If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to look at these photos and assume this place was struck by a powerful prairie tornado. Grain bins are ripped open, the roof of the former bar has caved-in, and the building leans at a precarious angle. Pieces of several structures have blown down and lie decaying in the grass some distance away with their rusty nails pointed skyward, waiting for an unsuspecting explorer to test their tetanus shots with an errant step. Nobody would blame you for believing Dorothy and Toto just blew away minutes before, but the reality is, it’s been a slow-motion disaster in ghost town Aylmer, North Dakota. …
The cornerstone for this church along County Road 5 reads “Bethel Hauges Norsk E.V. Luth. Kirke, 1915”. Put more plainly, that’s Bethel Hauges Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. The building is located in northern Wells County, about 10 miles east of Harvey, and although the cemetery is still active, the building stands abandoned and boarded-up. In the place where the Lord’s word could once be heard on Sunday mornings by 80 or 100 parishioners at a time, Bethel Lutheran awaits just one more potluck. …
Kincaid Power Plant is about four miles south of Columbus, North Dakota, in Burke County, about seventeen miles southwest of Flaxton. It reached the end of its journey and was abandoned in 1966.
The 1971 Burke County and White Earth Valley Historical Society book describes this plant as follows. …
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. …
The Hutmacher farm is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered the midwest’s finest still-standing example of the earthen abodes built by Germans from Russia. Believe it or not, Alex Hutmacher lived here until 1979.
The Hutmacher farm has been undergoing restoration. You can get more information here. These photos contributed by Kim Dvorak.
Stady was founded in 1907 and was a stopping point on old highway 85. The peak population of 60 had dropped to 11 by 1940, after the highway moved. Stady is now a true ghost town — totally abandoned.
MJ Masilko contributed these photos with the following comments:
I’m sending you some pictures I took in May of 2006 of a ghost town called Stady. It’s in Divide County, 16 miles SSW of Fortuna. There didn’t seem to be any people living there, and we only saw 3 structures: a store, a house, and something else (maybe another store).
Forbes, North Dakota is in Dickey County, about thirty miles southeast of Ashley, right on the South Dakota border. On nearly every trip, we go out looking forward to seeing a certain town, but on the way home, we realize another town was better or more fun. In this adventure in June of 2011, Forbes was that town — the pleasant surprise. …
Argusville is located right off I29 about fifteen minutes north of Fargo. It was founded in 1880 and dwindled to around 100 residents by the 1980’s, but experienced a population boom after the turn of the millennium. Argusville now has a population of 475. So this abandoned high school is a rare spot in an otherwise budding town.
The last class graduated from this school in 1997 when it was known as Cass Valley North High School. …
This is a simple truth. There is no greater pleasure per penny than searching through a box of old postcards in an antique store. A little hard on the lower back if you’re wearing the wrong pair of shoes, but pleasurable none-the-less. Here are a few old postcards featuring scenes from Marmarth.
Year of the above photo is unknown but I’m guessing early 1930s. Look closely — on the left, behind the grassy median, several black sedans are parked. And on the right, a horse waits for it’s rider to return. This photo postcard provides some insight into the original location of the depot, and the 1st National Bank/Barber Auditorium building we photographed on our first trip to Marmarth is visible on the left.
A great slice of life from old Marmarth. Everybody’s dressed to the nines, the fountain is going, and there are trains in the background. The effort that went into this photo!
Above: Marmarth High School. It no longer stands.
See Also: Marmarth, North Dakota
Original content copyright © Sonic Tremor Media 2017
When we ran our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of our first book, we offered supporters the opportunity to name a location they would like us to photograph in exchange for their support. One of our supporters asked us to visit and photograph the former Minot Air Force Station, about 14 miles south of Minot.
