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Ruso: Smallest Incorporated Town in North Dakota

Ruso: Smallest Incorporated Town in North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota is in McLean County and had a reported population of 4 in the 2010 Census. A claim from an unknown source that we’ve seen around the web says Ruso is the smallest incorporated town in North Dakota. Several unincorporated towns are even smaller, like Hanks (pop. 1), and Merricourt, and ghost towns with zero residents.

Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota. Image/Google Earth

Kelsey Rusch visited Ruso in 2010 and contributed these photos with the following comments:

Right off highway 41, south of Velva, you will find Ruso. Though it has ten or so abandoned buildings, there appear to be three residences as well, making it inhabited, but probably for not too much longer.

It is located just south east of the borders of McLean, Ward, and McHenry counties in a very beautiful yet desolate part of the state.

According to the North Dakota Place Names book, “The post office was established on December 1, 1906 with Edwin J Burgess as pm. The village incorporated in 1909 and by 1910 reported a population of 141, with a doctor, newpaper, and many other luxuries often missing in new townsites.” The Place Names book (first published 1988), claims the zip code was 58778 and was still open at the time. However, a sign outside what I assume was the post office suggests that it closed in 1981.

Ruso, North Dakota

As far as the name “Ruso,” the Place Names book says the name either is a Russian word meaning “south of us,” or, as others say, it was coined from the words SOuth RUssia, which was the homeland of many of the area settlers.

Ruso, North Dakota

The town is in a very peaceful location. The sole road passes one residence right next to the highway before leading to several abandoned ones. The post office, now a home, sits in the middle of town, next to a collapsed building and across from an empty and overgrown field. From what I can gather a section of the field used to be a baseball diamond. If only the kids who used to play there saw it today.

Further down the road sits what was once a pretty nice sized school but now is used as a residence. Around the corner and down the road sits what was once a beautiful church. Two outhouses sit to the east of the church, and to the west a flax field is planted almost all the way up to the doors of the church, which faces west. The grounds surrounding the church, unfortunately, are a mess. There is a junked bus sitting outside, as well as two or three junked pickups. Numerous other things are scattered around and it is obvious the few remaining residents do not take care of the church any more.

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

There were a few other abandoned buildings hidden in the trees surrounding the city but they were either posted or too overgrown to get to. If anyone has any other information about Ruso, especially about history or as to why there is a large bus that says “Huntley Project Red Devils” parked outside of the church, I’d definitely love to hear more about this place. It was very calm and serene and is in a beautiful location in the state.

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Photos by Kelsey Rusch, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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

Elbowoods Memorial Congregational Church

Elbowoods Memorial Congregational Church

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.

Susan Webb Hall Memorial Congregational Church

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

The Murdered Family

The Murdered Family

The Murdered Family (softcover, 347 pages) by Vernon Keel. Based on a true story about the mass murder of the Wolf family, The Murdered Family raises questions about the guilt of the man convicted of the crime. A wave of fear sweeps across the barren prairies of central North Dakota in April of 1920 with the tragic news that seven members of a farm family and their hired boy have been brutally murdered at their home just north of Turtle Lake in McLean County.

murdered-family

A massive search for the killers begins immediately in the midst of an intense statewide election campaign. Three weeks later, eager investigators encouraged by nervous politicians get a signed confession from one of the prime suspects in the case. He is sentenced that same day to life in the state penitentiary in what the New York Times referred to then as ”the most rapid administration of justice in the country.”

From the beginning, the man denies his guilt and says his confession was obtained under duress, intimidation and fear. In November, his lawyers file a motion in district court asking that his plea of guilty be withdrawn and for a trial upon the merits. Their motion is strengthened when some new evidence is discovered on the Wolf family farm only days before the motion is filed.

Some ninety years later, people in the area still recall the words the convicted man was supposed to have said: ”My eyes have seen but my hands are clean!”

Paperback 347 pages $15.00 Order today.









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

Memories of Silver City Ghost Town

Memories of Silver City Ghost Town

Ghost towns come in all varieties, and their abandonment happens for a multitude of reasons. Common on the upper plains are railroad ghost towns, places that vanished when the automobile became the norm. There are natural disaster ghost towns, like Mose, ND, and industrial disaster ghost towns like Picher, OK.

Silver City, North Dakota is another variety of ghost town — a settlement abandoned at the completion of an infrastructure project which employed most of the residents. In this case, the project was the Garrison dam.

We’ve written before about the Four Bears Bridge construction, made necessary by the Garrison dam, and ghost towns like Sanish, inundated in the ensuing flood, but Mrs. Mary (Weyers) Anthony, born in Page, North Dakota, and now a resident of Orlando, wrote to remind us that we have been remiss in not mentioning the Garrison dam boom towns, which sprung up virtually overnight to house dam workers. Mrs. Anthony also included some newspaper clippings and personal photos which we are thrilled to share.

Sometimes in our haste to visit places where there are “things left to photograph,” we don’t give the proper attention to a place now-gone, except in the memories of the people who lived there.

Let’s start with the newspaper article. We’ve transcribed the text below. Click the image to see it full-size.

sunday-tribune

Minneapolis Sunday Tribune
Sunday April 7th, 1957

Memories of Boom Days Haunt N.D. Ghost Towns
by Frank Wright
Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

Riverdale, N.D. — The boom is over for the once-flush, free-wheeling boom towns that helped build giant Garrison dam.

Stores, taverns, hotels, labor union offices have been boarded up, houses vacated.

In some places, weeds grow in the streets where hard-working, hard-spending construction men used to dance through the night.
Some of the towns are on the verge of becoming ghost towns, abandoned to the dust and the wind that sweeps constantly across the rugged North Dakota hills overlooking the virtually completed dam.

mapA few score residents remain, most of them in Pick City on the western end of the dam, keeping their homes and yards in trim, hoping for better days. Many are preparing to pull out.

