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Author: Troy Larson

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy
Thank You for 15 Great Years

Thank You for 15 Great Years

Fall of 2018 officially marks 15 years since we began documenting North Dakota’s ghost towns and abandoned places. I’ve previously written about how we got started (by accident). We photographed our first three places in 2003 and started the website in early 2004, and in that time we’ve driven more than 65,000 miles and traveled through every county in North Dakota in search of abandoned and vanishing places. We’ve photographed true ghost towns with zero residents and vanishing small towns with a handful of residents remaining — places like Merricourt, Corinth, and Haley among many others. We’ve photographed abandoned places of interest including San Haven Sanatorium, Fortuna Air Force Station, and the Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel to name a few. As we’ve photographed these places, we’ve learned a lot about North Dakota and its history and we’ve tried to share as much of that with you as best we know how. Our photography has gotten a little better over the years and my ability to put it into words has grown too. And we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

North Grand Church
North Grand Church

We’ve sacrificed plenty to do this over the years. We’ve run three cars to ruin with all the extra miles (one of those stories is here), we spent about ten years paying for every fill-up, meal, and hotel room out of our own pockets, not to mention our substantial webhosting and bandwidth costs, and we missed any number of family gatherings because we used a holiday weekend as an opportunity to escape from our 9-to-5 and hit the road, but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it and we would do it all again.

Recently, I discussed Ghosts of North Dakota with my friend and long time partner-in-roadtripping Terry Hinnenkamp, and we both agreed that it is time for these dads to take a break. We still love fooling around with our cameras as much as we always have and love a good roadtrip, but our multiple trips per year have occasionally taken on the feeling of “obligation” — something we do to keep followers happy, to keep our Facebook page growing, to keep North Dakota’s vanishing places in the stream of content that flashes past all of us every day. If you’ve ever had a hobby that turned into a chore, you probably know the feeling.



When we started photographing North Dakota’s abandoned places, we were one of very few people doing it (Andrew Filer is someone who’s been doing it for a very long time), and we may have attacked it with a little more fervor than most, but today, there are a LOT of artists and photographers dedicating their efforts to this great state and covering it in their own unique way. Don’t believe me? Check out the work of Jack Dura, who photographs North Dakota places in his travels as a journalist for the Bismarck Tribune, MJ Masilko, an artist who paints the places she photographs, and John Piepkorn, who has contributed tons of galleries to Ghosts of North Dakota over the years. There are others, too, more than I can mention. Zachary Hargrove of Furious Skies, Nate Reynolds of Lost Places on the PrairieTim Riley of Whispers of the Past, Bob Hoffman of Country Candids and many, many more. With so many people doing it, we’re confident there will still be a stream of glorious North Dakota content for you to enjoy… click the links and follow all of those artists, you won’t be disappointed.

San Haven Sanatorium
San Haven Sanatorium

This has all led up to this, an official announcement. Terry and I are on indefinite hiatus from photographing North Dakota’s lost and withering places. The website will stay right here, and you’ll likely still see an update from us now and then, and probably contributor galleries popping up from time to time. There may or may not be another Ghosts of North Dakota book in the future, and who knows, sometime down the road, Terry and I might decide it’s time to take it up again. We’ll see. Until then, thank you. Your continued reading has meant everything to us over the last 15 years.

Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp
Ghosts of North Dakota

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

A Second Immanuel Lutheran Church

A Second Immanuel Lutheran Church

As we ventured toward Minot for a book signing event in 2014, we decided we would try to sneak in some shooting time at a few different locations along the drive, but this particular place was not a place we knew about beforehand — we just happened to drive right by it, on highway 30 in Albert Township, just north of Maddock, North Dakota and couldn’t pass up such a picturesque church. The best places are always the places we discover by accident.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