Minot Air Force Station was the first major Air Force installation in North Dakota, predating the other Minot and Grand Forks bases. It was originally a radar base intended to detect and identify unidentified aircraft in American airspace — a relic of the age before ballistic missiles, when the Soviet threat was from long-range bombers. …
We photographed this solitary Haynes Township school back in 2013, and although we featured it in a video, we never posted the actual photographs until now. It is in Kidder County, Haynes Township, just off Highway 3, about 11 miles north of Steele, North Dakota. A little further north are a few other places we’ve photographed, including the Tuttle School, two Clear Lake Township schools (here, and here) and true ghost town Arena, North Dakota is about 15 minutes northwest of this place. …
If we could magically travel back in time to photograph some North Dakota places, Lincoln Valley is one of the places we would choose to visit. We would go back to 1966, when Joe Leintz became the last resident of town. A church, store (really, an entire main street) and nine vacant residences still stood in Lincoln Valley at that time, and we would spend considerable time photographing it all. We would visit Joe and listen, enraptured, as he told stories of what it was like to be the only resident of town in the winter when a blizzard blew in, closing the roads and leaving Lincoln Valley cut off from the rest of Sheridan County. …
Gascoyne is in Bowman County along Highway 12 in southwestern North Dakota, about 15 minutes east of Bowman. It was founded in 1907 as a Milwaukee Road railroad townsite, originally known as Fischbein, named after an early settler.
The former school is the most prominent abandoned structure in Gascoyne. It rests on top of a hill on the west edge of town, right alongside Highway 12.
Tuberculosis, frequently referred to as “consumption” in historical documents, was arguably the most serious endemic disease and health concern of the 19th and early 20th centuries. With no “cure” to come until 1946, those afflicted with TB were prescribed rest and fresh air as a treatment, and sanatoriums like San Haven were constructed to meet the need.
Susan (Thingvold) Sande of Kalispell, Montana contributed these photos of San Haven in the tuberculosis era. The photos were taken by her aunt, Nora Thingvold, in the 1930s. …
Sanish was a thriving North Dakota town until 1953, when residents began to evacuate to higher ground. The construction of Garrison Dam, a project to provide hydroelectric power and flood control, would turn the Missouri River Valley in this part of North Dakota into a large reservoir to be named Lake Sakakawea. Sanish succumbed to the rising waters soon after the Garrison Dam embankments were closed in April of 1953, and the townsite disappeared beneath the waves of Lake Sakakawea. …
Australian adventurer and photographer Gavin Parker sent us these photos of Lonetree, North Dakota, a place that just barely came to be.
A settlement known as Lone Tree (two words) came into being in 1888 in the area that would become Ward County, Foxholm Township, in 1888, when this was still the Dakota Territory. A post office was to be founded that same year, but with Lone Tree’s fledgling status, officials thought better of it and canceled the plans. In 1890, a new post office was established, but it only lasted 18 months before it was closed and the few residents of Lone Tree had to travel by horse and wagon to Minot, 15 miles southeast, to pick up their mail. As the population grew in Des Lacs, a Great Northern Railroad stop only four miles down the track, mail service for Lone Tree was established there.
In 1902, enough settlers had arrived in Lone Tree that a third post office was established (with the name spelled as Lonetree, no space) and it would serve the town until closure in 1957. According to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick, the peak population of Lonetree was 75 residents in 1920.
According to a post made by an anonymous visitor in a ghost town forum, there were five remaining residents in Lonetree as of 2010. This ghost cathedral is one of the few historic structures remaining in town.
Do you know more about Lonetree, or this old church? Please leave a comment below.
Inside the main floor church sanctuary.
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A look in the basement of the church.
There are one or two more derelict places in Lone Tree.
Photos by Gavin Parker, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Angel Laws recently sent us some photos of a place outside Williston that we had never heard of. We asked visitors to our Facebook page for information, and we received a photo and some useful links that helped to reveal the history of this place.
Someone sent us this photo of the place we’ll refer to as the Little Muddy Creek Power House and Irrigation Plant (if anyone knows the official name of this place, please comment below). The State Historical Society of North Dakota has this photo in their collection, the work of photographer Bill Shemorry, with the following description: …
Ruso, North Dakota is in McLean County and had a reported population of 4 in the 2010 Census. A claim from an unknown source that we’ve seen around the web says Ruso is the smallest incorporated town in North Dakota. Several unincorporated towns are even smaller, like Hanks (pop. 1), and Merricourt, and ghost towns with zero residents.
