Vanished: Pelto, North Dakota

Pelto, North Dakota

Pelto, North Dakota is a town that no longer exists, except in the memory of those who grew up here. Located in Nelson County, between Grand Forks and Devils Lake, Pelto is an example of a settlement that has vanished with the railroad transportation culture that birthed it.

Pelto, North Dakota

Former site of Pelto. Image/Google Earth

In the era of the steam locomotive, there was a town every eight miles along the track, where engines could stop and refill their water tanks. Today, the tracks still pass just north of the site of Pelto, and there’s a nearby farm that looks abandoned, but nearly everything else has vanished.

Nathan Mastrud contributed these photos of Pelto with the following comments:

Pelto is about 42 miles east of Devils lake.  The only thing that really remains of the town is a Pelto tombstone. The fields that surround Pelto are slowing filling with water, abandoned farmsites & pelicans. The road to Pelto is Closed and has water up to the shoulder for most of the trip.

Pelto, North Dakota

The information on the memorial reads:

Pelto Merc Store-Closed 1957

Enterprise Consolidated School-Consolidated 1915-Closed 1969

Pelto Hall

Finnish Lutheran Church Established 1899

Pelto, North Dakota

A single metal milk container remains standing.

Pelto, North Dakota

There are only a few skeletons of the foundations buried in deep prairie grass with a couple automobile parts dumped in the swamp.

Pelto, North Dakota

Photos by Nathan Mastrud and Punchgut Studio

35 Comments on “Vanished: Pelto, North Dakota

  1. I had not only the privelege of living near Pelto, but went to school there for two years. My Mom, Rosemarie Vasichek was my teacher for one year. Ester Olsen for the other year. My Dad, Joey Vasichek went there for all his school years. I have very fond memories of being part of the history of such a great place. It saddened me when I was home this summer and stood on the spot where the school was. I could hear the voices of children laughing, learning and still can see the blackboards. Such a wonderful place being swallowed by the rising ground water, urbanization of the rural comunities, but not forgotten. Thank God for memories

    • I never knew that you went to school there ! So——- the school closed in about 66 ?? Funny your dad didn’t go to Sauter school?

      • I went to nearby Brocket School, and they demolished the old high school in ’62, I guess, and were still building the new elementary school in ’63 when I entered first grade, so they shipped us off to Sauter school for the first two or three months until the new building was ready. As far as I know, the school stood vacant thereafter, although a couple farm kids living quite close had keys to access the gym with basketball court, but the floor heaved around ’72 or so.

    • I too had the privelege of living near Pelto, I grew up on the family farm just East of Brocket. I left that part of the world in 1980 and moved to New Mexico. I still have some family living in assorted places in North Dakota but I don’t visit there very often. I do however follow webites such as this one to catch up on things, and I might add that this is one of my favorite sites to visit. The people that have put this together have done a very good job, thanks. I did go to Sauter school during my school years, then Brocket, then Lokota. I understand that water is taking over a lot of farmland in past few years. Would this be due to the rising and flooding of Devils Lake? My sister lives in Fargo and has been out to the old farmstead, she forwarded some pictures to me showing the water rising at our old place also. I do miss living in North Dakota at times as I have memories that will last a lifetime. I might add,JoAnne I believe that I know you, and as you said in your post, thank God for memeories.

    • My mother grew up on her parents’ farm just right across the road from where the tombstone lies. (Olson was her maiden name) The farmsted is still there (just a barn, a few bins, and a quonset remain standing) I am 25 years old and I continue to be out in that area every once in awhile. I was curious and typed in Pelto ND in google. I wanted ot see what i could find. Very interesting history and i’m glad i still get a chance to be around it.

  2. of all the photos these are probably my favorites so far , Love the lone cream can in the grass , but the Tombstone for the town is so awesome . What a great way to mark whre the town had been , where life once thrived .

  3. My parents grew up near Pelto. Mother was Selma Pihlgren, born in 1913. She worked in the Pelto store when she was 14. Dad was Arthur Koskela, born in 1909. Their four kids(me included) were raised in Chicago. Wife and I visited Pelto area a few years ago. I remember the Pihlgren family farm when I was very young and our family visited. Sad to see it all gone. Arnold Kosklela Port Charlotte FL

  4. My father’s family grew up about 8 miles or so Northeast of Pelto….my Aunt,Hilda Nelson and her husband,Lionel lived south of the school in Pelto and she taught school there in the 50’s…we used to visit on Sundays and Hilda would let us play in the gym downstairs if it was winter or cold outside…I have many memories from that area and era

    • Hello Are you related to Roger or Pauline Nelson? I believe their mother was Olga but I am not sure. I recall visiting them when I was maybe 8 or so years old and being in brocket at a store with a soda fountain. I am now 74. Arnold Koskela

      • Hey Arnold, I was looking at my family tree and came to this Pelto website. My great grandmother was Lisa Juusont Koskela, married to Mikko Sarkkinen. I believe she would be your great Aunt, sister to your grandfather, Johan Juusonp Koskela

  5. I am looking for information on my great-grandparents Gust and Reeta Kaisa (Maalismaa) Heikkila. Reeta’s father Anders/Andrew died in Pelto in 1908 and I know Gust and Reeta lived in Sauter, Brocket and Lakota (where my grandpa was born in 1910) before moving to Minnesota. Any information is appreciated.

