Once upon on a time there was a pioneer settlement named Genin at this spot in Benson County, about halfway between Maddock and Oberon, North Dakota. That settlment was later renamed Josephine, but it never really became a town. The highest population ever recorded was approximately 30, and some of those were folks who lived in the surrounding countryside. The truth is, Josephine was really just a glorified railroad siding along the Northern Pacific Railroad. The remains of the town are gone, and only two crumbling grain elevators remain.
We visited Josephine once before at the suggestion of one of our site visitors, but on that day, it was about two minutes ’til winter, and there were 40 mph wind gusts blowing, so we took some photos from a distance, but didn’t make the trek down the abandoned rail line to the actual elevators. This time, it was similarly gloomy, but warmer, and we got a closer look.
The elevator on the west end is in considerably worse condition than its twin. The metal siding has blown off in several spots and the underlying wood has begun to rot and collapse in places.
Below: a look inside the west elevator.
In the era of the steam locomotive, there had to be a railroad siding with a water tower every 8 to 12 miles along the tracks, so the trains could refill their tanks, then steam along for another few miles and do it again at the next stop. Each railroad siding became a possible spot for development, and businesses and services would frequently spring up. Area residents who lived near the tracks might open a store–sometimes in a separate building, sometimes attached to their home–to serve customers passing through on the rail. With mail coming through on the trains, residents sometimes applied to use their homes as a rural post office to serve other area residents. Loading docks facilitated the loading and unloading of mail, merchandise, livestock, and more. Some of those places grew, built depots and churches and schools, and became towns. Others slowly withered as people died, or moved to nearby places. Josephine was one of the latter.
Josephine did have a post office. Twice, actually. The original post office closed in 1906, reopened months later, and stayed open until 1943.
After we finished at the west elevator, we walked further down the tracks to the one on the east end. In the photo above, you can see someone has a tree stand mounted on the tree in the center.
From inside one elevator, looking at the other.
Is there a name for the little building right next to the elevator? Someone please clue us in.
There’s some leftover grain in one of the buildings at the far east end of the site. This was the second time on this shoot that we found excess grain just abandoned when people left.
Above: a former road or railbed parallels the railroad line just to the south.
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