Kelsey Rusch visited Ruso in 2010 and contributed these photos with the following comments:
Right off highway 41, south of Velva, you will find Ruso. Though it has ten or so abandoned buildings, there appear to be three residences as well, making it inhabited, but probably for not too much longer.
It is located just south east of the borders of McLean, Ward, and McHenry counties in a very beautiful yet desolate part of the state.
According to the North Dakota Place Names book, “The post office was established on December 1, 1906 with Edwin J Burgess as pm. The village incorporated in 1909 and by 1910 reported a population of 141, with a doctor, newpaper, and many other luxuries often missing in new townsites.” The Place Names book (first published 1988), claims the zip code was 58778 and was still open at the time. However, a sign outside what I assume was the post office suggests that it closed in 1981.
As far as the name “Ruso,” the Place Names book says the name either is a Russian word meaning “south of us,” or, as others say, it was coined from the words SOuth RUssia, which was the homeland of many of the area settlers.
The town is in a very peaceful location. The sole road passes one residence right next to the highway before leading to several abandoned ones. The post office, now a home, sits in the middle of town, next to a collapsed building and across from an empty and overgrown field. From what I can gather a section of the field used to be a baseball diamond. If only the kids who used to play there saw it today.
Further down the road sits what was once a pretty nice sized school but now is used as a residence. Around the corner and down the road sits what was once a beautiful church. Two outhouses sit to the east of the church, and to the west a flax field is planted almost all the way up to the doors of the church, which faces west. The grounds surrounding the church, unfortunately, are a mess. There is a junked bus sitting outside, as well as two or three junked pickups. Numerous other things are scattered around and it is obvious the few remaining residents do not take care of the church any more.
There were a few other abandoned buildings hidden in the trees surrounding the city but they were either posted or too overgrown to get to. If anyone has any other information about Ruso, especially about history or as to why there is a large bus that says “Huntley Project Red Devils” parked outside of the church, I’d definitely love to hear more about this place. It was very calm and serene and is in a beautiful location in the state.
Photos by Kelsey Rusch, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
We recently received an interesting batch of photos from Paul Ensign regarding Berlin, North Dakota. It’s a place we first became aware of when Sabrina Hornung sent us some photos back in 2011, and which we visited for ourselves in 2012.
Paul’s Great Grandfather was Wilhelm G. Lentz, proprietor of the Berlin Blacksmith & Wagon Shop around 1912, and the photos Paul sent along from his collection are very interesting.
Beginning with the birds-eye view shown above, a photo from 1904 which was likely taken from the top of the grain elevator, we can identify three buildings which still stand in Berlin. We can see (1) the building known today as Legion Hall of Berlin, Post 206.
Below, the building in 2011.
Around the corner is the former Blacksmith Shop.
Above, the Blacksmith Shop sometime around 1912 to 1915. Below, the Blacksmith Shop in 2011. It’s numbered (2) in the birds-eye shot at the top of the page.
Above, another photo of the exterior of the Blacksmith Shop. Below, the interior of the Blacksmith Shop circa 1915. Paul says his Great Grandfather, Wilhelm Lentz “is center on in the photo with his children lined up to his left. My grandmother, Ella E Lentz Ensign is the youngest and farthest away from Wilhelm. She was born 22 Nov. 1910. My guess is that she is about 4 years old in this photo – maybe 5.”
Below, the shop looks like an abandoned relic.
Below, the derelict fire house in Berlin as it appeared in 2012. It’s numbered (3) in the birds-eye view at the top of the page.
Paul sent along one last photo, which he also believes was taken in Berlin, below. “My Grandmother (Ella E Lentz Ensign) is on the right in the pic – her older sister Ida is on the left.”
Unfortunately, most of the other buildings visible in the birds-eye view at the top of the page have been lost to the sands of time, including the depot. What do you know about Berlin, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.
Photos courtesy Paul Ensign and Sabrina Hornung, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
This school house still stands, right off Highway 2, between Devils Lake and Rugby. If you make that drive, you’ll see it just north of the highway. To our knowledge, it is the only remaining original structure from the town that once was Grand Harbor, ND
Grand Harbor was founded in 1882 on Teller’s Bay, Devils Lake, and moved one mile north to this location in 1897 to be near the railroad junction. Anything that might have remained in the original location would now be underwater due to the rise of Devils Lake. A suspiciously large population count, 225, was recorded in 1890, but tallies in subsequent years never surpassed 50 residents.
Hancock Concrete now occupies the adjoining plot of land, and there is also an occupied home or two on-site.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
The original Fort Abercrombie was constructed in 1858, and it was the first military settlement in what would become North Dakota. Fort Abercrombie was a relic of the first transportation boom in the Dakota Territory — riverboats. Before the railroads, riverboats were one of the most efficient means of hauling cargo, and the Red River became a highway between Fort Abercrombie and Winnipeg. Due to flooding concerns, the fort was rebuilt in 1860 on higher ground, at its present location.
The fort was besieged by the Sioux for more than six weeks in 1862, an event that came to be known as the Dakota War of 1862. Four soldiers were killed and two wounded.
With the frigid Dakota Territory winter approaching, the fort was abandoned as a military outpost on October 23rd, 1877. The town of Abercrombie was officially established nearly seven years later, about a half mile west.
Fort Abercrombie was largely forgotten for decades, but started to come back to life when the WPA began reconstruction of the original fort in 1939 and 1940. You can read more about the history of Fort Abercombie here.
Two reconstructed blockhouses and the original guard house now reside at The Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site. Fort Abercrombie is right on the Red River, about forty minutes south of Fargo.
Fort Abercrombie is featured in our new book, the softcover Special Edition of Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.
The Red River has shifted its track over the years and the land under part of the site was compromised. This marker provides a nice reference point for getting your bearings on the site.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Don Collings sent us these photos of High Cliff School with the following comments:
These are views of High Cliff School in Cow Creek Township, about 20 miles northwest of Williston. I attended this school with my brothers and sister (the Collings’ kids, along with the Haven’s, Barkie’s, Benth, Kjos and Brothers kids. The school reopened in 1953 and closed in 1961. To my knowledge it is still standing.
Ghosts of North Dakota is a wonderful web site. Keep up the great work.
Of all the remote country schools in North Dakota, this one is one of our favorites for the beautiful setting.
Do you know anything about High Cliff School? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Don Collings. Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media LLC
Hanks, North Dakota, in Williams County, about 33 miles northwest of Williston, is a lonely outpost on the prairie, just one resident away from being a ghost town.
Hanks was the subject of some national media in 2008 when National Geographic published The Emptied Prairie (available at the link only with a subscription) by Charles Bowden, a polarizing piece roundly denounced by many North Dakotans in letters to editors, in the Dickinson Press for example, or the Bismarck Tribune.
In the article, Bowden characterized a number of North Dakota communities, including Hanks, truthfully with respect to their shrinking populations, but in terms that many found depressing or disparaging.
Clay Jenkinson, as the the Theodore Roosevelt scholar-in-residence at Dickinson State University at the time, summed it up in the Bismarck Tribune in January 2008:
This is a fascinating, but also unsettling, time in North Dakota’s history. Pity that all Charles Bowden saw was decay, depopulation, despair and decline.
We’re going to be an urban people with a vast (and indeed empty) prairie landscape to play in. We’ll earn our living in cities and spend our leisure time out among the potholes and pronghorns, coyotes and coulees, buttes and badlands.
As I contemplate the future of North Dakota I feel considerable sadness, but I do not see decline.