5 More Lost North Dakota Places

5 More Lost North Dakota Places

The end always comes. As we’ve documented here, here, and here, our historic places are frequently losing the battle with time and the elements. The places shown here, two churches, a school, an Air Force installation, and a Nordic ski jump, were all photographed in the last decade or so, and now — in the blink of an eye really — they are gone. This is why we shoot ’em… because too many of them share this fate. Here are five more lost North Dakota places.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Roadtrip: Ghosts Towns and Vanishing Places along State Highway 200

Roadtrip: Ghosts Towns and Vanishing Places along State Highway 200

North Dakota’s longest State Highway is Highway 200, and it stretches over 400 miles from the Red River near Halstad, Minnesota to the Montana border at Fairview. As we’ve been exploring North Dakota’s vanishing places since 2003, it’s a highway we’ve found ourselves on again and again, and we’re due to show appreciation for a road that will take you to so many amazing places. Places where you can get out of the car and enjoy some visions of our past. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

The Why and How of Cathay, North Dakota

The Why and How of Cathay, North Dakota

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.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Saved from the Deluge: Independence Congregational Church

Saved from the Deluge: Independence Congregational Church

On several occasions we’ve made an effort to document the abandonment of civilizations along the Missouri River in 1953 due to a coming flood created by the Garrison Dam project — the story of Sanish, North Dakota, the construction of Four Bears Bridge, a visit to an Elbowoods Church, and a lost highway to the bottom of a lake, for example — and the story of Independence is another of those.

Independence, North Dakota stood along the west bank of the Missouri River. Douglas A. Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names” says it was founded in 1885 by Wolf Chief of the Gros Ventres, and named “Independence” to signify independence from the other tribes at Fort Berthold.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Return to Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel

Return to Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel

Fairview Lift Bridge is a place we’ve visited before, but the last time we were there, the sky was full of smoke from wildfires, so we promised ourselves we would go back again when we got another chance, and that chance came in July, 2017. We had just learned that the adjoining Cartwright Tunnel, the only railroad tunnel in the state of North Dakota, was in danger of implosion if funding couldn’t be raised for a restoration, so that became another excuse to visit this rusty beauty spanning the Yellowstone River.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Abandoned Durham Country School

Abandoned Durham Country School

Little country schools like this one are a rapidly vanishing part of our history on the prairies of the high plains. From the signing of the Homestead Act through the modernization of the transportation and education systems, little country schools like this were constructed by the thousands across the Midwest to serve about a dozen students at a time. Families who had come to settle new homesteads, sometimes by wagon and sometimes by train, would send their children to a rural school where they would receive their education, frequently from a young female teacher who was barely out of school herself. In many instances, when boys reached an age where they could handle the arduous work of farming, they would leave school to work full-time on the family farm.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Chaseley, North Dakota: 12 Years Later

Chaseley, North Dakota: 12 Years Later

The last time we visited Chaseley, North Dakota, was in June of 2005, and it was a spur of the moment stop that we hadn’t planned. We took a few photos but didn’t run into anybody wandering about, so we moved along to the next stop without learning much about this tiny town in Wells County, right in the middle of North Dakota.

On the way home from a trip to western North Dakota in July of 2017, however, we decided to make another stop in Chaseley, and we’re glad we did, because we got to meet a couple Chaseley residents and learn a lot more about this slowly vanishing place. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Charbonneau: A Ghost Town Named for a Man of “No Particular Merit”

Charbonneau: A Ghost Town Named for a Man of “No Particular Merit”

When Lewis & Clark came to the area that is today North Dakota, they began to recruit men and women to join the Corps of Discovery. One of their new recruits was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who had been living among the Hidatsa. He had taken two Shoshone women as his wives–Otter Woman and Sakakawea (Sacagawea). Lewis and Clark saw an opportunity in hiring Charbonneau, since he could speak French and some Hidatsa, and his wives could speak Shoshone. Charbonneau was hired as a translator for the expedition, but was judged harshly by members of the Corps, and by historians in later days. Charbonneau was found to be timid in the water, and quick tempered with his wives. Although some came to appreciate Charbonneau’s cooking, in particular, a recipe for sausage made from bison meat, Meriwether Lewis said he was “a man of no particular merit.”

