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Abandoned Wabek, North Dakota Saloon

Abandoned Wabek, North Dakota Saloon

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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, North Dakota

Wabek actually had a Post Office for almost fifty years, from 1917 to 1966.

Wabek, North Dakota

Below: a look inside the red building shown above.

Wabek, North Dakota

Wabek, North Dakota

This house is on the northwest corner of the town site.

Wabek, North Dakota

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Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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.

Wabek, North Dakota

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

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Driscoll Church… Like They Just Left Yesterday

Driscoll Church… Like They Just Left Yesterday

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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?

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Above: The sacristy is just inside the door.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

The sanctuary exists in a state of beautiful suspended animation, awaiting the next wedding or funeral.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

In the sacristy.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

In the basement of Zion Lutheran, the kitchen where generations of people attended pot luck lunches.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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.

Driscoll Zion Lutheran Church

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

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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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This Lost Highway Leads to the Bottom of a Lake

This Lost Highway Leads to the Bottom of a Lake

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

The road traces a path down the side of a butte and the scenery is absolutely amazing.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

North Dakota Lost Highway

Above: As we neared the bottom, we found a section of the road where someone had burned a bunch of old tires.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

Someone made the trek to the bottom for a bonfire and a couple beers.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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.

North Dakota Lost Highway

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

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A Ghost Town Built from Coal and Bricks

A Ghost Town Built from Coal and Bricks

Sims, North Dakota is a beautiful near-ghost town, founded in what was at the time a somewhat remote spot on the prairie of Dakota Territory, about 35 miles west of Mandan. The Northern Pacific arrived in 1879 and extra boxcars were set aside to be used as businesses and shelter until a proper town could be constructed. The original settlers were attracted to coal that was easily mined here, and several early names of the town were “Baby Mine” and “Bly’s Mine.” In 1883 the town was renamed Sims, in honor of a railroad official, and soon, settlers were arriving. A brick plant was constructed, and multiple stores sprang up, too. Some have said Sims boasted a population of 1,000 at its peak, but photos of Sims during its peak years are apparently scarce.

The population began to decline by 1886, and by 1906 the count was around 300, and down to 86 in 1910. The bricks from the brick plant were reportedly of poor quality, and coal was more plentiful in other places. Sims was slowly coming to an end.

Sims, North Dakota

The railroad eventually pulled up stakes in Sims, and today there is one church which is still in use, and a farmstead on the east edge of town. When we last visited Sims in 2013, we neglected to photograph several things, beginning with the concrete bridge over Sims Creek.

Sims, North Dakota

At one time, the railroad line, which ran through Sims from the southeast to the northwest, crossed Sims Creek in this spot. Judging from the street signs that were later erected, this bridge became a narrow, one-lane crossing for vehicles after the railroad had gone.

Sims, North Dakota

We walked north along this bridge and continued down the former railbed/road.

Sims, North Dakota

At the other end, looking south toward the bridge, the sign reads “Weight Limit 6 Tons”. It’s hard to imagine a time when this sign would have been necessary considering the old road is barely visible anymore.

Sims, North Dakota

As we approached the old building at the north end of this road, we saw several remnants of structures which once stood here. The depot, the depot agent’s house, the water tower for filling steam locomotives, and the pump house all stood in this area.

Sims, North Dakota

We had to wade across Sims Creek to get a few photos of the places on the other side. It wasn’t immediately clear if there was ever a small bridge here.

Sims, North Dakota

Perhaps I’m wrong, but according to this map on the Almont history page, I believe the crumbling building shown above was the Horlitz store. There would have been another store right next to this one at one time, the Wadeson Store.

Sims, North Dakota

Barring intervention by someone, the front portion of this place will not stand much longer.

Sims, North Dakota

Sims, North Dakota

Sims, North Dakota

This building would be in the approximate area where the aforementioned map indicates Cecelia Jacobson’s residence would have been. It was behind a fence, so we did not go over to investigate.

Sims, North Dakota

Even the trees bear the burden of time’s unrelenting weight.

Sims, North Dakota

Looking down from the cemetery on Sims’ most photographed landmark, the Gray/Anderson House. When we arrived, two people on a weekend daytrip were here, walking their dog and photographing the house. There was another area resident in a truck nearby, watching the goings-on. So, if you visit, expect supervision and be respectful of this place.

Sims, North Dakota

The house was once nearly covered in red brick, but today most of that facade has crumbled.

Sims, North Dakota

There was once a covered porch in the area where the red brick remains in the photo above, but it collapsed long ago.

Sims, North Dakota

Above: Looking in the front window of the house. Below: The opposite view, looking out.

Sims, North Dakota

Sims, North Dakota

Sims, North Dakota

Just to the north of the house, only these stairs remain in the spot where the Sims school once stood.

Sims, North Dakota

What do you know about Sims, North Dakota? Please leave a comment.

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

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Neuburg Congregational Church: Back from the Brink

Neuburg Congregational Church: Back from the Brink

In 2014, we paid a visit to Neuburg Congregational Church, in Hettinger County, after we ran across a newspaper article which billed Neuburg Congregational as the most remote church in North Dakota–nearly 25 miles from the nearest town. We found the place on the brink of dereliction, with weeds growing up around the foundation, the paint thoroughly peeled, and pigeons making a home in the steeple. You can check out our original post to see how it looked at the time.

