Marmarth is in the far southwest corner of North Dakota, in the Badlands of Slope County, about seventy miles as the crow flies southwest of Dickinson. It’s a town we fell in love with the first time we visited in 2007, because, although there are still over 100 residents there (136 in the 2010 census), there are also a number of very impressive abandoned structures to photograph.
Unfortunately, Marmarth is also a town where we have not had very good luck. In 2007, we were photographing the town when we discovered there was something wrong with the brakes in my Jeep (Jeep stands for “Just Empty Every Pocket” in case you didn’t know) and we were forced to make a side trip to Bowman for repairs. Upon returning home, we posted our photos and discovered there was one quite vocal and rude Marmarth resident who took serious offense that we had the nerve to photograph her town and “brand it a ghost town.” She made her opinion known with comments and emails with LOTS OF CAPS.
This time, we had hoped to have better luck, and to make it clear that we have not ever, nor ever would, brand Marmarth a ghost town. We commonly photograph fading structures in lots of places where people still live. On this trip however, we had a different kind of difficulty — we spent a lot of time talking with local residents and didn’t have as much time to shoot.
Our attraction to Marmarth has a lot to do with the old west ambience — the chalky Badlands landscape, the remote location, and the tendency of local business owners to embrace that role with enthusiasm and a sense of humor. The sign on the front door at Geezer’s illustrates the point. When the door is closed, the store is also closed.
A powerful thunderstorm had moved through the night before we visited Marmarth, and the evidence was visible on the floor of a former service station on Main Street. The rainwater flowed to the hole in the middle of the sagging roof, and poured in torrents onto the floor. This kind of weathering will lead to a collapse of this old service station, if a fire or the bulldozer doesn’t get it first.
Since our last visit, the property owner has thoroughly boarded-up the former 1st National Bank and Barber Auditorium buildings.
The Mystic Theatre, which we’re told is still occasionally used, has been nicely renovated since we last saw it.
The small building next to Marmarth’s Pastime Bar and Steakhouse had a scaffold set up along one wall, like someone had planned to make renovations, but when we looked inside, it looks like the only thing going on is beer consumption.
The Pastime is where we ate last time we were in Marmarth. Their food is excellent, and we tell people about it whenever Marmarth comes up in conversation. If you find yourself there, highly recommended.
The patio outside the Pastime is the kind of place I could sit for a week with some adult beverages and just enjoy the outdoors.
The former railroad bunkhouse has been nicely painted and seemed to be doing more business since the last time we were there. Truthfully, all of Marmarth seemed to be more active since the last time we were there. Although the population is (a little) smaller than it was previously, it seemed like oil and tourist traffic were making it a little more lively place.
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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy