Independence, North Dakota stood along the west bank of the Missouri River. Douglas A. Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names” says it was founded in 1885 by Wolf Chief of the Gros Ventres, and named “Independence” to signify independence from the other tribes at Fort Berthold. …
When Lewis & Clark came to the area that is today North Dakota, they began to recruit men and women to join the Corps of Discovery. One of their new recruits was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who had been living among the Hidatsa. He had taken two Shoshone women as his wives–Otter Woman and Sakakawea (Sacagawea). Lewis and Clark saw an opportunity in hiring Charbonneau, since he could speak French and some Hidatsa, and his wives could speak Shoshone. Charbonneau was hired as a translator for the expedition, but was judged harshly by members of the Corps, and by historians in later days. Charbonneau was found to be timid in the water, and quick tempered with his wives. Although some came to appreciate Charbonneau’s cooking, in particular, a recipe for sausage made from bison meat, Meriwether Lewis said he was “a man of no particular merit.” …
At Ghosts of North Dakota, we occasionally like to check-in with artists and photographers (like Mariah Masilko and John Piepkorn) who’ve shown a passion for North Dakota and its vanishing, forgotten places and Jack Dura certainly qualifies. We caught up with Watford City journalist, photographer, and frequent explorer “Travelin’ Jack” between road trips to find out more about his background, his thirst for adventure, his favorite bird dog, and favorite places, from the Badlands to the North Dakota prairie.
Q: I first became aware of your work when you were still at NDSU in Fargo. Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, and what are you doing now? …
Corinth is a near-ghost town in Williams County, about thirty-four miles northeast of Williston. Although one of the residents has taken over a portion of the town, Corinth is still fairly intact with lots of original buildings in time-worn condition.
Corinth was founded in 1916 and reportedly had a peak population of 108 around 1920, and although that figure began to dwindle almost immediately, the Post Office stayed open until 1969. Corinth was an unincorporated town and as a result, there are no reliable census figures to be found. …
On occasion we’ve been asked if we know how many miles we’ve driven in pursuit of North Dakota ghost towns and abandoned places, but we’ve never really had an answer because we didn’t really start keeping track of our mileage until a few years ago. We did, however, have a metric we used to keep track of how much driving we’ve done… the number of vehicles we’ve gone through. We’ve driven about ten different vehicles, and worn-out three of them on the backroads of North Dakota, and two of them actually gave up during a trip to shoot abandoned places.
As of 2017, our best estimate is that we’ve driven about 65,000 miles inside the borders of North Dakota in pursuit ghost towns and abandoned places, and if you include the places we’ve photographed for Ghosts of Minnesota and Ghosts of North America, the number is probably closer to 90,000 miles. At any rate, this story is about that time our vehicle went to the ghost town in the sky.
It was early winter of 2005, and even though we don’t usually go out shooting in winter, it had not yet snowed and we decided to go on a trip to the Devils Lake area.
We had several places on our agenda with the ultimate goal of visiting Silva and Fillmore, North Dakota. It was planned to be an overnight trip, during which we would shoot some places on the way to Devils Lake, spend the night in a hotel, and photograph a few more places on the way home the next day. (As a sidenote, I’ll say this was at a time when we were each working full-time jobs, but not making a lot of money, and we were driving some beater cars. Thank you, Jesus, that we’re in a little better place these days and driving more reliable vehicles.)
It started out fine. As we approached Devils Lake, we stopped along the highway to photograph the home shown above. It was abandoned due to the rising waters of Devils Lake, just a short distance from the former road to the casino, which was also inundated by the rising water. Terry was taking the photograph above while I was standing in front of the car shooting something else, and I thought I noticed the car, a used Ford wagon, making a funny noise. It didn’t seem like anything major, it just sounded a little different than usual.
We continued down the road, checked in at our hotel, and although the weather was gloomy, it was good enough that we could keep shooting, so we headed out for our next place.
It started to drizzle on the way to our next destination, the former Grand Harbor school. Actually, it was more of a mist than a drizzle, and we waited in the car a few moments when we arrived at the Grand Harbor school to see if it would stop. It didn’t. Instead, the mist became a fairly steady light rain, so we got out and photographed the school building quickly, and then headed out for Silva and Fillmore with the hope that the weather would be better by the time we got there.