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

The events of 1930 could be considered a textbook example of “hard times” anywhere in America. The stock market crashed near the end of 1929 and ushered-in the Great Depression. Unemployment skyrocketed along with the price of imported goods. North Dakota and other rural states endured unprecedented drought that would eventually lead to the Dust Bowl. In the midst of these events, it wasn’t uncommon for families to pack up as many of their belongings as they could transport and move to greener pastures, frequently leaving their homes and farms behind, but residents of the tiny community of Schafer, North Dakota and nearby Watford City found it odd when, in the spring of 1930, the six members of the Haven family stopped showing up in town.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

8 Questions with Photojournalist Jack Dura

8 Questions with Photojournalist Jack Dura

At Ghosts of North Dakota, we occasionally like to check-in with artists and photographers (like Mariah Masilko and John Piepkorn) who’ve shown a passion for North Dakota and its vanishing, forgotten places and Jack Dura certainly qualifies. We caught up with Watford City journalist, photographer, and frequent explorer “Travelin’ Jack” between road trips to find out more about his background, his thirst for adventure, his favorite bird dog, and favorite places, from the Badlands to the North Dakota prairie.

Q: I first became aware of your work when you were still at NDSU in Fargo. Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, and what are you doing now? 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Duck Inn and Waddle Out of Venturia, North Dakota

Duck Inn and Waddle Out of Venturia, North Dakota

Venturia, North Dakota is located in McIntosh County, just north of the South Dakota border, forty-five miles east of the Missouri river, about nine miles southwest of Ashley, North Dakota. Like most shrinking rural communities across the state, Venturia was founded as a railroad town, but today the tracks are gone.

We visited Venturia on an overcast day of intermittent sprinkles, and we were excited by the photo opportunities but we needed a break from the rain. It took us a few minutes of sitting in the car, waiting for the rain to pass, before we realized the neon sign on the bar behind us was lit — OPEN. We decided to go pay a visit.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

The “City” of Leal, North Dakota

The “City” of Leal, North Dakota

Leal is a small town in Barnes county, an hour northeast of Jamestown, or 73 miles northwest of Fargo.  It was founded in 1892, and incorporated as a village in 1917, but in 1967, North Dakota eliminated the “village” and “town” incorporations in the state, making all incorporated places “cities.” So, today, Leal is a “city” with a population density of 142 residents per square mile. Sounds like a hoppin’ place, right? Not really. The population density figure is a mathematical quirk of a city with an area of .14 square miles and a population of 20 in the 2010 census.

Our stop in Leal was quick and we found just a little to photograph… a few select buildings and an abandoned farmstead outside of town.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

North American Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North American Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

During their historic journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark reported enormous herds of North American Bison in the midwest, so large that they “darkened the whole plains.”  Wagon trains sometimes waited days for passage through herds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.  But by the early 1900’s the bison were reaching their low-point.  Over-hunting, drought, and encroachment on their natural habitat by humans and cattle drove the population of bison down to only several hundred animals (the actual number is disputed) — the bison were almost extinct.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Boom and Bust in Corinth, North Dakota

Boom and Bust in Corinth, North Dakota

Corinth is a near-ghost town in Williams County, about thirty-four miles northeast of Williston. Although one of the residents has taken over a portion of the town, Corinth is still fairly intact with lots of original buildings in time-worn condition.

Corinth was founded in 1916 and reportedly had a peak population of 108 around 1920, and although that figure began to dwindle almost immediately, the Post Office stayed open until 1969. Corinth was an unincorporated town and as a result, there are no reliable census figures to be found.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

The Strange Tale of the Midnight Rider: Serial Killer Eugene Butler

The Strange Tale of the Midnight Rider: Serial Killer Eugene Butler

In the early 1900s, residents near the tiny town of Niagara, in the new state of North Dakota, began to hear strange noises in the night. The sound of galloping hooves punctuated the quiet countryside. It was Farmer Eugene Butler again, who had recently started riding his horses late at night, yelling at the top of his lungs. It was strange behavior from a man who was known to be a wealthy, successful farmer, if somewhat reclusive.

