Near the center of the state, in Wells County, about fifteen miles northwest of Carrington, Cathay stands as a great example of a shrinking North Dakota railroad community in the heart of farming country. It was founded in 1892 and the first post office went up the following year, to serve the Soo Line railroad. At one time, there were 255 residents here, but in the 2000 Census, the number was 56. Ten years later, the 2010 tally was 43.
Some might argue it was after the closing of the school when things started to look a little bleak in Cathay. Some might say, “No, it was the post office,” and still others would insist there was some other tipping point, but in reality the railroad was responsible for the fate of many small towns like this, and as went the railroad, so went the town.
Regardless of the why, we’re always interested in the how. How does it look now? How many people are there? How do we get there? So we visited in July of 2017 and found an interesting photographic landscape for those interested in the empty and abandoned.
The James River Gun Club and the abandoned Post Office stand next to each other on 3rd Avenue, just across the street from Cathay’s City Hall.
When we first decided to visit Cathay, it was because we wanted to see this former public school in person.
The former main entrance of Cathay’s public school is particularly beautiful in design and construction, and the juxtaposition of the architectural elegance with the unkempt overgrowth suggests a school in some dystopian vision of the future.
Above and below: one of two vacant churches we saw in Cathay. This one looks like it might have been converted into a dwelling at some point in the recent past.
Above and below: The second of two vacant churches we saw in Cathay, with the bell tower removed some time ago.
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