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Category: Sanish, ND

Mountrail County
Abandoned in 1953

Underwater Ghost Towns of the North Dakota Missouri River

Underwater Ghost Towns of the North Dakota Missouri River

The construction of Garrison Dam flooded the Missouri River Valley and created Lake Sakakawea, something we’ve covered before in posts about Sanish and Four Bears Bridge.  We’ve photographed both a church and a home that once stood in Elbowoods — structures that were moved to higher ground to avoid the flood.

Here’s a graphic, based on a Google Earth satellite shot, showing the Missouri River Valley pre and post Garrison Dam, and the former towns which had to be evacuated. There are several more not shown on this map, including Expansion, Mannhaven, and Red Butte, which are all gone, or 99.9% gone anyway.  There are still a few things to photograph though, and we hope to surprise you with some stuff in the near-future.  Until then, please enjoy and share the graphic.

Underwater Ghost Towns

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Sanish Rodeo and More

Sanish Rodeo and More

Sanish is no more.  It disappeared beneath the waves when the Garrison Dam created Lake Sakakawea and we’ve spent some time collecting photos of old Sanish when it still existed.  These photos were sent in by Don Hammer, scans he got from a friend’s scrap book years ago. These are mostly in the 1950 to ’53 era.

Sanish, North Dakota

Sanish, North Dakota

More than any other event, Sanish was known for the Sanish rodeo.  Click the photo above until you see the full-size enlargement and take a look at the size of the crowd. Thousands of people came from all over the nation to watch and participate in the Sanish Rodeo.

Sanish, North Dakota

Sanish, North Dakota

Sanish, North Dakota

See all of our Sanish galleries here.

Sanish, North Dakota

Photos contributed by Don Hammer
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Before the Flood: Leaving Sanish, North Dakota

Before the Flood: Leaving Sanish, North Dakota

We’ve posted several galleries dedicated to Sanish, North Dakota, the former Missouri River town that was dismantled timber and brick and dispersed to higher ground when the Garrison Dam was erected, flooding this part of the Missouri River Valley.  There’s a gallery dedicated to the construction of Four Bears Bridge, our visit to the crumbling remains during historic low water levels in 2005, a Christmas in Sanish gallery, and a look down the street in front of the school and church, but no two photos we’ve seen so far capture this time in our history as these two photos submitted by Don Hammer.

The first photo was taken in October, 1952.

Sanish, North Dakota

Make note of the landmarks.  The school in the background, upper left, and the little black building between (and partially obscured by) the elevators in the lower left. Next, take a look at the photo below, taken from almost the same spot on the bluff in December, 1953.  The abandonment of Sanish is nearly complete.

Sanish, North Dakota

The school is still there in the background, and the camera angle is shifted slightly to the left, so you can see the white church to the left of the school (it was just slightly out of frame in the upper photo), but both of the elevators near the black building in the center are gone, as is most of Sanish. Sanish and Four Bears Bridge were also featured in our book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 3.

Photos submitted by Don Hammer, one-time resident of Sanish.

Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Christmas in Sanish

Christmas in Sanish

These photos of Christmas in Sanish, North Dakota come from Staci Roe, who came upon them in a hospital rummage sale and saved them from the trash. They are from the estate of Marvin L Knapp and the photographer is unknown.  Photos of the construction of the footings for Four Bears Bridge were in the same collection.

These photos were taken around sixty-five years ago, which means all but the youngest of the people in these photos have passed on, but on the off-chance you recognize anyone in these photos, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Christmas in Sanish

Look closely and you can see Santa Claus on the left, surrounded by the townsfolk of Sanish.  Perhaps Santa felt a duty to pay some extra special attention to folks who would be saying goodbye to their homes in just a few short years.

Christmas in Sanish

It was Christmas of ’47 or ’48, somewhere thereabouts, in one of Sanish’s watering holes… maybe The Round Up Bar, though we can’t tell for sure in these photos.

Christmas in Sanish

According to a commenter below, this couple would become husband and wife, Richard and Francis Mayer — their “happily ever after” just moved to higher ground.

Christmas in Sanish

The distinctive counter in this photo can also be seen in the photo of the cigar stand below, but it’s unclear whether the establishment in these two photos is the same place as the bar shown above.

Christmas in Sanish

Christmas in Sanish

Christmas in Sanish

Going through these photos of life in Sanish, we notice a recurring theme… hardhats. There were many workers involved in the road and bridge projects that preceded the abandonment of Sanish, and we’ve seen many of them in this collection.

