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How Much Longer for Ghost Town Arena?

How Much Longer for Ghost Town Arena?

We first visited Arena, North Dakota, a ghost town in Burleigh County, about 35 miles northeast of Bismarck, in 2004, and we’ve been keeping our eyes on it ever since, with the assistance of some kindred spirit adventurers who check-in from time to time to let us know what’s happening.

Arena, North Dakota

We’ve been told the tiny one-room school shown above was originally somewhere else, and that it was moved to this location. A different building, Arena Public School, was torn down in the 90s, but we got some photos of it thanks to Dale Fisher.

Arena, North Dakota

Above: Looking northwest on Arena’s only remaining street. There is more here than can be seen in the photo. In the overgrowth on the far left, the home below slowly succumbs to nature. When we first visited in 2004, this place was not nearly so subject to nature’s encroachment.

Arena, North Dakota

One of the reasons we chose to revisit Arena is because someone had tipped us off that, just beyond the home shown above, something new had appeared in this prairie ghost town–the home shown below.

Arena, North Dakota

Someone has recently moved this home into Arena, where it now sits on cinder blocks and wood cribbing. Whether the owner intends to live in this location, or is just storing this home here, we don’t know. After being a ghost town for over three decades, could Arena be on the verge of becoming an inhabited place again?

Arena, North Dakota

We’ve been told this little yellow house was the last inhabited structure in Arena, and that a gentleman named Mike Forth was the last resident. The house had apparently been uninhabited for some time before he moved in and lived here for a short time in the 1980s.

Arena, North Dakota

Arena, North Dakota

The interior of the yellow house looks much the same as it did when we visited 12 years earlier.

Arena, North Dakota

The former St. John’s Lutheran Church is the most prominent structure in Arena, and one of our favorites. We featured it on the cover of our book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 3, and several friends have periodically updated us on the condition of this place over the years. When we first visited, one wall of the cinderblock foundation had collapsed. Today, things are much worse.

Arena, North Dakota

Both sides of the cinderblock foundation have now completely collapsed. It if weren’t for the row of columns supporting the center beam, this church would have imploded already into a heap of lumber. How long St. John’s can remain standing this way is still in question.

Arena, North Dakota

From a distance, it’s clear that gravity is beginning to take a toll on this old prairie church. How many more winters of heavy snowfall can it withstand?

Arena, North Dakota

Arena, North Dakota

Arena, North Dakota

Arena, North Dakota

Around back, the block chimney has collapsed like a stack of legos into the back yard.

Arena, North Dakota

Arena, North Dakota

We made a point to pause for a moment, to take a photo and one long look at St. John’s before we left, in case it’s no longer standing the next time we visit.

Arena, North Dakota

Distracted by the “Oh Wow” factor of the church, we never paid much attention to the grain elevators on our previous visits, but they are an attraction themselves.

Arena, North Dakota

It’s hard to imagine the days when train tracks split this landscape and locomotives rumbled through. You can see the remains of the railbed on satellite imagery, but on the ground, the elevator is the only clue that the railroad once served Arena.

Arena, North Dakota

With one school gone, and a church about to collapse, but a new home suddenly onsite, we’re unsure about the future of this place. How much longer for ghost town Arena?

Arena, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Arena: Nine Years Later

Arena: Nine Years Later

We first visited Arena in May of 2004.  Nine years later, we returned to this rolling spot on the prairie in Burleigh County and found things much the same, if somewhat weathered.

St. John’s Lutheran church still stands, though the white paint has weathered considerably over the last nine years.  The cinderblock foundation on the east side of the church has continued to crumble, and will likely cause the church to topple into its own basement eventually.  The outhouse out back has also crumbled in the last nine years.

The yellow house last occupied by the grandparents of Marlon Leno (his account is in the comments section, here) is obviously visited by vandals and party-hounds from time to time — the devastated window frames tell the story.  The small white school house which was moved to the Arena town site from somewhere else still looks solid.

On the trip that led us to Arena on Memorial Weekend of 2013, we were plagued by terrible weather all morning.  Flat gray, overcast skies, fog and rain.  When we arrived in Arena, we expected more of the same.  But something incredible happened the moment we got close to the church — the sun peeked out and some blue sky started to show. We couldn’t help but smile and start snapping.

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND
Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Arena in 1992

Arena in 1992

Arena was only the second true ghost town we ever visited, back in 2004.  At that time, the school had already been torn down and we were never able to locate some large photos of it, until now.

Thanks to these photos contributed by Dale Fisher, we can now see Arena as it looked in 1992.  There are a few interesting comparisons to be made with our photos from 2004:

In the photo above, we can see a small home which was not standing when we visited in 2004. The church still stands, as does the yellow house behind the two pine trees. But there was no trace of the little house in between. On the left side, the light brown structure (just above the car) was also gone by the time of our visit. And at the far left, partially cut off, is the little white building which we photographed and also still stands.

This was the Arena school — a place we really regret missing out on.  You can see the school looks remarkably better in this 1992 image as versus the image contributed by Stephen Berg in our Arena gallery… the windows are still intact in this image, and the structure just looks more stable.  Someone did a real number on this school in the twelve years between ’92 and ’04.

A question we’d still like to answer… what year did the last full-time resident move out of Arena?

Original Content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Arena, ND

Arena, ND

Arena was founded with a rural post office January 23rd, 1906. It is said to have had a peak population of 150 around 1920, but had withered to 35 residents by 1930. It is now abandoned.

arena-schoolThe photo shown left is the former Arena School, photo contributed by Stephen Berg. As of our visit in 2004, the school was gone. This was the only photo we’d been able to locate of the school for quite some time, but in summer of 2011, Dale Fisher contributed a few shots of Arena in 1992.

Although there aren’t any residents in the immediate vicinity of the town, there is a yellow house on the townsite which had blankets hanging in the windows, suggesting someone used it for something relatively recently.

Marlon Leno commented at the bottom of our Arena in 1992 entry, and filled-in quite a few of the details.  Marlon said his grandparents lived in the yellow house as late as 1981, and that his cousin, George Pehl, demolished the school when it became a hazard.  Mr. Leno also informed us of the name of the church — St. Johns Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod.

The road leading south out of Arena is a short, scenic drive, bordered tightly on both shoulders by a couple of small lakes.

 

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC