Long before the arrival of the settlers brought by the Homestead Act of 1862, this part of North Dakota was a center of commerce in the fur trade. The Metis people, a mixed-race culture of Native Americans and French, English, and Scottish explorers, lived and traded in this area throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, arrived in what is now North Dakota in 1738). …
For years, this church has been marked on one of my maps as “Haunting Lignite Church,” a descriptor I pasted on it due to its weathered exterior, devoid of paint, and the tall steeple that stands high above the prairie. I found out about it a long time ago, and knowing nothing about it, marked it as a place I wanted to photograph the next time I was in the area.
In July of 2016 I finally found myself passing by and stopped to get a few photos. …
Appam, North Dakota is in Williams County, in the extreme northwestern part of the state, about 25 miles north of Williston. The terrain around Appam is a rugged grassland, quite dry, with chalky, alkaline soil, and gently rolling hills. We first visited this tiny unincorporated settlement in May of 2010, and found a place that is a shell of its former self. …
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.
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. …
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. …
Short Creek Church is in northern Burke County, a short drive southwest of Portal, North Dakota, and just over three miles from the US/Canada border. If I’m not mistaken, it was a Lutheran Church for its entire active life, and served a congregation of many Scandinavian immigrants, and settlers of German ancestry as well.
I’m not sure when they stopped holding regular services in Short Creek Church. If you know, please leave a comment below. …
It’s been closed since 1959, but Meyer Township School Number 1 still stands, right off US Highway 2, just a couple miles east of Rugby, North Dakota. It’s a frequently photographed place due to its highly visible location right next to the highway–just as I was leaving, someone else was pulling in to get some photos of their own. …
Years ago, Wylora Christianson sent us a photo of a grain elevator, the only remaining structure from a town that never was: Rival, North Dakota. She was under the impression that the elevator was to be torn down soon, so she felt compelled to photograph it.
The Rival Elevator is so named because, as a Soo Line townsite, it was intended to rival the nearby Great Northern Railroad town of Lignite, North Dakota. North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick says this site was the terminus of the Flaxton branch railroad line. A post office existed here for two years, from 1907 to 1909, with Chester Teisinger as the postmaster, but no settlement of any significance developed. …
We first visited Larson, a near-ghost town in Burke County about 85 miles northwest of Minot, on a stormy day in May of 2010. According to the Census that same year, Larson had a population of 12.
As I recently planned a trip to photograph some Saskatchewan places, I decided to stop in Larson before I crossed the border to check on things and see how much had changed in six years. We had been told there was more activity for a time due to the oil boom, and a man camp had been planned for the area too, so I was unsure what I would find when I arrived. Would Larson be bustling with new activity? Would Larson’s previously vacant properties be inhabited with new residents who had repurposed them as housing, as we’ve seen in so many other western North Dakota communities? I wanted to find out.
Larson is just off Highway 5 and you can see St. John’s Lutheran Church from the road. I pulled in to get a closer look and found it looked much worse for wear than it had been only six years earlier. The exterior arch over the main entry was completely gone, and someone took down the protective plywood over the windows. Below: the church as it appeared in 2010.
This church was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains.
As I explored the places we’d visited six years earlier, it became quite clear that nature is taking back many of Larson’s vacant places. The old service station is considerably overgrown. Above, 2016, below, 2010.
The former service station doesn’t look like it has long to live. We featured this gas station in our first book, which is now officially out-of-print, and we’re down to our last few dozen copies. If you want it in its original hardcover format, last chance.
The former bar is also in much worse shape than it was in 2010. All the signs have been torn down and weeds and brush have overtaken the building. See it as it appeared in 2010 here.
Above: Looking down the street toward the former bar in 2016. Below: the same scene in 2010.
There were still a number of abandoned houses in Larson to go with the inhabited homes of the few residents who remain. I didn’t see any increased activity from the oil field, or any sign of a man camp. Perhaps a local resident can help bring us up to speed on the happenings over the last six years in the comments below.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
In May of 2014, I took a trip along the Red River to photograph a bunch of historic bridges for a potential future book, and found this place, a bridge I had never visited before.