In 2010, when oil was booming in the region, our artist friend John Piepkorn paid a visit to Hanks and found it sleepy as ever. John’s comments:
I stopped in Hanks, North Dakota and took some pictures of the remaining structures. I also talked to the one remaining resident for about 15 minutes, she said she had heard of Ghosts of North Dakota, and I asked if I could take a few pictures of the town.
I took some of an abandoned house at the top of the hill, some of the cemetery which is north of town on a gravel road about 1/4 mile, some pics of what the lady described as the old bank (above) although it had a gas pump outside of it, and the interior looked like someone had used it as a house, and one other old house.
The old school is used as a museum now which is open only on Sunday afternoons.
The last remaining structure from another North Dakota ghost town, Bonetraill, is now located in Hanks too. You can see it in this Hanks post with photos submitted by Clif Nelson in 2012.
Do you know more about Hanks, North Dakota? Can you provide an update on things as they are today? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by John Piepkorn. Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Lost Bridge was on the Little Missouri River, about 23 miles north of Killdeer in Dunn County. The name “Lost Bridge” holds a coincidental double meaning in this case, since the bridge no longer exists.
Above: An image from Google Earth. You can still see the missing swath of trees leading to the river’s edge, where the old Lost Bridge once stood.
These photos were taken by the Historic American Engineering Record, and the notes from the file tell an interesting story:
The Lost Bridge is a three-span, riveted Parker through truss, bridge designed by the North Dakota Highway Department and constructed in 1930. The bridge is associated with the Great Depression and stood relatively unused until approach roads were constructed in 1953 and paved in 1963 (north side) and in 1967 (south side). Thus, the bridge is well known in the State as “Lost Bridge.”
In short, this bridge was built to employ workers during the depression, but without roads leading to it, it was left unused for decades.
Today, there is a sign along the highway that tells the story in more detail. It reads:
More than a few ranchers have probably had to look for a lost cow in this country, but few people would suppose that even the world’s most famous Badlands were a place where you could lose a bridge.
A new bridge was built just downstream from here in 1931. A grand opening ceremony was scheduled for July 4, timed to coincide with the Killdeer Mountain Roundup Rodeo. The governor was to orate, military maneuvers held, and a small orchestra was to play for dancing on the bridge. But torrential rains forced postponement, and many people left before the festivities were held the next day (in a sea of mud).
Bad luck continued. The roads leading to the bridge were supposed to be paved, but the onset of the Great Depression left no money available for construction. Locals dubbed the modern highway bridge with only dirt roads leading to it “Lost Bridge”, and the name stuck. The approach roads were graded and graveled in 1953, then paved in 1968 (ed. note: this date is contradictory to the HAER information quoted earlier in this post). The original structure was replaced in the 1990s.
We don’t know the exact year these photos were taken, but the road appears to be paved on both sides of the bridge, so the photos must have been taken in 1967 or later.
Lost Bridge was built in 1930, and renovated or improved on a number of occasions in 1953, 1959, 1967, and 1970. The bridge was demolished in 1994 and a modern highway bridge now does the job.
This bridge was also called the Killdeer Bridge, Dunn County Bridge, and the Little Missouri River Bridge.
It’s a shame to see this bridge demolished, but there is a piece of the bridge that was erected alongside Highway 22 (below) after it was taken down.
Below: From the vantage point of the photographer, the old road would have stretched straight ahead into the distance. The new highway bridge has no superstructure above the roadway, but you can see it on the left.
Although there is no longer a romantic steel bridge to see at this crossing, the scenery going down into the river valley is amazing and highly recommended. What do you know about the Lost Bridge of the Badlands? Please leave a comment below.
Original Content © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Tyner’s derelict pioneer cemetery is all that remains of a rural settlement in Pembina County once known as Tyner. Cemeteries are not something we usually feature as an entity all their own, primarily because there are plenty of websites out there which focus on cemeteries and family history already. However, Terry visited Tyner Cemetery in August of 2012 to photograph the headstones for some of his wife’s family — the McCurdy’s — and was moved by the solitude of the site.