Neuburg Congregational Church

Sometime after our visit, someone decided to bring Neuburg Congregational Church back from the brink. The rapidly deteriorating roof was replaced with steel roofing, fresh paint was applied, and the grounds were tidied up. Even the sign out front was repainted. Our friend Tim Riley from Lost Places on the Prairie got these photos of the much improved Neuburg Congregational in 2016.

Neuburg Congregational Church

Neuburg was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains, in 2015.

Neuburg Congregational Church

Above, 2016, below, 2014.

Neuburg Congregational Church

Neuburg was so deeply rooted in the German heritage of area residents that, until 1957, all services were held in the German language.

Neuburg Congregational Church

Photos by Tim Riley, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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The Magic City, Fall 1940

The Magic City, Fall 1940

For those of us who are history buffs, the 1930s and 40s are a golden age of documentary photography. Government photographers from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information traveled the country, photographing American cities big and small. They left behind a photographic treasure trove of places that no longer exist. It was photos like those, largely the work of Arthur Rothstein, that allowed us to do our book on North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found, and another of those government photographers, John Vachon, captured these photos of Minot in October of 1940.

I find these photos interesting for the look back at the WWII era, in a season when the air had gone brisk and the leaves had presumably turned brilliant shades of yellow and red, about to become a carpet for residents of the Magic City.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Cars and trucks were everywhere in 1940, but these old horsedrawn wagons were still used to shuttle around cans of milk. This shipment was just waiting at the depot to head off to its next destination.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Unidentified football players on what appears to be Main Street, walking north. I could be wrong but their helmets appear to be plastic, which would have been a new development at the time. Riddell introduced plastic helmets in 1939, and the old leather helmets disappeared from use by the 1950s. Update: site visitor Brad says the player on the right, #44, is his dad Archie Peterson (see comments below).

Minot, Fall, 1940

The former Great Northern Hotel wasn’t exactly a swanky joint in 1940. I am not sure the location of this place, but it doesn’t look like the kind of place that would still be standing in a town the size of Minot.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Minot, Fall, 1940

This photo was simply labeled, “Chimneysweeper. Minot, ND.”

Minot, Fall, 1940

Upon closer inspection, chimney sweep looks like a dangeorous job. Standing on that wood ladder 3 1/2 stories above the ground doesn’t seem like a place I would be eager to be.

Minot, Fall, 1940

I zoomed in on this section of the photo because I was interested in the signs. Partially obscured by the column on the left is the word “Rooms,” indicating this was a rooming house, and the building in the background has an automotive use with the words “Body Dept.” painted on the white facade. It wasn’t until I saw the address “304” on the column at left that I realized I knew this place.

It is the former home of Martin Jacobson at 304 S. Main Street. In 1945, just five years after these photos were taken, it would be purchased by a funeral director transplant from the Twin Cities, Ben (B.J.) Thomas, and it became the Thomas Family Funeral Home.

I remember this place from my childhood in Minot, primarily as the place next door to the old Empire Theater. If you came out of a Saturday matinee and sat down on the grass to wait for your mom and dad to pick you up, someone would come out and ask you to get off the grass. Us darn kids.

Minot, Fall, 1940

In the image above, you can see the home changed substantially over the years in its life as a funeral home. The cupola and flagpole on the northwest side are gone. A room which once occupied the space between the columns is also gone, and several windows have been closed off, including the third story window over the front entrance. Image/Google Earth

Minot, Fall, 1940

This photo was labeled “Lutheran Church. Minot, ND.” I was unfamiliar with which church this is, so please leave a comment if you know.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Church was the social media of the day, and this photo is a good example. Everybody in their Sunday best, catching up with people they hadn’t seen all week.

Minot, Fall, 1940

See also: Minot Central High School

Photos by John Vachon, original content © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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The Abandoned Skyline Skiway, Devils Lake

The Abandoned Skyline Skiway, Devils Lake

This is a former Nordic ski jump, in Benson County, about 10 miles south of Devils Lake, or three miles east of Fort Totten, at the ski resort once known as Skyline Skiway. According to the December 1982 issue of Ski Magazine, this ski jump opened in 1928 and closed in 1936. The ski hill continued to operate on and off into the early eighties, and was home to the Lake Region Ski Club.

Skyline Skiway

Based on the view from the end of the ramp, we can conclusively say a jump from the end of this thing would have been terrifying. There’s some interesting information on this Ski Jump in this Dakota Datebook entry from 2008.

Skyline Skiway

The road to the jump is a very steep, pitted dirt road. In anything other than totally dry conditions, you’d be well advised to take a 4 x 4.

Skyline Skiway

We also featured this ski jump in our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Sometimes getting the shot requires a little bad judgement.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway is the most significant remaining relic of a Nordic ski jump in North Dakota that we know of. The tower from a former jump near Mayville still stands (but the ramp itself is gone), and a jump that was once in North Fargo is completely gone. Do you know about any other Nordic ski jumps in North Dakota? Please leave a comment.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

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

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