Officially it is Traill County and North Dakota Highway Departments Project No. FAS 71A. Locals refer to it as the Nielsville Bridge, after Nielsville, Minnesota, the closest community to the bridge (Cummings, North Dakota is a few miles west).
Built in 1939, the bridge was in pretty bad shape when I visited in 2014–it had been repaired a number of times, and asphalt patches were visible in the road deck in several places. In 2015, a hole opened up in the deck and the bridge was closed. It has been closed ever since, and the question remains–What will become of this historic bridge? …
For almost half a century, from the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union, our world existed on the precipice of nuclear annihilation. The threat of an instant and irreversible descent into nuclear war hung constant over our heads, the pendulum of power sometimes swinging our way and sometimes back toward the Soviets. It was this race for superiority that led to the creation of this place, the most advanced nuclear antiballistic missile facility ever built.
Check out our new video about the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, North Dakota. This video was uploaded in 4K resolution, so if you have the capability to stream it to your largest TV, you should definitely give it a try.
Cleveland, North Dakota was founded in 1882 by settlers who came from Cleveland, Ohio. It is in Stutsman County, right along Interstate 94, about 20 minutes west of Jamestown.
Cleveland once had over 300 residents, but like many small rural communities, declined with the railroad transportation culture. In the 2000 Census, Cleveland had 112 residents in 52 households. By 2010, the number had dropped to 83 residents from 40 households. These buildings along 5th Avenue tell the tale of a slowly vanishing prairie town.
The former Cleveland Grocery looks like it has been deserted for quite some time.
The former bank went through some changes. You can see non-original brickwork that was used to fill the window and door openings, presumably to make them smaller and more energy efficient in a cold, North Dakota winter.
According to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Cleveland did not officially incorporate as a city until 1968.
This building strongly resembles some of the old hotels and bunkhouses we’ve seen. Can you tell us what it was?
There is also an impressive former public school in Cleveland, but it looks like someone has purchased the property for use as part of a heavy-equipment business of some sort, so we didn’t photograph it.
The first Post Office opened in Cleveland in 1882 but closed in 1884, with Windsor, North Dakota becoming the closest mail stop. In 1900, a new post office opened in Cleveland. Today, this utilitarian structure is the Post Office for Cleveland.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
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. …
The McGregor town site was established in 1910 and assumed the name of a nearby rural post office which had been established five years earlier. We visited McGregor, in Williams County about 45 miles northeast of Williston, in 2010, and we were somewhat surprised by the large number of vacant buildings. …
Rival, ND is a town that never was. It was established with the intent of being a “rival” to nearby Lignite, hence the name. However, no development of significance ever took place. Rival’s post office opened in 1907 and closed only two years later in 1909. Wylora Christianson contributed this photo with the following comments:
All that is left of Rival is the elevator which is to be torn down soon, so went and got a picture of it.
It looks like this elevator was built entirely of wood (like this elevator in Roseville), and at some point in the past, the top was replaced with a more modern, galvanized metal roof. That roof likely extended the life of this place by a couple decades.
As of August, 2013, this elevator was still standing. If anyone has an update on whether this elevator has now been torn down, please leave a comment.
Photo by Wylora Christianson. Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Tagus was founded in 1900, on a rolling spot on the prairie, forty miles west of Minot, just off Highway 2. A railroad settlement town, it reached a peak population of 140 in 1940. It was originally named Wallace, but was later renamed Tagus to avoid confusion with the town of Wallace, Idaho. The origin of the name “Tagus” is still in dispute.
It is now primarily abandoned with a handful of residents and numerous vacant structures.
The Minot Daily News ran a story about GND several days before our actual trip to Tagus. You can imagine our surprise when we were met by two of the residents of Tagus who had been keeping an eye out for us. They had quite a story to tell.
As it turns out, Tagus has weathered way more than it’s fair share of vandalism and mean-spirited behavior. For years, vandals from the nearby areas have used Tagus as a party place. One of Tagus’ residents told us a story about one Halloween night in the 1980’s, when 300 kids showed up in this tiny town for an all-out Halloween trashing session. The Mountrail County Sherriff had been tipped however and put a stop to it.