This pioneer cemetery is a relic of an immigrant community which is today scattered amongst rural farmsteads and nearby small towns in Cavalier County. It is in the middle of a farmer’s field and no longer even has a road leading to it. The only access is on foot, there is no fence, and as you can see from the photos, the entire site was quite overgrown at the time Terry visited in 2012. This cemetery tells a tale that was written a very long time ago.
I’ve attempted to transcribe the stones wherever they can be read. Update: We found some headstones in our photo archive that had not been previously posted, and those photos are at the bottom.
Samuel McCurdy, born Aug. 19, 1866, died Nov. 3rd, 1899, aged 33 years.
Mary McEwen, died Apr. 14, 1894, age 20 Y’s, 2 M’s, 14 D’s
Maggie McEwen, died Oct. 19, 1894, age 16 Y’s, 2 M’s, 20 D’s
A.C. McCurdy, Oct. 5th, 1888 to May 17th, 1975
Alice, wife of A.C. McCurdy, July 27th, 1884 to Sept. 14th, 1938
Eliza Jane, wife of Samuel Hillis, born in Ireland, Aug. 17, 1840, died Mar. 31, 1914
Frederick W. Mountain, died Feb. 7, 1899, aged 6 mos. 14 days.
Roy Tuson, died Mar. 26, 1892, aged 7 mos.
Alvin, son of John J. and Catherine Hughes. died Oct. 28, 1891, aged 14 years, 4 ms. 7 days.
Baby Symington, born Sept. 28, 1899, died October 15, 1900
Mary Gladys, Daughter of Peter & Kate Cameron
Died Jan. 19, 1889, Aged 2 yrs. 4 mos. [?] days
Died May 12, 1890, Aged 29 yrs, 6 mos.
Died Oct. 7, 1893, Aged 30 years, 30 days
Eliza Ann, wife of James Byers
Died Mar. 8, 1894, Aged 74 years
John Coughlin, Born May ?, 1812, Died Dec. ?, 1895
Mary A. Coughlin, Born Jan. 12, 1882, Died July 2?, 1895
Roy Giles, Son of Mr. & Mrs. Thos G. McConnell
Died May 20, 1899
Photos by Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Werner, North Dakota is in Dunn County, about 13 miles east of Killdeer. We’re unsure of the exact population, but in 1971, when residents voted to dissolve the town, the vote count was 7-2 in favor of dissolution, so the headcount is quite likely in the single digits these days. Although we were really a couple decades late in photographing the town as it once was, we decided to visit and shoot Werner, North Dakota and a bridge to nowhere.
Werner was a rare town in at least one respect — it was incorporated as a Northern Pacific Railroad town in 1917, but the Post Office wasn’t established until two years later. In most cases, the Post Office would have been established before, or concurrently with, a town’s founding.
The bridge shown here spans Spring Creek on the southwest edge of Werner.
We looked for a plaque on this bridge that would identify the builder, but we couldn’t see one anywhere. In the early days of North Dakota statehood, most bridges like this were built by out-of-state bridge builders like Gillette-Herzog Manufacturing Company out of Minneapolis, Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, and the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Works, but by the time Werner was founded, North Dakota bridge builders, like Fargo Bridge and Iron Company, had entered the market. If you know who built this bridge, please leave a comment below.
Visiting these places in modern day, sometimes nearly a century after they were built, it’s frequently hard to imagine how useful they were. This bridge spans Spring Creek as part of a road that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, and its main purpose seems like it might have been to make access to the nearby fields easier.
Tire tracks in the long grass leading to this bridge made us think that someone occasionally still drives over this bridge–a brave someone. We got nervous just walking on it.
As for the town of Werner, it was like other places we sometimes encounter, where we were unsure if we were going to be seen as trespassers. On the west side of town, there were three deteriorating vacant homes down one seldom used “road,” abandoned so long ago that it was more like two rutted wheel tracks in the tall grass, and we weren’t sure if we could respectfully wander down the road without upsetting someone, so we stayed out.
