Wanamaker’s disappearance and re-birth as Turtle Lake 4 miles east. There’s a back story to Wanamaker’s demise: It is alleged that Mr. Wanamaker – from which the town took its name – got into a litigious dispute with the railway. It is inferred by some that such sourness influenced Great Northern to truncate its line at the Turtle Lake town site. Perhaps there was some like circumstance that affected Omemee? Just wondering …

  8. Another factor may have been the relatively late arrival of electricity in Omemee (in fall 1927), whereas Bottineau had electricity since 1904 and Willow City since 1918. Other area towns and when they got lights: Dunseith (ca. 1915?), Overly (1917 / 1946), and Barton (fall 1927).

  9. My mothers family were the Brandt’s from the area & later Bantry, ND. Andy Brandt (my grandpa) headed a famous baseball team in Omemee with his brothers/cousins. We still visit the cemetery every year around this time

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