It’s not often we run across an old country home with a turret.
That tree is huge!
In 2001, vandals again did their damage when they were found to be responsible for a fire which destroyed Tagus’ only remaining church. The spot is now marked with a stone marker. Although there are reports the fire was electrical, the resident we spoke to was adamant the fire was caused by vandals.
As you’ll see from some of the comments on this post, Tagus has been the subject of some very strange and persistent rumors and urban legends over the years, to a greater degree than any other town we’ve encountered. There are outlandish tales of Satanic activity, hellhounds, ghosts and ghoulish activity in Tagus. Anyone who has grown up in northwest North Dakota has likely heard them. At any rate, if you decide to visit Tagus, please be respectful of the town. They’ve already sacrificed far too much.
Who knows what this structure used to be? Please leave a comment.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Bremen is a small, unincorporated town near Fessenden in Wells County. This central part of the state is very sparsely populated and dotted with abandoned places like the Remains of Munster School and Hamberg. These photos were taken in 2008, and we hope to revisit the area sometime soon for an update.
Bremen supposedly had a population of 200 at one time, but it hasn’t had nearly that many for a very long time. Most of Bremen’s residents (there aren’t many) live in a cluster of residences a short distance to the southeast, leaving the street shown here a rather lonesome place.
Do you know what this building used to be? Please leave a comment.
The former Bremen Bank is the most striking derelict structure in Bremen. The amazing stone architecture is a thing to behold, but also perhaps a liability considering moving the building for the sake of preservation would be very difficult and expensive. The roof is totally porous already. Unless someone takes heroic measures to save this structure where it sits, it will eventually fall victim to time.
A peek inside the building from the rear, looking toward the front.
There’s something storybook about this winding drive, leading to a decidedly non-storybook abandoned home.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Unfortunately, we have to do a post like this from time to time. As the years pass, many of the places we’ve photographed also pass… into history. Whether it be the wrecking ball, weathering, or disaster, many of the places we’ve photographed since 2003 are now gone. We documented some of the losses in 10 Lost North Dakota Places and 10 More Lost North Dakota Places, now, unfortunately, here are 8 More Lost North Dakota Places.
A visitor recently commented to tell us the Maza School apparently burned sometime in 2015 or 2016. As one of the few remaining structures from Maza, the end of this school effectively spells the end for Maza.
Bluegrass Store and Gas Station
Bluegrass, North Dakota, is a true ghost town, population zero, in Morton County, about thirty-five miles northwest of Mandan. Bluegrass is a former rural community that had a population of 20 in the 1920 Census, a relatively small peak population, but not surprising considering the railroad never came to Bluegrass. Sadly, this former store and gas station burned down in 2014.
Northgate Port of Entry
Northgate is a fascinating near-ghost town right on the Canadian border, about 70 miles northwest of Minot. It was originally founded one mile to the north, but moved one mile south to its present site. While the original town site retained the name North Gate (with a space) this town was renamed North Gate South, and then re-dubbed Northgate (without the space) when the post office was established in 1914. This building was once the Port of Entry Station, but was abandoned when a new Port was built. A person commented on our Facebook page to say the building has since been demolished.
Much of Leith, North Dakota
Leith‘s troubles have been highly publicized, so we don’t have to say much except that numerous vacant structures were demolished after a white supremacist bought up the property in an attempt to take over the town. This creamery is one of the buildings which no longer stands in Leith.
Lost Bridge was so named because in 1930 when it was originally constructed over the Little Missouri River, about 23 miles north of Killdeer, there were no quality roads leading to the site, and the bridge was seldom used. Paved roads came in the sixties, but Lost Bridge was demolished in 1994 and replaced with a modern highway bridge.
Brantford Public School
Brantford Public School still stands in this Eddy County ghost town, but not for long. One of the classrooms has collapsed and cracks can be seen throughout the exterior walls. Soon, Brantford Public School will be no more.