The rest of Werner’s vacant properties are somewhat spread out around the town site, with open spaces in-between. When it had a population of over 200 residents, these vacant lots were full of homes and businesses. Werner even had its own newspaper at one time, the Werner Record. According to the out-of-print North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick, the last business in Werner was the service station, which closed when operator Arthur Kummer passed-on in 1970.
What do you know about Werner, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
This is Wabek, North Dakota, in Mountrail County, about 35 miles southwest of Minot. Wabek was founded in 1914 and we visited and captured these photos 100 years later, in 2014.
According to North Dakota Place Names by Doug Wick, Wabek even had a radio station once, broadcasting with the call letters WABK. Wabek’s all-time high population was 46 in the 1930 Census, but today there appears to be only one occupied property on the town site.
This saloon was the last remaining business in Wabek for a long time… one lonely watering-hole splashed with white block letters on its facade, tall enough to be seen by anyone passing on the lightly-traveled highway a half mile to the north.
Even after this saloon closed as an official place of business, it was still used for special events. As recently as 2003, “The Wabek Bar” hosted a bachelorette auction, a Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament, and a street dance.
This place is in no condition to host anything these days. It seems structurally sketchy and there’s a huge hornets nest growing on the ceiling inside. Unfortunately, this saloon looks beyond saving unless someone decides to take heroic action right away.
Wabek actually had a Post Office for almost fifty years, from 1917 to 1966.
Below: a look inside the red building shown above.
This house is on the northwest corner of the town site.
Just to the north of the house, this old pump (above) and the retaining wall below. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me what I was looking at, and I still don’t know.
Further to the south is this impressive Wabek School, which appears to be two fairly standard one-room school houses joined in the center for a twin classroom model.
Across the road from the school is this church, which , at the time we visited, had been repurposed as a dwelling and was the only building on the original town site that was occupied.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
It’s always amazing when you run across a place like this rural Driscoll Church… like they just left yesterday.
We were on our way to visit Arena, North Dakota in September, 2016, when we drove right past this place and decided to stop for a visit.
Zion Lutheran Church is in Burleigh County, Harriet-Lein Township, and is described as “rural Driscoll.” In reality, it is about ten miles north of Driscoll, or eleven miles southeast of Wing, North Dakota.
When we arrived, it wasn’t easy to tell from the outside whether Zion Lutheran was still an active church or not. It looked like it. It is weather-tight with a steel roof, good paint, and intact windows. The grounds were well-maintained too. Perhaps a congregation still assembled regularly?
A quick search revealed Zion Lutheran has it’s own Facebook page. Although Zion Lutheran no longer has services every Sunday, special events are still happening here, and planning is underway for a 100th Anniversary celebration next year. Below: The cornerstone planted in 1917.
Above: The sacristy is just inside the door.
Above: Some information for anyone who wants to make a monetary donation to preserve Zion Lutheran Church. Below: Even though they held a service here in July of 2016, nobody touched the keys apparently, because they’re still covered in cobwebs.
The sanctuary exists in a state of beautiful suspended animation, awaiting the next wedding or funeral.
The piano also made it through the service with some of the cobwebs on the lamp still intact. We would have never guessed while we were there that it had been so recently used.
In the sacristy.
In the basement of Zion Lutheran, the kitchen where generations of people attended pot luck lunches.
Above: The Lein family name substitutes for the numbers on the clock. Below: An abandoned farmhouse stands in the distance, a remnant of an increasingly rare agrarian lifestyle. The end of that living condition, brought about by mechanized farming, the end of the railroad era, and an aging population not replaced by a younger generation, leads to places like this… rural churches standing lonely on the prairie, used less and less frequently, until all who have a personal connection to the place have moved on, to another place or another plane.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The interior of the yellow house looks much the same as it did when we visited 12 years earlier.
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.
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.
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?
Around back, the block chimney has collapsed like a stack of legos into the back yard.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
We’ve visited a few lost highways before, like this one in Minnesota, or this flooded road near Devils Lake, but in my opinion, this is the most significant lost highway in the state of North Dakota, for reasons I’ll explain below.