The townsfolk had no idea that, in the coming years, the story of Eugene Butler would get much stranger.

On February 4th, 1904, the Jamestown Weekly Alert republished a story that ran a few days earlier in the Grand Forks Herald:

From brooding over the hallucination that all the widows and old maids in the country wanted to marry him, Farmer Eugene Butler became insane and was committed to the insane hospital at Jamestown. Butler is about 40 years of age and has lived by himself for years on a farm at Shawnee. He is probably the wealthiest man who has ever been committed to an asylum from this county, his property being valued at from $40,000 to $50,000. In addition to the hallucination that all the women have designs on him–owing probably to its being a leap year–Butler claims that men are in the habit of coming to his home during the night, forcing him to get up and dress and take long walks and horseback rides.

In hindsight, there are a couple of clarifications that should be made to the Herald story. Butler’s home was reported as being in a tiny railroad stop known as “Shawnee,” but today we know he lived in Niagara, about 6 miles to the northwest. Second, Butler was actually 54 years old at the time, not 40. At any rate, Eugene Butler was deemed insane and committed to the State Hospital in 1904.

Niagara, North Dakota
Niagara’s historic one-room school in 2014.

Butler lived an apparently uneventful 8 years in the State Hospital in Jamestown, but in November of 1911, two weeks after his death on October 22nd, 1911, Butler’s name again appeared in the paper, this time the Saturday, November 4th issue of the Bismarck Tribune. The story, “Filing of Petition Recalls Old Case,” details the appointment of Butler’s former attorney as the administrator for his estate and concludes that his estate would be divided between two brothers, a nephew and a niece. We’re also offered a further glimpse into Butler’s story:

Butler came to Grand Forks County in 1880 with a number of others, from New York State. He picked out three quarters of a section of land near Larimore and started in to farming. He rapidly improved the land and built a substantial home. He was accounted a moderately well fixed farmer. In spite of the fact that he had made many friends, he continued to live alone on the farm, doing all the work about the house.

About ten years ago he was noticed to have changed considerably and at times at night would ride his horses at breakneck speed about the country. Those who are familiar with the case state that he lost his mind through his hermit habits. He gradually became worse and was brought here and taken before the insanity board.

By 1915, Butler had been dead for years and many had no doubt nearly forgotten about the strange man who had occupied the now-vacant farmhouse on the edge of Niagara, but on June 27th, 1915, the Bismarck Daily Tribune’s headline announced a horrifying discovery in large type:

SIX BODIES WITH SKULLS CRUSHED ARE FOUND AT NIAGARA, N.D.
Are Believed To Have Been the Victims of Eugene Butler, an Insane Patient

Beneath the terrible headline, other details were disclosed in successively smaller fonts. “Gruesome Find by Workmen in Old Basement. Bodies Are Those of Men Who Worked for Butler on His Farm. Accused Man Died at Jamestown in 1913. Victims Dropped Into Basement by Cleverly Made Trap Door.” The story read:

Workmen excavating under a house occupied until a few years ago by Eugene Butler, who died in 1913 in state insane asylum, unearthed the remains of six men. It is believed by the authorities they were murdered by Butler while employed by him as farm hands. The skulls of each had been crushed. The bodies had been dropped into the basement through a cleverly constructed trap door.

An added note near the end of the story added specifics from Butler’s doctor while he was at Jamestown:

REMEMBERS BUTLER. Dr. Hotchkiss over the telephone last evening said that he remembered Butler but that there was little about his case to distinguish him from the other insane patients. He showed great surprise when he learned of the gruesome find in the former home of Butler.

