We visited Nanson, North Dakota, a true ghost town with zero residents in southern Rolette County, in 2012. We traveled through waving country to get there (when an occasional car or truck passed, the drivers frequently waved) and found a townsite rapidly disappearing. There were only four significant structures still standing in Nanson, and the Great Northern Railroad tracks that led to the founding of the town were long gone, too. On Easter weekend, 2017, we decided to make a return trip to Nanson on our way home from another ghost town, Omemee, North Dakota, and see if anything had changed.
As with our previous visit, we had to park at the end of the road and walk into the townsite due to the wet road. Our visit in 2012 was at the height of summer, with the leaves on the trees, and we were immediately struck when we visited this time by how haunting Nanson looked in the spring, with the trees bare.
The home shown above is the first structure you come to when visiting Nanson. Below: a look inside.
There was a post office in Nanson, from 1905 to 1981, and the town reportedly had a population of 125 in 1920, but it had declined to just 25 by 1960. Today, nobody lives in Nanson, North Dakota.
When we visited in 2012, we found the townsite totally overrun with wood ticks, and we were picking them off ourselves in the car all the way home. This time, an early spring had us concerned about ticks again, so we treated our clothes with permethrin before we left and, although we saw ticks clinging to blades of prairie grass during our visit, we didn’t find a single live tick on us. That stuff works.
At the center of the townsite, an old home and garage still stand, surrounded at its perimeter by a sagging wire fence.
Many times we’ve been reminded that exploring these places is dangerous, and the photo above is a prime example. There are open basements, wells, and cisterns everywhere. If you can imagine exploring a place like this later in the summer, when the grass is knee or waist-high, you can imagine how easy it would be to fall into something like this and get seriously hurt. Take two steps back without looking behind yourself while you’re trying to get that perfect shot and it would be easy to injure yourself in a fall.
At the north end of the townsite is a home that looks like Salvador Dali’s workshop, slowly crumbling into its own basement. The basement was full of water when we visited this time, likely runoff from the recent snow melt. This house was already falling apart when we visited in 2012. Five years later, it was in a little worse condition and will likely deteriorate quickly in the coming years.
The whole time we were exploring Nanson, a turkey vulture patrolled above our heads, gliding in lazy circles like a guardian of carrion. He would fly overhead, retreat for a time, and then return, as if to remind us that Nanson is a place for memories, but not living things.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 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