While there are many reasons a highway becomes lost — rerouting of the road, mining, and freeway construction, for example — this road fell victim to the greatest flood in North Dakota history, a man-made flood, and now, this lost highway leads to the bottom of a lake.
About three miles north of Twin Buttes, North Dakota, on the Fort Berthold Reservation in Dunn County, Highway 8 becomes a dead end at the point shown above. In the upper left you can see Lake Sakakawea in the distance, the reservoir which forced the abandonment of this highway. There was an area on the left where we could see previous visitors had been driving around the barricades, but we chose to park here and hike the mile to the bottom.
Just a little further down the road, a second set of barricades were set up on a narrow stretch of the road, and you can’t drive around them, so we didn’t regret the choice to set out on foot.
The appearance of the road changed with the grade. In places where the grade was a little steeper, the remains of the road were plainly visible, with weeds and prairie flowers growing up between the cracks in the heavily weathered surface.
In other places, where the grade flattens out a bit, runoff sediment from the hills above has been settling for decades, obscuring the asphalt surface beneath a carpet of gravel and overgrowth.
The road traces a path down the side of a butte and the scenery is absolutely amazing.
Just as we found ourselves distracted by the amazing scenery and feeling like we were on a nature hike, we were reminded that cars used to travel the road on which we were standing at highway speeds.
The road parallels a deep ravine to the west, and there were no remnants of guard rails at any point along the road that we could see. Apparently, there was nothing to keep an inattentive driver from a quick trip to the bottom. Whether this rusted old wagon ended up at the bottom of the ravine in a tragic accident or was simply dumped, we don’t know, but aerial imagery shows it has been there for decades.
In one spot, a section of the highway slides away from the rest due to a minor landslide in which a portion of the hillside has separated and started to creep downhill.
Above: As we neared the bottom, we found a section of the road where someone had burned a bunch of old tires.
About a mile down the road, we finally arrived at what is today the bottom. This lost highway originally would have continued down into the Missouri River Valley, but today that valley is full of water and this is the end of the line. In the photo above, the water is a small bay of Lake Sakakawea (I’m not sure if it has a name, but Mandan Bay is just a few miles west) and the water is a little lower than average.
Beyond the end of the asphalt highway, small pieces of asphalt, weathered and broken down from runoff and fluctuating lake levels that bring periodic inundation, litter the prairie grass.
Someone made the trek to the bottom for a bonfire and a couple beers.
So, where did this highway go? It went down into the valley where the water is shown in the photo above, and it would have curved to the right around the point in the upper right of the photo, where the bulk of Lake Sakakawea is today. The highway led to the town of Elbowoods and the Four Bears Bridge, which was the only crossing over America’s longest river, the mighty Missouri, for miles around.
In 1953, Garrison Dam was completed, and the Missouri River Valley became a reservoir, or Lake Sakakawea. In one of the great injustices of modern times, the Three Affiliated Tribes lost 94% of their agricultural land, as detailed by author Michael Lawson in his book “Dammed Indians: the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux”.
The Four Bears Bridge was floated upriver and re-erected with new approach spans near Crow Flies High Butte. The communities of Elbowoods, Van Hook, Independence, Sanish, and others were forcibly evacuated and disappeared beneath the waves.
In addition to the evacuation of the towns which once stood in the valley, the Garrison Dam contributed to the abandonment of farms and towns even on high ground by cutting off transportation routes between the northern and southern portions of the state. Where you once would have been able to cross the Missouri River here and visit someone on the other side in just a few minutes, the drive is now an hour or more in many places due to the size of the lake and the required drive around the east or west ends.
There are few remnants today of the pre-Garrison Dam era, but this lost highway is one of them, and we’re glad we got to visit.
Above: Looking back from the end of the road, as we prepared to hike a mile uphill. We got our exercise this day.
What do you know about this old highway, Four Bears Bridge, and Elbowoods, North Dakota? Leave a comment below.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media