This church, known as Augustana Lutheran Church (and other names over the years) would have been a fantastic place for a business. It stood in a high traffic location, at the foot of Broadway, across from Sammy’s Pizza in Minot. Sadly, after years of dereliction, mold, and a close call in the 2011 flood, the church was demolished.
Most of Bucyrus
Bucyrus, North Dakota was struck by a wind-driven grassfire in 2010 and many of the abandoned structures in town, as well as a number of family homes, were destroyed. This home, on the west side of town, was one of the casualties. Thankfully, nobody lost their life in the fire, but Bucyrus will never be the same.
After being driven out of Leith, the same white supremacist allegedly tried to buy vacant properties in Antler, North Dakota. The city bought up a number of properties to prevent the takeover, and this former bank building was one of them. In early 2016, it was demolished.
Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
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 …
The Wolf Butte Lutheran Church is in a remote part of Adams County, North Dakota, about 45 miles south of Dickinson. It was once part of a Lutheran Parish that also included another abandoned church we’ve photographed, the North Grand Lutheran Church, south of Bucyrus. Regular services ended at the Wolf Butte location in 1988. …
Niagara, North Dakota is just off US Highway 2, not quite forty miles west of Grand Forks. It was founded in 1882 by settlers from Niagara County, New York. According to the 2010 Census, Niagara has 53 residents.
Niagara, North Dakota is the former home of a serial killer, a man named Eugene Butler, a recluse who lived on the edge of town. Butler was committed to the State Asylum in Jamestown in 1904, and he died there in 1911. Four years after he died, an excavation at Butler’s home uncovered a hidden trap door leading to a crawlspace. Inside, authorities found the remains of six people. All had been bludgeoned to death with blows to the back of the head.
Since Butler was already dead, he never saw the inside of a prison for his crimes. There weren’t any local people reported missing, so there are many theories about who the victims were–transient farmhands for instance. Their identities remain a mystery today.
An update on the mystery came from WDAY-TV in Fargo in February, 2016. Case files have been lost over the years, and an effort to perform DNA testing on the victims’ remains depends on the authorities ability to acquire bones stolen by looters in the aftermath of the discovery.
The Butler murders are a chapter of Niagara’s history that many have forgotten. Today, Niagara has a nice historical complex in their town square but there is understandably no mention of Eugene Butler’s crimes. Butler’s home was demolished and a workshop (not shown) stands on the site today.
Just as we pulled into town, the wind started to really blow and a light drizzle began… so we didn’t spend quite as much time photographing Niagara as we would have liked. We’ll definitely go back sometime when the weather is better.
There was once an impressive building on the corner of the intersection shown above. It would have stood where the nose of the pickup is sticking out from behind the fire garage.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Merricourt is a very remote town in Dickey County, about fifty miles south of Jamestown. There are fewer than a handful of residents in Merricourt — just one family remains in this near-ghost town. We didn’t intend to visit Merricourt when we went on an adventure in October of 2014, but some last minute route changes took us right through town, so we stopped to snap a few shots, nine years after our first visit. …
Northgate is a fascinating near-ghost town right on the Canadian border, about 70 miles northwest of Minot. It was originally founded one mile to the north, but moved one mile south to its present site. While the original town site retained the name North Gate (with a space) this town was renamed North Gate South, and then re-dubbed Northgate (without the space) when the post office was established in 1914.
Above: The former Northgate Port of Entry building. The road to the east of Northgate is the highway which formerly functioned as the port of entry, but it is now closed and well-posted by US Customs and Immigration. The new border crossing is about a half mile west.
Not wanting to attract the attention of US Customs and Immigration by driving toward the border on a farm road, we took a long walk down the road to get pictures of the former Port of Entry building. We got within twenty feet of the Canadian border.
As mentioned by a site visitor in the comments section below, the building in the background of the photo above is the former Canadian Port of Entry building, on the Canadian side of the international border. The road to the right of the building shown above was gated when the former border crossing was closed.
We visited another former border crossing in Noyes, Minnesota.
Update: we’ve been told this building has now been demolished. The old Port of Entry is now gone.
This is the view from inside the Port of Entry building. The town outside is the original North Gate.