We were heading west, about 15 minutes from Fillmore when the rain turned to snow. We were on a back road, a pretty rough dirt road, and it wasn’t long before the snow started to accumulate on the road, which was already a little muddy from the rain. The car started to slide around a little bit, and even though I slowed down quite a bit, it was one of those North Dakota weather situations where we decided to let the conditions win. We decided we would go back to the hotel and come back the next day.
We were finally back on the pavement and headed for Devils Lake when, suddenly, the car just died. I looked down and all of the dash lights came on. Engine light, oil light, everything. We rolled to a stop on the side of the road, at the end of a farmer’s driveway, and I tried to start the car again. It made a groaning noise and I suspected it wasn’t going to be starting again. Ever.
So, we called Devils Lake for a tow and we were informed it would be about an hour and 45 minutes. People were sliding off the road all over the place, and they were pretty busy.
While we waited for the tow truck, a weird thing happened. Right behind us, Terry noticed another car roll to a stop on the shoulder. The driver got out and walked away from the car as steam poured from under the hood. Another car had broken down in the exact spot where our car had given out. We made jokes about how maybe this was the Devils Triangle for cars or something.
The tow truck arrived and we had the car towed back to the hotel while we figured out what we were gonna do. In the room, we picked up the phone book to call a few places about the car, and… cue the Twilight Zone music… the phone book said “Durum Triangle” on the cover.
Seriously though, we eventually concluded that the car was done, like, forever. It had likely lost oil pressure and the engine was seized up entirely. We had to call an end to our adventure for that day, and we needed to get home.
Enter my cousin Brad. Actually, he’s my ex-wife’s cousin, but I never got out of the habit of calling him “cousin”. He’s the kind of friend who will help you fix a leaky pipe, cut down a dying tree that’s threatening your roof, or rescue you when you get into trouble, and never make you feel bad about it. Everybody needs a friend like Brad. He lived back in Fargo, and when I called him and told him what happened, I heard him say “Hey. Chris, you wanna go on a road trip to Devils Lake?” Within ten minutes, he was on the road with his friend Chris to come pick us up in Devils Lake.
They arrived just before nightfall. We packed up all our stuff and loaded it into Brad’s new Subaru, which was all-wheel drive, with plans to have a local salvage yard pick up our dead car the next day. Brad and Chris sat in the front, and Terry and I were in the back.
We were heading east on US Highway 2, and conditions were getting really bad. If you’ve driven in North Dakota for any length of time, you’ve likely encountered a snow storm like this. It was hovering around freezing, and a light, wet snow was falling. The wind was blowing the snow horizontally across the highway. Brad slowed down a little bit, but the Subaru seemed like it was handling the slippery road surface fine. Suddenly, we hit a section of highway where the grade rose a little bit. We felt the car squat down on its suspension a little, but when it hit the crest of the rise and started to come down the other side, all four tires broke loose. The road surface in that spot was glare ice. There was a queasy feeling as the car started to rotate clockwise, with the nose pointing toward the ditch.
Time seemed to slow down. There was a moment, a split second really, when Brad was calculating what to do. Then, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well…” then stepped on the gas slightly and drove the car right down into the ditch. Our first lucky break was that this happened in a spot where the grade down into the ditch was at a very shallow angle and the ditch was a wide one with a fairly flat bottom. A moment later, we were in the bottom of this ditch going about 50 miles per hour, with prairie grass sticking up through the snow, pelting the bottom of the car.
Very gingerly, Brad turned the wheel back to the left and started heading back up the grade to the road. Terry and I were in the back seat, leaning toward the middle of the car so we could see what was happening through the windshield. I remember thinking, just for a moment, “Is this it? Is this the end?”
The car popped back onto the highway, fishtailed a little bit, Brad wrangled it under control, and continued driving like nothing had happened. It was dead silent in the car. Then, I said the only thing I could think of to say.
“Nice driving, Brad.”
“Thank you,” he said.
A moment later, the car exploded in laughter and excited chatter. We couldn’t believe that had just happened.
We made it home without any further trouble. Brad swore us to secrecy on our off-road adventure, lest his wife find out what had happened in their brand-new Subaru (she knows, now. He confessed.) Our car in Devils Lake was picked up by a local salvage yard, and we managed to make it to Silva and Fillmore in the summer of 2006.
