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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

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

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

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

The Story of How Ghosts of North Dakota Began

The Story of How Ghosts of North Dakota Began

It occurred to me the other day that we’ve told the story about how Ghosts of North Dakota began in countless interviews over the years, but we’ve never posted it here, so for those who might be interested in how this project began, this is the tale.

In 2003, myself and Terry Hinnenkamp, my roadtrip friend and fellow adventurer, were working at the same Fargo Top 40 radio station, Y94. Halloween was coming up and we had this goofy idea that it would be neat to find an abandoned place and spend the night in it while recording our experiences for a program we would put together later, to air on Halloween — a kind of radio campfire story.

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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

Tunbridge Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Tunbridge Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Tunbridge Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church is in Pierce County, about five miles west of Rugby, North Dakota, or ten miles west of another place we recently visited, Meyer Township School #1.

Tunbridge Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church

This church is particularly beautiful, and you can see it from US Highway 2 if you find yourself traveling in the area. I’ve driven by it a dozen times and always said “I’ll stop next time.” This time, I finally did.

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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

Nielsville Bridge Drone Flyover Video

Nielsville Bridge Drone Flyover Video

A while back we posted a blog about the Nielsville/Cummings bridge over the Red River between Cummings, North Dakota and Nielsville, Minnesota. The bridge has deteriorated significantly and is presently closed pending replacement by a new bridge.

Max Schumacher (YouTube Channel here) recently visited and sent us an email to share the drone video he captured. It’s amazing footage of this historic Red River crossing, and it’s available in HD too, so if you have the capability, stream it to your largest TV for full effect.

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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

Is Minot’s Derelict Oak Park Theater Coming to Life?

Is Minot’s Derelict Oak Park Theater Coming to Life?

Oak Park Theater in Minot has been vacant almost as long as I can remember. I was born and raised in Minot, and I attended quite a few movies in this theater as a kid. I saw Jaws here (through my fingers, because my hands were clasped over my face every time that music started…. duuuuuuh duh), the forgettable ensemble movie Earthquake, Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and most notably, Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in 1977. By the time The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters in 1980, Oak Park Theater had fallen out of favor and Cine 5 at Dakota Square Mall was the new place to see a movie. For most of my young adult life, I remember this theater, and the strip mall in the same parking lot, as a vacant, derelict facility in somewhat sad condition.

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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

Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found Has Arrived

Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found Has Arrived

Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found, the latest book from Troy Larson, co-author of the Ghosts of North Dakota series, and Churches of the High Plains, has arrived!

The book, and the website, are an in-depth look at the visual landscape of the Fargo-Moorhead metro, yesterday and today, through the use of vintage photographs and postcards juxtaposed with contemporary photographs from the same locations. (Grab the slider in the photo above and drag it back and forth!)

What was the first significant building in Fargo? What did downtown Moorhead originally look like? What did North Fargo look like in the aftermath of the 1957 tornado?  Landmarks lost, and local history found. Check it out!

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

How to Find Places No Longer on the Map

How to Find Places No Longer on the Map

In our quest to find lonely, out-of-the-way places to photograph, we often get recommendations from people, and many times, the coordinates of those places are just a search away. However, we’ll occasionally run across the name of a place, and when we enter the name into mapping software, the search turns up zero results. Maybe it was an “unofficial” townsite, never incorporated, and there’s no record of it… Here’s one way to find places no longer on the map

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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

6 More North Dakota Sites You’ll Love

6 More North Dakota Sites You’ll Love

We got an email request from someone not too long ago to do another “More North Dakota Sites You’ll Love” post (the original is here), so we’ve gathered up another handful of North Dakota-related sites you should check out.

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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 Dakota Before the Interstates and Garrison Dam

North Dakota Before the Interstates and Garrison Dam

One of the more helpful techniques we’ve used in finding abandoned and out-of-the-way places to photograph is examining old maps. Abandonment frequently happens in the name of “progress.” When a highway was expanded, it frequently left places to wither. Similarly, the Garrison Dam project forced the abandonment of numerous places, like Sanish and Elbowoods (to name a few), and prompted the demolition of bridges and the abandonment of highways.

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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 Terrible Fates Our Ancestors Faced

8 Terrible Fates Our Ancestors Faced

We’ve all heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about having to walk to school with no shoes, uphill (both ways), and there’s certainly an air of humorous exaggeration in many of those tales, but not too much exaggeration. The truth is, daily existence as a pioneer on the prairie was a hard life, and the people who came to the northern plains were taking their lives in their hands and facing dangers we can scarcely imagine today. Yes, we have our own challenges today, but take a moment to imagine living on the frontier when there were no antibiotics, or in a small city when there wasn’t a fire hydrant on every corner. At risk of sounding morbid, examining some of the terrible fates our ancestors so frequently faced helps us understand and appreciate the sacrifices they made so we could have a better life.