The town in the background of the above photo is North Gate, on the site of the original town platted in 1910. It is now in Canada. It’s unclear how may people live there. We did not see any activity. We’ve been told the Canadian government was planning to demolish what’s left of North Gate, if they haven’t already.
To get quite specific, in the photo above, the asphalt road in the foreground is US territory. The grassy ditch just beyond the road (where the railroad crossbuck is planted, just on the other side of a barely visible barb-wire fence) is the US-Canadian border. The dirt road and homes at the rear are in Canada.
A couple years later, we visited another impressive abandoned border crossing in Noyes, Minnesota.
Terry ventured onto the road to take this photo, but we escaped without any customs and immigration entanglements.
These elevators are along the now closed highway which originally crossed the border.
There were a lot of places built in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century that were affected by changing policies at the international border. One of them, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Caribou, Minnesota, was featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains.
We met a not-so-tactful Northgate resident who first asked if we were lost, and then informed us they didn’t like strangers poking around in their town. All in all, an eventful visit.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Originally called Denney, this unincorporated community was founded along the Great Northern Railroad in 1887. The name was changed to Barton in 1893. Barton is in Pierce County, about twelve miles northwest of Rugby. In the 2010 Census, it was listed as having 20 residents.
We chose to visit Barton after a vocal visitor to our Facebook page suggested it on more than one occasion. It turned out to be a great suggestion — Barton has abandoned buildings on both sides of its former main street–Barton Street.
Update: We’re told the Barton Sportsman’s Club was torn down in Summer of 2013. If anyone can confirm, please comment below.
There was once a school in Barton, and the town had over two hundred residents at one time. If someone can tell us what building these steps once led to, we’d love to hear it in the comments.
This old home reminded us of Little House on the Prairie. You can almost imagine weathering a blizzard in this little place, with a fire in the wood stove and a kettle of hot soup to keep you warm.
We’ve heard from one resident of Barton who seems to have a problem with the use of the word “abandoned” in describing some of the buildings, preferring to describe the structures as being “in disrepair” instead. In our opinion, it’s splitting hairs.
Merriam-Webster Definition of Abandoned: left without needed protection or care
Abandoned is not intended to mean unowned. If a building is no longer used for the purpose it was originally intended, if its windows are boarded up, if its gutters have fallen and the roof has caved in, if it has weeds and grass growing up around it, or if its been vandalized and never repaired, then it’s not a big stretch to call it abandoned, whether things are stored in it, and whether someone owns it or not. Abandoned also doesn’t mean people are welcome to walk right in, or take things.
This would be a great place to spend a peaceful moment waiting for a bus, if there were any buses running in Barton. As it is, it looks as though someone had a bonfire here.
The owner of the outhouse had a good sense of humor.
At the time of our visit, this old shop was on its last leg.
This photo of Barton Lutheran Church was featured in our hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.
Barton has a very impressive city park which hosts (or hosted) Haakenson family reunions every year for a time.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
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 …
Raleigh is a secluded little town in Grant County, just a short drive southwest of Mandan. The population is nine, and there are exactly two businesses in operation. The grain elevator does a brisk business, and the local tavern is called The Dogtooth — named after the hills which cut a ragged swath through the township. …
As we set out to photograph ghost towns in early May of 2012, we had Nanson in mind as our ultimate destination. We’ve known about Nanson for quite some time but somehow we just never managed to make it there — it was time.
After driving all day through an array of locations, we reached US Highway 2 and drove into Rugby for some lunch — huge double cheeseburgers at the Cornerstone Cafe (now closed). After lunch, we departed for Nanson.
As we headed north of Highway 2 we were struck by the wide open space and the brilliant blue sky. The green rolling hills brought to mind the opening sequence of ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ The trees got more sparse, and farmsteads flashed by less frequently. Sometimes it gets quiet in the car on drives like this. Conversation slows, and one of us turns down the radio in an almost involuntary reflex — unconscious appreciation for some rare silence in an increasingly noisy age. As we traveled further into the countryside, traffic diminished and Terry reminded me we’d entered waving country — when a rare truck passed, the driver lifted one hand and waved. …