We visited this beautiful place, Norway Lutheran Church, in April of 2017. It’s in McHenry County, about 15 miles southwest of Towner, North Dakota, and it is perched on the hill above the Souris River Valley. The Souris, known to locals as the “Mouse River”, has flooded many times, particularly in 1969 and 2011 (a 1976 flood was serious, but not as severe as ’69 or ’11), and 6 years later, the legacy of the 2011 flood can still be seen everywhere. Just down the way from this church, a gravel road still stands blocked-off, partly underwater. Dead wood lies along the river bank in heaps, piled there by land owners after thousands of trees, live and dead, were uprooted and sent drifting downriver in the deluge. In places, there are the remains of flooded buildings, but in many more, new constructions, nicely landscaped and brightly painted. From a safe spot well above the flood plain, and in the tradition of the hardy settlers who came here more than a century earlier, Norway Lutheran Church overlooks perseverance. …
Bergen is a near-ghost town in McHenry county, just off Highway 52, about 30 miles southeast of Minot. The town was founded with a post office in 1905, and the railroad arrived in 1907. Bergen’s peak population was reportedly 98 residents.
Like most of the little railroad towns we’ve photographed, the population began to dwindle during the Depression and Dust Bowl years, partly due to hardship, and partly due to changing transportation and agricultural practices. According to the 2010 Census, only 7 remain. These photos were taken that same year.
US Census Data for Bergen
Total Population by Place
1960 – 52
1970 – 24
1980 – 24
2000 – 11
2010 – 7
Bergen is near Balfour, Kief, and several other towns we’ve photographed.
A site visitor has asked about a murder/suicide that reportedly happened in the farm house where she lives in the Bergen area (see comments below). Do you know anything about it?
Kief is a near-ghost town in McHenry county, and is home to the first Russian Baptist Church ever established in the United States. Although only listed as having a population of 13 in the 2010 census, the amount of activity we saw on our visit to Kief seemed to suggest a larger population, perhaps twenty? Kief has a bar which was open for business on the day we visited. Update: we’ve been told the bar has since closed.
Kief has a total of three churches still standing, but only one appeared to be still in use.
US Census Data for Kief
Total Population by Place
1960 – 97
1970 – 46
1980 – 36
2000 – 12
2010 – 13
Many of the abandoned homes in Kief were in quite good condition, and Minot, the closest sizable city, is only forty-five minutes down the road. We thought Kief would be the perfect place to buy a hobby home for a reasonable price.
From the era when a guy came out to your car and pumped your gas, washed the windows, and checked the oil. Let’s bring that back, can we?
Kief is also home to one of North Dakota’s longest running cold cases. Donna Jean Michalenko disappeared from Kief on November 2nd, 1968. Michalenko disappeared after a night of drinking with a male companion, who claimed he dropped her off at her ex-husband’s house. She was never seen again.
The investigation into Michaelenko’s disappearance was hampered by the fact that she wasn’t reported missing for six weeks after she disappeared. If you have information regarding the disappearance of Donna, please call the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office (the county where Donna lived) at 701-537-5633 or the McLean County Sheriff’s office (where she allegedly disappeared) at 701-462-8103.
We visited Balfour in November of 2014, nine years after our first visit, to get some photos of all the things we missed the first time. We actually tried to revisit Balfour in 2012, but a road construction crew had traffic at a complete stop on Highway 52, complicating our travel schedule, and we decided to wait until another time, so it was nice to finally get back there. …
Steven Lee sent in these photos of Verendrye, North Dakota with the following comments:
My father, Howard Lee, took these photos. They were taken during the flooding of the Mouse River sometime in the mid to late forties. He grew up on his grandfather’s (Herbrand Lee) farm, 2 or 3 miles northeast of Verendrye. Herbrand Lee homesteaded in the area.
We’ve long hoped to run across some photos of the town that was once Verendrye, North Dakota. We drove by the crumbling facade of the school a few years ago and snapped a photo, but we hadn’t yet seen any photos of Verendrye when it still looked like a town. So, we were thrilled when we got an email from Kathy Haynes with some photos and a drawing attached. She was very informative, and her comments and captions are shown below. …
This is the former Balfour Public School. It was built sometime between 1899 and 1910. Other than that, we know very little about this school, or what happened to it. If you know more about this school, we would invite you to click on the photo below and add your comments on the ensuing page. Note the former Balfour church in the background.
We found this postcard going through some old files but we have no record of who sent it to us. Thank you, whoever you are.
We visited Falsen School in Verendrye, North Dakota in 2010 and discovered it was all that was all left of the town that once stood here. Just a lonely, crumbling facade of the school remains. It was on clearly posted private land, so we weren’t able to get closer on this visit. …
Balfour was founded in in 1898 about 35 miles southeast of Minot. It was named for Arthur, Lord Balfour, a British statesman and essayist. Population is said to have peaked at 390, but it now holds less than thirty.
US Census Data for Balfour
Total Population by Place
Balfour is home to numerous vacant structures, including an impressive abandoned school. Balfour’s current residents are doing a very good job of safeguarding the town’s history when it comes to out of town visitors. They approached us for a friendly chat within ten minutes of our arrival.
All photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, Copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC