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