    • Sorry but I cannot be of any help. My parents were born near pelto in 1909 and 1913. The names you mention are not familiar to me. Good luck in your search. Arnold Koskela

  6. I remember Pelto as well. Rick Hodek and I were the only ones in our grade at that country school. My favorite was being able to ring the bell for school to start!! I remember the Christmas program, singing, lunch (cold milk from the cooler), playing on the merry-go-round, the badger hole, the outhouse, the creaking wooden floors. Some of the students I remember were David Larson, Keith Olson, the Hodek boys, Corey Nelson, the Olson girls. . . still see Debbie in Grand Forks. I recall the rides to school from Rudy Nelson in his car :-)….My goodness, the years have certainly passed!

  7. I have visited Pelto many times as I have an Aunt and Uncle Kyllonen who lived near the town site. Back in the 80’s my Uncle was part of a demolition crew taking down the old elevator. There was a report of a dead body down in the depths of the elevator and the police were called in. The body was just bones at this point but an investigation was launched. Turned out to be a person who passed years before. A John Doe who I never actual knew to have been identified. The best the local authorities could come up with was that in years past hobos would ride the rails and most likely that is where this man came from. Would like to know if that man was ever identified? Considering how long that elevator had been locked up goodness only knows how long he laid at rest there.

    • my Grandma Nona Patron went to school in Pelto and my great grandparents help found the town my family is the kyllonen.

      Dane Gillett

      • I never heard of the place, even in the 60s & I’m nearly 70 now & have been a long time Ramsey Co. Resident. I guess you learn something new everyday.

  8. Hi there! My great grandma, great uncles and aunts had a farmstead out near Pelto. They are buried in the Finnish Cemetery. Their names were Hatula (Stina and John born in the 1850s in Finland, their kids Alec, Ida, Herman, John and my great grandmother Lilly Hatula Nelson). Lilly married Oscar Nelson and moved to Lakota where he built her house, and I believe John married Anna and moved to Lakota as well. I have lost track of the rest and they have all passed on. Does anyone remember them? Any help would be appreciated!

    • I am John and Anna Hatula’s oldest granddaughter Anne Kalb, my mother is Charlene (Hatula) Kalb. I fondly remember both of my grandparents. I also remember great aunt Lilly who we visited in Lakota every other year. I do not remember ever hearing of Pelto.

      Anne’s 509-420-4206

  9. My parents were John and Lillian (rakettii) Kyllonen. I went to pelto school in the early 50s and remember the pelto store and the elevator. Hilda Nelson was my teacher. I just discovered this and see familiar names in the comments. My grandmother, Mrs. Erick (Mary Murto) Kyllonen went back to Finland. I would like to learn more about her if anyone can help.

    • my grandma is Nona Patron and my great grandma is Maltilda moilienn

  10. I vaguely remember Nona. When was she born? I was born in 1944.
    Hilda Nelson was my teacher.

  11. My maiden name was Hanesalo. My family and I lived a few miles south of Pelto and my brother, Gary, and I attended the school for eight years. Hilda Nelson was my teacher all those years and I LOVED her!!! She enabled me to graduate from college because of her wonderful teaching. She was an amazing woman—prepared hot lunch for all her students even though she was so busy teaching all eight grades. Her husband, Lionel, was a wonderful man, too. He kept our school toasty warm throughout the cold ND winter. We called him “Pa”. He assembled a stage for us on which we performed our Christmas program–a lot of work for him. The community attended and it was a wonderful time. I would not trade those years for anything!!!

    • Dear Ms Shirley,

      I’m trying to get a hold of your brother Gary. He was great friends with my dad Patrick Thon. If you know his whereabouts and would be willing to put us in touch with each other I would really appreciate it. Thanks, Jodie

      • Hi Jodi !
        My brother teaches in Nevada but spends his summers in Crary, ND. His cell phone number is 775-296-2200. Hope you are able to get in touch with him…

  12. Hilda and Lionel Nelson were my grandparents. It is so nice to read all of the wonderful comments about them. Thanks for sharing!


    • Charles – I stumbled across this site after being curious about where my family is from. Matti Pirila and Mary Honkala were my great great grandparents. Their daughter Aili would be my great grandmother. She married another Finn, William Jarvi from Minnesota. Their son, Henry M Jarvi (my grandfather) was born in North Dakota and then moved to the Iron Range (Hibbing, MN) to work in the mines (along with thousands of other Finns). We’ve always been told that he, like many Finns on the Range, spoke only broken English even into his 20s, despite being born in the US! All the best to you and yours! – Adam Jarvi (St Paul, MN by way of Hibbing)

    • Hello Wanda. I went to school in Lakota but hung out in Michigan. My Uncle Kermit Sherve from Lakota married Joyce Hitla Kalliokoski. She was widowed from Bob Kalliokoski. They lived near Brocket and would talk about Pelto. Her farm was over taken from water.

  14. Does anyone remember the Raketti family in Pelto? I believe this is where my grandmother Sylvia is from.

  15. I am a late comer to this website . I am so glad to see this sort of historical curiosity take place. FYI – Much of what has been saved about the history of Pelto has been transferred to Pioneer Square In Brocket. We have a great deal of historical artifacts there. Some of it is in our museum. We have many pictures of the town in historical scrapbooks. Photos of old athletic teams are there. Often locals have had family heirlooms or family records and they had no idea where to ‘pass it on”. We gladly accepted it at P S. Much of it is identified , some is not . We welcome interest from anyone who like to help ‘sort it out ‘ and keep it well documented. Pioneer Square is set up to preserve this heritage . We have places where we focus on every school in the area . I keep up the Sauter school section for instance. If you have any questions about Pelto , if you want to go down ‘memory lane ‘ , please come to Pioneer Square , what you are looking for is likely there.

  16. The stone memorial , which marks the last vestiges of the town , and the area around it , is maintained by Pioneer Square , and the original photos are in our museum.

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