Again there is a detail in the story that should be clarified. Butler actually died in 1911, not 1913, and the belief that Butler killed six individuals in separate acts would later be called into question. In a story from the Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 1st, 1915, the new theory became clear:

BELIEVED BUTLER MURDERED FAMILY

Again, details were added through subheadings in successively smaller type. “Examination of skeletons indicate five crimes were committed at once. Bodies had been stripped of clothing. No one in neighborhood can throw light on gruesome tragedy.” The story continues:

Five murders at one time, when he wiped out an entire family, and one at a later date when he slew a male adult, are the crimes laid at the door of Eugene Butler, the recluse farmer of Niagara, whose death in the asylum for the insane at Jamestown four years ago effectively draws a curtain before one of the most mysterious cases ever brought to light in the northwest.

Examination of six skeletons found under the Butler home near Shawnee, this county, shows that five of the murders were committed at one time when a man, a woman, and three children were slain. At some later date one man was killed.

Bodies of the five members of the family were buried in a single hole, while that of the other victim was buried about ten feet from them.

The horrible record of the crime was unearthed by a workman engaged in excavating for a basement under the former Butler home. He first unearthed the body of the lone victim, which had been concealed under about three feet of dirt, under the middle of the Butler home. The body had been dropped to its place of concealment through a hole cut in the floor.

Buried from the Outside. The five bodies were buried in a hole that was dug from the outside of the house, under the foundation. The hole into which these bodies were dumped was sloping in nature, and while time may have rotted the bones there are indications that in order to hide his crime, Butler was compelled to break the legs of at least two of his victims.

The foundation wall where the bodies had been buried was disturbed after its construction, which was about 20 years ago. That fact limits the period within which the murders occurred. In order to bury the victims, the three bottom stones of the foundation wall were loosened. In refilling the hole, black dirt was thrown in, and the manner in which the burial place was dug, indicated by the marked lines of distinction between the black dirt used as a covering and the red clay subsoil.

Clothing Removed. There is absolutely no trace of clothing of any kind. The dirt about the skeletons was carefully examined for trace of buttons, shoes, etc… but nothing was found, indicating that the bodies had been buried nude — their clothes probably destroyed by fire, thus effectively destroying the possibility of identification at this time.

Examination of the skull of the single victim, and probably the most recent murder victim, indicates that the man had a crooked nose, the nasal bone being bent slightly toward the left.

Each Killed in the Same Manner. That some sharp instrument was used in killing the members of the family, also is indicated. There is a sharp and clearly defined hole in the left side of the skull of each. The skull of the single victim is similarly marked.

The authorities had apparently determined that the original theory, six transient farm laborers killed one at a time, was incorrect, and that a family of five was killed first, followed by one individual. Neighbors, however, did not remember a family of five ever visiting the farm, and nobody ever reported a family of five missing. One theory was that perhaps five of Eugene’s family members came to visit and he dispatched them before anyone had seen them at the farm. The passage of time between the murders and the discovery of their bodies further hindered any identification of the victims.



On July 22, 1915, The Valley City Times Record published a story about a possible identity for one of the victims. Leo Urbanski, a wealthy businessman and former saloon keeper from Minnesota, wondered whether his brother might be the single male victim whose remains were found at Butler’s farm, and asked his attorney to send a letter to States Attorney O.B Burtness:

“I have been requested to make inquiry concerning one John Urbanski who disappeared near Niagara, N.D. in 1902. The last heard from him was a letter received by his brother stating that he was working for a bachelor near Niagara. The post mark showed that the letter had been mailed at Larimore.”

“John Urbanski was a young man about five feet seven inches in height, weight 145 pounds, light hair (almost white) and light complexion.”

“He was sometimes called John Miller and such may have been the name he was called when working near Niagara.”

In the century since Butler’s crimes were revealed, little progress has been made and the victims have never been positively identified. There have been a number of theories proposed. The age and gender of the victims has been disputed with some claiming they were all male. Others have speculated that they were all housekeepers on the Butler farm.

