Bartlett is about twenty miles east of Devils Lake and is about as close as you can get to ghost town without actually being totally abandoned… there is perhaps one occupied property, and we saw the remains of several crumbling homes. The former town site is quickly getting overrun by nature — the roads are shaded even on a bright day like this one. As we drove into town, untrimmed branches reached into the road to greet us, nearly touching the sides of the car.
The Andreas Historical Atlas of Dakota (pre-statehood), published in 1884, describes Bartlett like this:
This place, located near the east line of the county, on Section 25, Town 153, Range 61 was commenced in the fall of 1882, upon the completion of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway to that point, and for a number of months had a wonderful growth and business, the population, at its maximum, reaching 1,000. there were 250 buildings in the place, and the people had high hopes that its boom would be a permanent one. But the laying out of Lakota, in Nelson County, four miles east of Bartlett, and the establishment of the county seat at the new town, resulted in the removal of the bulk of its business to Lakota and the city of Devils Lake. One hotel building was taken down and removed to West End, in Benson County, where it was metamorphosed into a number of cottages. There remains at Bartlett two hotels, several stores, and altogether some twenty five or thirty buildings.
A population of over one thousand in 1884 had become just 120 residents by 1910.
US Census Data for Bartlett
Total Population by Place
1910 – 120
1920 – 98
1930 – 67
1940 – 78
1950 – 51
1960 – 39
1970 – 19
1980 – Delisted
The railroad tracks just outside of Bartlett were the site of a terrible railroad accident in April, 1907. The Great Northern Oriental Limited derailed just after 1am, rolled down an embankment, and caught fire when a gas tank exploded, an explosion so loud it was heard in Lakota, four miles away. Three died, including mail clerk Harry Jones who was killed instantly when the car he was riding in was telescoped by another, and an unknown Greek laborer who burned to death, trapped in the wreckage.
There were reports that the tracks had been tampered-with, a suspicion perhaps bolstered by a derailment that had happened less than a year prior, on the same stretch of track, just 100 yards away.
When you’re the only resident left in town, there’s nobody around to object when you rename N. 24th Street to Bartlett Rd. with a paint brush.
This part of the state in the Ramsey/Nelson/Grand Forks County area has a couple cool little places to visit, like Whitman, Mapes, and Niagara.
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