Thankfully, we haven’t had another trip as eventful as that one.
Charbonneau, North Dakota is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in McKenzie County, about fifteen minutes west of Watford City. As far back as 1960, Charbonneau had already been de-listed from the Census, but according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Charbonneau was founded in 1913 and a peak population of 125 was reported in 1920. Charbonneau’s name was derived from nearby Charbonneau Creek, which was in turn named for the interpreter on the Lewis & Clark expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau. …
We’ve visited the ghost town of Lincoln Valley a number of times, and we’ve posted about why it became a ghost town ( a railroad that never arrived, primarily). We’ve heard stories and read newspaper articles about the glory days, and marveled at descriptions of a town that included churches, stores, a gas station, an implement… all the things you would expect in a small rural town. It was hard to imagine, though, considering we visited for the first time in 2004, long after Joe Leintz, the last resident, had gone, and after almost all of Lincoln Valley’s structures had disappeared. …
Once upon on a time there was a pioneer settlement named Genin at this spot in Benson County, about halfway between Maddock and Oberon, North Dakota. That settlment was later renamed Josephine, but it never really became a town. The highest population ever recorded was approximately 30, and some of those were folks who lived in the surrounding countryside. The truth is, Josephine was really just a glorified railroad siding along the Northern Pacific Railroad. The remains of the town are gone, and only two crumbling grain elevators remain. …
Lincoln Valley, North Dakota is in Sheridan County, about 8 miles NE of McClusky. Lincoln Valley was a primarily German/Russian settlement when it was founded in 1900 by George and Conrad C. Reiswig as Lincoln. In 1912 the name was changed to Lincoln Valley. There were hopes that the railroad would come through Lincoln Valley and spur a boom, but the tracks never came and Lincoln Valley slowly withered.
We first visited Lincoln Valley in 2004 and took these photos. Before we even made it into town, we ran into an intriguing home on the northeast edge of town. It was in the middle of a field with no driveway or outbuildings… just a lonely home, all alone and decaying. …
We visited Nanson, North Dakota, a true ghost town with zero residents in southern Rolette County, in 2012. We traveled through waving country to get there (when an occasional car or truck passed, the drivers frequently waved) and found a townsite rapidly disappearing. There were only four significant structures still standing in Nanson, and the Great Northern Railroad tracks that led to the founding of the town were long gone, too. On Easter weekend, 2017, we decided to make a return trip to Nanson on our way home from another ghost town, Omemee, North Dakota, and see if anything had changed. …
Omemee, North Dakota, a ghost town in Bottineau County, has been a source of intrigue since we first became aware of it in 2005. We were initially made aware of Omemee by a North Dakota resident who alerted us that someone was trying to sell lots in Omemee to out-of-state buyers under questionable circumstances, an effort which amounted to nothing in the end. Later, Fargo resident Mark Johnson sent us some photos of Omemee taken around 2010, and we also received some correspondence and photos from people who had family roots in Omemee, too, but we had never visited Omemee ourselves until Easter weekend, 2017. …
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. …
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. …
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).
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.
Update: a visitor to our Facebook page tells us this school was demolished in late 2016. …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.” …
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. …
Officially, this church is now known as Susan Webb Hall Memorial Congregational Church. It once served Elbowoods, North Dakota, a town now-submerged under Lake Sakakawea, as part of the Fort Berthold Indian Mission which dates back to the 1870s.
The church was organized in 1899 and this building was erected in Elbowoods in 1926. It was relocated in 1953 to a spot on high ground, nearly eight miles north-northeast of Elbowoods, to escape the rising waters of Lake Sakakawea behind the newly constructed Garrison Dam. It is just off ND 1804, about fourteen miles west of Roseglen, and it is one of a number of structures which were relocated from Elbowoods.
The state historical society has a photo of five young girls standing on the steps of this church in the twenties to forties era here.
Charles Hall, an Englishman with a thirst for spreading the gospel, set out for so-called Indian country in 1874. He married his first wife, Emma Calhoun, who died a few years later, then remarried Susan Webb, the namesake of this church. The late Reverend Harold Case wrote a book called “100 years at Fort Berthold” in 1977 which tells the story of Elbowoods. Charles Hall died in 1940.