In the age of DNA, some identification of the victims should be possible, right? A story from the Ward County Independent on September 2, 1915 said the bones of the victims were held in Grand Forks at the Office of Sheriff Art Turner, but WDAY TV/Fargo reported in 2016 that, upon hearing of the crime, townspeople flooded to the Butler home and looted the bones of the victims. The whereabouts of the bones are unknown today. Unless someone comes forward with the remains, no DNA analysis is possible. In a further blow to the investigation, the original case files, if they ever existed, are missing, possibly destroyed or lost over the years. The Butler home was razed, and today a workshop owned by an area family stands on the site.

Who were the victims of Eugene Butler? We might never know. Really, our only hope for resolution at this point is in the slim chance that someone still alive can provide a break in the case. Perhaps someone reading this might have their memory jogged, maybe they found some bones in a box in their attic, or remember a story told by their parents or grandparents that could provide a break in the case of the midnight rider, Eugene Butler.

See also: The Wolf Family Murders

See also: Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

See also: Niagara, North Dakota

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Hamberg Flashback

Hamberg Flashback

We visited Hamberg, North Dakota, a near ghost town in Wells County, about 18 miles east of Harvey, for the first time in 2008, to photograph an old school which has since burned in an accidental fire.

Thanks to Heidi Ermer, we can now take a brief look at Hamberg as it appeared in yesteryear when there were residents numbering in the hundreds, as versus the approximate 20 residents who live there today. Heidi sent us the following postcards. The exact year of these photos is unknown.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Legend of the Devils Lake Monster

Legend of the Devils Lake Monster

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know “ghosts” is a metaphor that refers to the ghosts of our past, and most of the time, that manifests itself here in the form of photos of our vanishing places. Sometimes though, we run across a story so interesting, a piece of forgotten history or local lore so fascinating, that we feel compelled to write about it. This is one of those instances

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

That Time Our Vehicle Went to the Ghost Town in the Sky

That Time Our Vehicle Went to the Ghost Town in the Sky

On occasion we’ve been asked if we know how many miles we’ve driven in pursuit of North Dakota ghost towns and abandoned places, but we’ve never really had an answer because we didn’t really start keeping track of our mileage until a few years ago. We did, however, have a metric we used to keep track of how much driving we’ve done… the number of vehicles we’ve gone through. We’ve driven about ten different vehicles, and worn-out three of them on the backroads of North Dakota, and two of them actually gave up during a trip to shoot abandoned places.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Lonely James River Church on a Hill

Lonely James River Church on a Hill

We’ve passed this place a dozen times in our travels. It usually happens something like this… we’re on a tight schedule, wanting to get to all of the places we’ve planned to shoot before the sun sets, or the weather turns bad, so we pass on by, promising to hit it next time. Then, we usually get ten minutes down the road, and we start regretting the choice not to stop. So, this time we decided to stop and photograph this lonely James River Church on a hill overlooking Highway 200, about 16 miles east of Carrington, or 30 miles west of Cooperstown.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Ghost Town Charbonneau, North Dakota

Ghost Town Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in McKenzie County, about fifteen minutes west of Watford City. As far back as 1960, Charbonneau had already been de-listed from the Census, but according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Charbonneau was founded in 1913 and a peak population of 125 was reported in 1920. Charbonneau’s name was derived from nearby Charbonneau Creek, which was in turn named for the interpreter on the Lewis & Clark expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Watch Lincoln Valley Become a Ghost Town

Watch Lincoln Valley Become a Ghost Town

We’ve visited the ghost town of Lincoln Valley a number of times, and we’ve posted about why it became a ghost town ( a railroad that never arrived, primarily). We’ve heard stories and read newspaper articles about the glory days, and marveled at descriptions of a town that included churches, stores, a gas station, an implement… all the things you would expect in a small rural town. It was hard to imagine, though, considering we visited for the first time in 2004, long after Joe Leintz, the last resident, had gone, and after almost all of Lincoln Valley’s structures had disappeared. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