Christmas in Sanish

Christmas in Sanish

The photo shown above has the caption below on the back. Not sure what it says.

Christmas in Sanish

Christmas in Sanish

This photo was the only one in the batch that had a date on it, 1948, and a name we can’t read.

Christmas in Sanish

Photos contributed by Staci Roe, photographer unknown
Original content copyright © 2015 Sonic Tremor Media

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Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Mighty rivers require mighty bridges and several impressive examples have spanned the North Dakota stretch of the Missouri River.  The river valley near the former town of Sanish has been home to several.  First, the Verendrye Bridge, a steel truss bridge completed in 1927, crossed the Missouri at Sanish.  In 1934, the first bridge to be known as Four Bears Bridge was built downstream near the town of Elbowoods.  They served North Dakota dependably through the thirties and forties.

In 1947, construction began on the Garrison Dam project, one of the last of the big water projects.  When complete, it would flood the Missouri River Valley and create the reservoir we know today as Lake Sakakawea.  The lake would flood the town sites of Sanish, Elbowoods, and Van Hook, plus it would leave both the Verendrye and Four Bears Bridges underwater.  A much taller, much longer bridge was required.

The Verendrye Bridge was demolished, but the center span of the Four Bears Bridge at Elbowoods was dismantled and floated forty miles upstream to be erected atop taller piers near Sanish, creating a new Four Bears Bridge, almost a mile long, and spanning Lake Sakakawea.  That is the version of the Four Bears Bridge depicted here.  It was replaced in 2006 by a new, modern Four Bears Bridge, making it the third bridge to wear the name.

We’ve long been fascinated by the legacy of these long gone places, specifically because their physical presence has been erased.  Not long ago, we put out a call for photos, and we got a response from a native-born North Dakotan that included all of the incredible photos you see here.

These photos were contributed by Staci Roe after she ran across them by chance some years ago.

When I lived in Broken Bow, NE we had a twice yearly hospital rummage sale which I volunteered for. One of those years a box of belongings for Marvin L Knapp was donated to the sale. As one of the volunteers proceeded to throw it away I told her to wait.

Staci saved the photos you see here — photos of the construction of the footings for the Four Bears Bridge at Sanish.  We don’t know much about Mr. Knapp (he was an Army man, his nickname was Shorty, he was stationed in Sanish for a time) and although we believe he took these photos, we can’t say for certain. They were taken in 1948 or 1949.

Considering the quality of the photos and the historic value of the collection, it’s scary to imagine how close they came to going into a trash can.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Above: The Verendrye Bridge spans the Missouri River.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Above and below: views of the future site of Four Bears Bridge, from opposing sides of the river.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Construction begins on the first footing. Eventually the entire river bottom you see here would become the bottom of Lake Sakakawea, with only the bluffs in the background still above water.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

The identities of the men in these photos is unknown, but look at that crew… this photographer caught a perfect group shot that reminds us a lot of the New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam photo from 1932.  Can you identify any of the men in these photos? Please leave a comment, or contact us.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Another fantastic shot of unidentified workers by an unknown photographer.

Building Four Bears Bridge

What a great shot… workers suspended in mid-air, and look at all those incredible vintage automobiles.  Awesome.

Building Four Bears BridgeBuilding Four Bears Bridge

Above: The first pier is nearly complete.  Below: a second pier goes up.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Above and below: you can see the beginnings of a third pier, and off in the distance, piers begin going into the Missouri River bottom.

Building Four Bears Bridge

We visited the Sanish area in 2005, and we snapped a photo of this bridge with the new Four Bears Bridge under construction directly adjacent. This bridge was knocked down in a controlled demolition in 2005, captured excellently here.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Roads had to be built both for future traffic, and to help the construction crews reach the site.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Building Four Bears Bridge

Eventually, long sections of bridge were built to close the gaps between the neighboring bluffs and the new piers which would support the center span of the Four Bears Bridge.

Building Four Bears Bridge

Four Bears Bridge

Above: The completed Four Bears Bridge accommodates the rising waters of Lake Sakakawea.

Photos submitted by Staci Roe, photographer unknown, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Lost Beneath the Lake: Sanish, North Dakota

Lost Beneath the Lake: Sanish, North Dakota

Old Sanish, North Dakota came to an end in 1953, when the river valley it occupied for over half a century became the bottom of North Dakota’s newest reservoir, Lake Sakakawea. Sanish’s residents left for higher ground, as did the residents of other low-lying towns like Van Hook and Elbowoods.  Buildings were demolished and the land flooded as the reservoir filled behind Garrison Dam. A new Sanish was founded up the hill, but most residents settled elsewhere.