Looking out on the cemetery from the bell tower.
It’s an understandably sensitive subject when you’re talking about people’s remains, but the appearance of this cemetery suggests some of the deceased who died prior to 1953 were originally interred elsewhere, then relocated to this place, presumably to escape the coming flood. I haven’t spent enough time at the library to know the full-story, so please leave a comment below if you know more.
This monument dedicated to the Hall family stands in the center of the cemetery.
It reads:Emma Calhoun Hall. Born 1850 — Died 1881. She was the first to give her life as a missionary for Christ among the Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arichara Indians.
We visited this place to pay our respects to those who came before us, and to shine a spotlight on a place that had a prominent part in the settlement of our state, but is forgotten or altogether unknown by most. Unfortunately, our visit was seen by a few as an unwelcome intrusion by outsiders, and we’re told a fence has been erected around this church in the time since, and visitors are not welcome.
The marker simply reads “Bell Porcupine”
This marker was so weathered, I could only make out the word “died,” and the “Porcupine” name on the headstone.
This marker reads: Austin White Duck. Born Mar. 1st, 1903. Died December 24th, 1909.
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.
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. Here’s one way to find places no longer on the map.
Banks, North Dakota is shown above on a Rand McNally railroad map from 1942, not far from the banks of the Missouri River, and not far from Seneschal, North Dakota, another pioneer settlement that would end up underwater after the construction of the Garrison Dam. Banks, however, was on high ground, and the location should still be dry. However, it no longer appears on modern maps, and a search in Google Maps returns nothing for the location. Let’s use GNIS to pinpoint the location.
The United States Geological Survey maintains a database (admittedly in a somewhat dated web presentation) of most named geographic locations. If it ever had a Federally-recognized name, it is likely in this database, known as the GNIS, or Geographic Names Information System. Visit the site, and click on “Domestic Names,” as shown above, then click “Search.”
On the next page, type the name of the place you’re looking for in the field labeled “Feature Name,” and select the state from the dropdown menu. Here, I’ve typed “Banks” and selected “North Dakota” from the dropdown. When you’re ready to search, click “Send Query.”
On the next page, we get three results. Watford City was originally known as Banks, so it appears in the search shown above. However, we want to see the location of the other “town” of Banks, so we click the one designated as Banks, “Populated Place.”
At the bottom of the “Banks, Populated Place” page, take note of the geographic coordinates, highlighted in blue in the image above. That’s what we’re looking for. With your cursor, highlight the lat/long coordinates. We want to plug these in to our favorite mapping software.
I like to use Google Earth. In the upper left corner search field, paste in the coordinates from the GNIS page and click “Search.” Voila. The location of Banks, North Dakota.
In this case, it appears there’s no remnant of a town. Further research would reveal Banks was only a rural post office, located on a farm, but if we wanted to check it out, we would have the coordinates.
Using GNIS is just one way to find old places no longer on the map, and we’ll cover a few others in a future post. Do you have any tips or tricks for finding lost places? Please share in the comments.
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. …
Freda, North Dakota is a true ghost town in Grant County about 35 miles southwest of Bismarck. Freda started out as a Milwaukee Railroad town, and once had a population of 50 plus its own bank.
Today it is totally abandoned with the remains of its depot crumbling in the elements. There is one other structure next to the depot, and the ruins of several other buildings on the town site. The depot originally stood about a half mile to the south, but was relocated here. There was also a grain elevator here at one time, but it was moved to Raleigh.
We spoke to an area resident who didn’t even know Freda still existed. If you don’t know what to look for, you’ll probably drive right past it. One interesting footnote: according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick, a meteorite fell in Freda in 1919 and is now displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Above: Inside the depot.
The building above looks like it may have been a store or perhaps a post office at one time. Update: user Ken Laches tells us it was a post office (see comments.) Below: a look inside tells us harsh weathering has been going on for decades, and it looks like someone has scavenged some rusty tin from the back wall.
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The foundation of the former church, on the east end of Freda.
This abandoned farm stands just about a mile or two north of Freda.
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.