The Twin Towers of Josephine

The Twin Towers of Josephine

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.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Ghost Town Lincoln Valley, North Dakota

Ghost Town Lincoln Valley, North Dakota

Lincoln Valley, North Dakota is in Sheridan County, about 8 miles NE of McClusky. Lincoln Valley was a primarily German/Russian settlement when it was founded in 1900 by George and Conrad C. Reiswig as Lincoln. In 1912 the name was changed to Lincoln Valley. There were hopes that the railroad would come through Lincoln Valley and spur a boom, but the tracks never came and Lincoln Valley slowly withered.

We first visited Lincoln Valley in 2004 and took these photos. Before we even made it into town, we ran into an intriguing home on the northeast edge of town. It was in the middle of a field with no driveway or outbuildings… just a lonely home, all alone and decaying. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Hurricane Lake Church Approaches the End

Hurricane Lake Church Approaches the End

At one time, there was a “town” near Hurricane Lake, in the northeast corner of Pierce County, about 7 miles northeast of York, North Dakota. It was a “town” because it had a post office, but in reality it never had a sizable population. Hurricane Lake was founded early in relation to many of the towns we visit — in the 1880s — and was a stage coach stop, never having had the benefit of a railroad line to boost development. There was a hotel at the north end of Hurricane Lake to serve travelers on the stage line, but the post office shut down in 1905 and today there is nothing left of the original Hurricane Lake. At present, the area is home to the Hurricane Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and this crumbling church and still-used cemetery are the only man-made signs of the settlers who once lived in the vicinity of Hurricane Lake. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Revisiting Nanson: The Ghost Town in Waving Country

Revisiting Nanson: The Ghost Town in Waving Country

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.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Four Book Combo w/ Free Puzzle

Four Book Combo w/ Free Puzzle

Get all four of our books with a Ghosts of North Dakota 4-book combo:

  • Ghosts of North Dakota Volume 1: Special Edition (softcover, featuring twenty pages of content not included in the original)
  • Ghosts of North Dakota Volumes 2 and 3 in the original hardcovers
  • Churches of the High Plains (hardcover)

PuzzlesThat’s 426 total pages, in four full-color books featuring some of the best photos from the Ghosts of North Dakota project — ghost towns, near-ghost towns, churches and abandoned places across the state of North Dakota (plus a few places in surrounding states and provinces like Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Manitoba), plus comments from the photographers, historical tidbits, and more.

Plus for a limited time, order this four book combo and we’ll include a 1000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle for free! Ten puzzles to choose from: Candy Wrapper, Railroads, Gas & Oil, Board Games, Travel Posters, Neon Signs, Lunch Boxes, Movie Posters, Route 66, and National Parks. These are available in limited quantities, so order now.

All four books and a puzzle, $110.00 In-stock.

Choose Puzzle


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

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.

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy

Norway Lutheran Church Overlooks Perseverance

Norway Lutheran Church Overlooks Perseverance

We visited this beautiful place, Norway Lutheran Church, in April of 2017. It’s in McHenry County, about 15 miles southwest of Towner, North Dakota, and it is perched on the hill above the Souris River Valley. The Souris, known to locals as the “Mouse River”, has flooded many times, particularly in 1969 and 2011 (a 1976 flood was serious, but not as severe as ’69 or ’11), and 6 years later, the legacy of the 2011 flood can still be seen everywhere. Just down the way from this church, a gravel road still stands blocked-off, partly underwater. Dead wood lies along the river bank in heaps, piled there by land owners after thousands of trees, live and dead, were uprooted and sent drifting downriver in the deluge. In places, there are the remains of flooded buildings, but in many more, new constructions, nicely landscaped and brightly painted. From a safe spot well above the flood plain, and in the tradition of the hardy settlers who came here more than a century earlier, Norway Lutheran Church overlooks perseverance. 

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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. @NorthDakotaTroy