We photographed some of the remaining foundations in Sanish back in 2005 when the lake levels were very low, ruins which had again slipped beneath the lake as of summer 2012.

We are actively seeking old photos and postcards of Sanish, Elbowoods, and Van Hook.  If you have any to share, please contact us.

Sanish, North Dakota, 1926

The postcard shown above is a scene from 1926.  It was sent in by Sanish-born John Morris Benson who says:

I was born in Sanish in 1936 but left before memories of the physical appearance of Sanish was imbedded in memory.

The valley you see in the photo above would eventually fill with water to become Lake Sakakawea, necessitating a new Four Bears Bridge.

Sanish-40to50

The photo above shows the famed Sanish rodeo, an event that drew people from miles around.  Tom Jorgenson of Williston says it was taken by a family friend and he dates it somewhere in the late-forties to early-fifties. The arches of Verendrye Bridge can be seen just above the treeline, right of center.

Ten Lost North Dakota Places

Ten Lost North Dakota Places

It’s always a thrill to see enthusiastic residents get involved in saving historically and culturally significant places in their communities, but in North Dakota’s vanishing small towns, the losses frequently outnumber the wins by a significant margin. It’s something we’ve seen time and again in over ten years of photographing North Dakota.

What follows is our personal list, by no means exhaustive, of ten significant North Dakota places that have unfortunately lost their battle with time.

1. The Opp House

This home stood in a field outside Lincoln Valley, North Dakota until the early-2000’s when it was razed due to safety and infestation concerns. It was the former home of the Opp family, who just packed up and left one day, leaving most of their belongings behind. It became a very early icon of our website and we’re saddened to see it go.

2. Hamberg School

A fire claimed this Hamberg School on April 1st, 2012. It was a beautiful place.

3. Stardust 17

We took these photos in August of 2011 and in the fall of 2012, they took down what remains of the screen at Stardust 17, the drive-in theater outside of Grafton, North Dakota.

Fillmore, North Dakota

4. Fillmore

The incredible near-ghost town we visited in 2006 is no more, most of it destroyed by fires of suspicious origin according to some local residents.

Sanger, North Dakota

5. Sanger County House

The Sanger County House, a former boarding house for travelers, and perhaps the most significant original remaining structure in Sanger, North Dakota, has collapsed.

6. Deisem

This church is all that remains of the rural outpost that was once Deisem. This former Seventh Day Adventist Church is severely structurally compromised. When it finally collapses, the above-ground remains of Deisem will pass into history.

7. Bentley Church

Less than two years after we photographed this church in Bentley, the steeple had collapsed. We’re told the church is today just a pile of lumber.

Temple, North Dakota

8. Temple School

Contributor Mark Johnson visited Temple, a true ghost town, in 2004 and photographed this school. In the years since, the school has been moved and re-purposed as an addition to a home.

9. Fargo College

Fargo College opened in 1890 and blossomed into a sizable campus over the next few decades, including the Jones Hall building shown above, and later Dill Hall and a Carnegie Library. Finances took a nosedive however beginning with the Great Depression, and by 1964 all but one remaining original structure had been torn down. The only remaining structure is the former Watson Hall Conservatory of Music at 601 Fourth Street South, which is now the home of the Fargo Fine Arts Club.

moodys-1910-thumb

10. Moody’s Department Store

Moody’s was  a landmark department store in Fargo at the gateway to the west. This store stood on the corner of a city block in Fargo with the Waldorf Hotel one block away and the Northern Pacific Depot across the street — it was frequently the first stop for any traveler headed west on the railroad through North Dakota. The Moody’s store was a character in the drama that played out in the Great Fargo Fire of 1893 — home to a fire alarm box for which nobody could find a key. The city bought the building for so-called urban renewal in 1966, and the site is now home to the Bank of the West building, completed in 1973. Many of these Fargo places were featured in our book, Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found.

Bonus Place: Sanish, North Dakota

Upon completion of the Garrison Dam and the subsequent flooding of the Missouri River Valley to create the Lake Sakakawea reservoir, Sanish was abandoned in 1953 and the residents moved to higher ground. We photographed the remaining foundations when the lake was at extremely low-levels in 2005.

If you enjoy posts like this, please check out our hardcover coffee table books in our online store, or pick them up in a store near you.

See also: Building Four Bears Bridge

See also: Ten More Lost North Dakota Places