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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

11 North Dakota Attractions You Can Visit for Free

11 North Dakota Attractions You Can Visit for Free

One of the things we’ve always loved about photographing North Dakota’s abandoned places and roadside attractions is that it feels like an alternative form of tourism–that is to say, most of these places are interesting and fun to visit, but there are generally no crowds and no admission fees.  However, when you have the kids in the car, or Grandma and Grandpa tagging along on a day trip, sometimes you need something a little more family friendly, with fewer rusty nails to step on (and cheap is always good). So, gas up the family truckster. Here are eleven North Dakota attractions you can visit for free

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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

9 Questions with Artist Mariah Masilko

9 Questions with Artist Mariah Masilko

Mariah (MJ) Masilko is a talented artist and photographer, a kindred spirit who has shared a number of places with us over the years, including ghost town Stady, North Dakota, the end of the Masonic Lodge in Calvin, and others. We caught up with Mariah in between artist and mom activities, and she was kind enough to give us some insight on her work

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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 Photographer John Piepkorn

8 Questions with Photographer John Piepkorn

Ghosts of North Dakota has been lucky over the years to make the acquaintance of a number of talented artists and photographers who share our passion for the history and austere beauty of the prairie. One of those artists is John Piepkorn, who has contributed photos of Hanks, North Dakota (population one), the Hamlet School, and the Wheelock School, among others.

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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

Video: White Butte — The Highest Point in North Dakota

Video: White Butte — The Highest Point in North Dakota

Last summer, we had the opportunity to go back to White Butte for the first time since 2007, so we couldn’t resist the chance to go to the summit and get some GoPro video in HD.

White Butte is in Slope County, and of the fifty state high points, it is one of only seven that is on private land — North Dakota, Nebraska, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. The rest of the states’ high points lie mainly within state or national parks.

We opted not to include any narration on this one, just the beautiful view from the summit of North Dakota’s highest point.

Stream this one to your TV if you have the capability. It looks great on a big screen.

Original content copyright © 2015 Sonic Tremor Media

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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 Miniwashitu: Missouri River Monster

Legend of Miniwashitu: Missouri River Monster

The pseudo-scientific field of cryptozoology deals with theories of creatures unknown to science, many of which have their origins in Native American lore. Stories of Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, and the Wendigo in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region, originated with native people. Even North Dakota has a mysterious but little-known monster

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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

More Historic Automobile Bridges

More Historic Automobile Bridges

This is part two in our series about historic North Dakota automobile bridges. In part one, we focused on Sheyenne River crossings in southeast North Dakota. This time, we’ve photographed historic steel bridges in East-Central North Dakota, on the Sheyenne, Goose, and James Rivers.

Some of these bridges are closed and abandoned, others are still in use, and one has been restored, but they will all share the same fate without human intervention, so we’ve chosen to document them here.

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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

Historic Bridges of the Sheyenne Valley, part one

Historic Bridges of the Sheyenne Valley, part one

If you’ve followed this site for any length of time, you know we occasionally like to photograph bridges, for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s for their historic significance (like Caledonia and Romness Township bridges), and other times it’s because the bridge is huge and awe-inspiring, as is the case with the High Line, Karnak, and Gassman Coulee railroad trestles.

In this case, we’ve decided to photograph most of the historic automobile bridges of the Sheyenne River Valley, some abandoned but many still in use, while they still exist

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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

20 True Ghost Towns: Population Zero

20 True Ghost Towns: Population Zero

Defining what exactly constitutes a “ghost town” can sometimes be tricky.  In our years of exploring North Dakota’s abandoned places, we’ve often encountered former towns where the townsite itself is empty, but there’s a farm about half a mile down the road.  Sometimes a former town like Sims, North Dakota has an active church, but nobody actually lives

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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

President Roosevelt Visits Dust Bowl North Dakota

President Roosevelt Visits Dust Bowl North Dakota

The Dust Bowl was a contributing factor in the abandonment of farms and rural towns in North Dakota during the 1930s, a subject we’ve covered before. Western North Dakota was particularly hard hit, documented in these photos of Grassy Butte.

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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

Remembering Black Sunday

Remembering Black Sunday

April 14th, 2015 is the eightieth anniversary of Black Sunday, arguably the worst day of the Dust Bowl era. Dust storms that had plagued North America for a decade reached a terrible crescendo on that day, with dust clouds taller than the tallest buildings enveloping and blanketing Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and many other 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

An Early Spring

An Early Spring

It is looking like an early spring this year, and you need no more evidence than these photos, taken on March 15th, 2015, in south central 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

Vintage View of Bismarck, Dakota Territory, 1883

Vintage View of Bismarck, Dakota Territory, 1883

In 1883, Bismarck had only been “Bismarck” for ten years, having existed first as a tiny frontier settlement called Missouri Crossing, then as Edwinton, until 1873. Bismarck assumed an important place in the history of the American west when it supplanted Yankton as the capital of Dakota Territory in 1883. Settlers were soon streaming in.

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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 Great Bismarck Fire of 1898

The Great Bismarck Fire of 1898

Like Fargo in 1893 and Chicago in 1871, Bismarck fell victim to a massive wind-whipped fire on August 8th, 1898.

Bismarck Fire 1898
Photo courtesy BismarckCafe.com

As was the case with so many pioneer-era cities around the nation, Bismarck in 1898 was a city constructed largely of wood. When coupled with a frequently unrelenting prairie wind, any unusual dry spell created extraordinarily dangerous conditions.

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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

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.

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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 Grasshopper Plague

The Grasshopper Plague

The 1930s could be described as a perfect storm of hardship in America. The Great Depression devastated the national economy and job market, and a persistent drought compounded matters in the Midwest, contributing to the Black Blizzards of the Dust Bowl era. The skies from Texas to the Canadian plains were sometimes so dark, cities would light their streetlamps in the daytime. Crops had already failed due to the drought, causing families to relocate, businesses to close up, and populations to sink. When you dared think things couldn’t get any worse, they did. 

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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