Dakota City, American City, Sitka, Silver City, Big Bend and Pick City sprouted overnight in 1945 and 1946 when the federal government started pushing the rolled-earth dam, one of the biggest in the world, across the river here.

Founded mainly by promoters and businessmen hoping to turn a quick dollar, the boom towns clustered on the bluffs around Riverdale, government-owned headquarters for the dam project.

At first, the towns lived well off well-paid construction workers.

Graineries converted into cabins rented for as much as $80 a month.

A fat, middle-aged woman known as Silver City Dorothy is said to have grossed 1 1/2 million dollars in her around-the-clock restaurant before she left town.

Some old timers say it wasn’t that much, but they agree she didn’t leave poor.

Isadore Kramer, owner of Sitka’s Quality Supermarket, claims he took in $900,000 over a three-year period during the lush days.

He is going out of business, however. He says he barely has broken even over the long run. His is the last boom town grocery store.

residentsMrs. Steve DeTienne, whose husband owns all of the 120 acres that comprise Big Bend, glanced around Steve’s bar the other day. A half dozen customers sat at the long bar.

“I can remember when this place was so packed people had to wait to get in,” she recalled.

Mrs. Lillian Tusto, who runs the bar, said it employed seven bartenders and four waitresses in 1953, the best year.

The dam workforce then numbered 2,700. Total population was more than 5,000, including Riverdale.

After that, the number dwindled steadily as the dam neared completion.

silver-city7Riverdale’s population leveled off at 1,500, most of them permanent government employees and their families.

Two weeks ago Riverdale’s weekly newspaper, the Missouri Basin Times, suspended publication. The reason: declining advertising and subscription revenue.

Mabel Stemwedel auctioned off her belongings Tuesday in the dusty unused dance hall and left.

DeTienne, 62, former Big Bend Mayor who now is Justice of the Peace, says he hasn’t tried a court case in three years.

The Post Office and Steve’s bar, which now employs three persons, are the only businesses left in Big Bend.

DeTienne, former carpenter at the dam, is counting on tourist trade and the possible coming of industry to improve things. He intends to stay.

But across the road, silver-haired 76-year-old O.A. Burgeson, credited with founding Silver City, is selling out.

He is trying to get rid of 17 two-room cabins, a four-room house and two empty stores. His price for the partly furnished cabins has dropped from $800 to $500 apiece with few takers.

Burgeson, a fast-talking, cigar-smoking former homesteader and one-time traveling salesman, arrived here in 1945 with a stake accumulated while working in the wartime shipyards.

He paid off $1000 of “Hoover depression” debts, plunged the rest into Silver City.

“I laid out the town with my own steel tape measure,” he said as he sat in his cluttered office. “It was the best town of the bunch. I knew how to do those things.”

Burgeson once rented out 29 cabins at $12 a week or $50 a month, take your pick. He expects to show a $9500 net profit for 12 years’ work, if he can sell all his buildings.

His last renter moved out in December. He lives alone in one of his cabins.

When Burgeson closes up shop in Silver City, he plans to head to another federal dam site in Arizona and build himself another town.


Mrs. Anthony sent along these photos from her personal collection. First, some early photos of Garrison dam construction.

dam1

silver-city8

Garrison Dam, 1947.

silver-city-cafe1

This is the Silver City Cafe, a Kodacolor print made in 1950. Mary Anthony says, “My folks and sister ran the Silver City Cafe.”

silver-city-cafe2

rental-cabins

The photo above has “Rental Cabins, Silver City, N.D.” written on the back.

gulransons1

Snow over the top of Gulbranson’s cabin at Silver City, ND

circus

Silver City Cafe Circus. June 25th, 1950. That’s an elephant in the foreground. Note the cabins in the background, originally occupied by dam workers.

dakota-city

This one says “Big Bend” on the front, but “Dakota City Bar. Dakota City, N.D.” on the back.

last-remains-62

The photo above was printed in 1962 and reads “All that’s left of Silver City.” On the back is written “I believe this is gone.”

panorama

This photo is a color panorama taken in 1946. On the back it says, “Silver City, N.D. It started out as a wheat field and ended almost the same as it started.”

Today, nothing remains of Silver City. We have plans to visit a few places and photograph some remnants of the Garrison dam project, and we’d be happy to post your photos if you have anything you’d like to share from North Dakota’s Garrison Dam boom towns. Contact us.



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

Wells Homestead, Rural Elbowoods

Wells Homestead, Rural Elbowoods

During our trip in July of 2014 we had the opportunity to visit several places that once stood in Elbowoods, North Dakota, a town erased from the map when the Garrison Dam flooded the Missouri River Valley. Not far from the Susan Webb Hall Memorial Congregational Church, this homestead, settled by the Wells family, sits vacant. Diane P. commented about this place on our Facebook page and filled in many of the details.

The homestead was settled by “the late Ralph Jr. & Olive Wells […] The late Ralph Wells Sr. also lived there until he passed away. Ralph and Olive were my Uncle and Aunt. Ralph Wells Jr. served as our Tribal Chairman for the Three Affiliated Tribes in the early seventies and died in office.”

The Wells grandchildren have fond memories of this place. One of them, Swadeau H. also commented on our Facebook page about living in this house.  She said

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

The Wolf Family Murders

The Wolf Family Murders

One of the worst crimes in state history occurred April 22, 1920 on a farm just north of Turtle Lake.

It was a gray, overcast day and light rain had been falling. Local resident John Kraft noticed the neighbors, the Jacob Wolf family, had left their laundry on the clothesline overnight and their horses untended. He went to investigate and stumbled into what might be the most horrific crime scene in North Dakota history.

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