The original Fort Abercrombie was constructed in 1858, and it was the first military settlement in what would become North Dakota. Fort Abercrombie is 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. 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.
Gingras Trading Post
Gingras Trading Post is northeast of Walhalla about four miles from the Canadian border. The trading post was established in 1801 as a center of commerce on a sometimes hostile frontier. According to the State Historical Society: The buildings at Gingras State Historic Site are the oldest standing structures in North Dakota. They have been restored to their original appearance by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Cartwright Tunnel and Fairview Lift Bridge
Cartwright Tunnel and Fairview Lift Bridge, in McKenzie County, just a short drive southwest of Williston, is a two-for-one attraction–a lift bridge on the Yellowstone River (which was only raised one time), and North Dakota’s only railroad tunnel. Both have now been converted to tourist attractions, and are free to explore. Bonus: on a hot summer day, the Cartwright Tunnel features natural air-conditioning in a pitch black and blissfully cool tunnel.
Dakota Thunder and Frontier Village
Dakota Thunder, in Jamestown, is billed as the World’s Largest Buffalo. It’s a concrete statue of a North American Bison which stands at the east end of Frontier Village, a replica frontier town with actual buildings from places around the state. It’s free to get in, and for a few extra bucks, you can visit the National Buffalo Museum which is also on-site.
Standing Rock Hill Historic Site
Standing Rock Hill Historic Site, not to be confused with Standing Rock Reservation much further to the west, is a scenic and sacred site south of Kathryn and west of Enderlin, in Ransom County. Standing Rock Hill Historic Site consists of four Native American burial mounds, the largest of which is marked with the small standing rock shown here. Getting to the site requires a fairly steep uphill drive on a minimally maintained road, and the trip should only be taken by the adventurous if the weather is bad.
White Butte is the highest point in North Dakota, in Slope County, near Amidon, and of the fifty state high points, one of only seven on private land. It’s a fairly strenuous thirty-minute hike to the summit. The property owners are known to be friendly to the climbing community as long as you’re respectful and pick up after yourself. The last time we visited, there was a porta-potty at the base, but there are no other services of any kind, and no admission fee.
Northern Pacific High Line Bridge #64
High Line Bridge is the longest railroad bridge in the state, and like the Gassman-Coulee Trestle in Minot and the Sheyenne River Bridge near Karnak, we chose to photograph it and feature it here due to the railroads’ pivotal role in settling North Dakota. High Line Bridge is in Valley City, there’s a park at the base of the bridge, and plenty of restaurants and accommodations in town. No admission fee.
Painted Canyon Visitor Center is right off the north side of Interstate 94, a few miles east of Medora. If you’re entering the Badlands from the east, this is your first chance to get a look at them from a scenic overlook, and it is amazing. While it costs a few bucks to get into Theodore Roosevelt National Park a few miles west, the Painted Canyon Overlook is free.
Jensen Cabin at Wadeson Park
Jensen Cabin, in Barnes County, was built in 1878 by Norwegian immigrant Carl Bjerke Jensen, made from hand-hewn oak. The cabin and the land were donated to the State Historical Society by the Wadeson family in 1957. This cabin was in pretty bad shape until it was restored in 1981. It’s a beautiful drive to get here if you drive the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway from Valley City, and the placid and soothing Wadeson Park Spillway is right across the road. It’s a nice history lesson, and it’s free.
Gassman Coulee Trestle
Gassman Coulee Trestle is one of three very large railroad trestles we’ve photographed, the others being the High Line in Valley City and Sheyenne River Bridge near Karnak. Gassman Coulee Trestle, just west of Minot, is an attraction in the roughest sense–you can drive under it, photograph it, or just stand in awe of it, but there’s no visitor center or anything like that. It’s just a great place to be outside with your camera on a hot summer night. There was once a ski resort under this trestle, and the former ski lodge is still there, but now it’s a private residence.
The site of Old Sanish
Old Sanish lies beneath the waves of Lake Sakakawea most of the time, but sometimes, if the water is really low, you can see the remains of Old Sanish. With the water at normal levels, the ruins are submerged, but you can still visit Crow Flies High Butte, see the monument to Old Sanish which features photos of the town, and get a fantastic panorama view of Lake Sakakawea and Four Bears Bridge.
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. …