Hensel, North Dakota: A Town with Two Names

Hensel, North Dakota

We made a quick stop in Hensel during our visit to Pembina County in 2006.  Due to time constraints we were unable to explore Hensel as thoroughly as we would have liked, but we did capture these photos.

Hensel, North Dakota

Hensel is located in Pembina County, about eight miles southwest of Cavalier.  As of 2010, Hensel had a population of 45.

Hensel, North Dakota

We were unable to find a reference to Hensel in the 2010 North Dakota Census, and we assumed it had been delisted. However, after a comment from Curtis in the comment thread below, we did some searching and discovered Hensel has been legally known as “Canton Village,” “Canton City,” and just “Canton” at various times. A Google Maps search reveals Canton City and Hensel to be the same place.

The original Post Office building reportedly stood in a settlement known as Hensel, a short distance away, but it was moved to Canton City and retained its name (Hensel Post Office located in Canton City). Although the town is still officially Canton, roadsigns and many maps read “Hensel”, and locals consider Hensel the name of the town.

Hensel, North Dakota

The Hensel Hall was sealed up, so we assumed it hadn’t been used in some time. The art deco design on the front of the building, built in 1940, brings to mind images of the time in which it was built.

Hensel, North Dakota

Hensel, North Dakota

Hensel, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media


73 Comments on “Hensel, North Dakota: A Town with Two Names

  1. this town really reminds me of cumberland iowa. there is less than 300 people living there and they are mostly seniors

    • I lived there for a short moment when still in high school we will travel to work on the fields with entire family originally from south Texas a place named McAllen. It brings me Great memories, that building with the flag is the Post Office, we would stayed just across from that building, during summer back in the 90’…….

  2. The legal name of the town is Canton Village, it’s never been listed as Hensel.

    • That’s interesting, Curtis. After reviewing the Census records again, we see an entry for Canton City with a listed population of 45. A Google Maps search reveals Canton City and Hensel are the same place… thank you for putting us on the right track..

    • Some time in the past a small setelment west of the railroad named Hensel had a post office . The post office was relocated to Canton and the name of Hensel was required to come over also. We have a thought that if our post office is closed by the postal service , will Canton be reinstated. Time will tell . Have a nice day

      Herb Storie

        • My late father Harold Hensel lived on a ranch as a young lad outside of Wagner, So. Dakota.. Now I wonder if dad ever even knew of Hensel, North Dakota. He never mentioned it to me. I think he was born in Iowa. I sure enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I reside in Pine, Co a pop.
          of 50-60 full timers about 40 miles S.W. of Denver in the foothills.

  3. Here’s some information I found in the “North Dakota Place Names” book by Douglas A. Wick.

    Canton “was a pioneer Icelandic settlement founded in 1879 (…) and named by townsite officials to note that it was a ‘canton’ for several rural communities at the headwaters of the Tongue River. Canton is French for small territorial division, and is the term used for the political division, or states, of Switzerland.”

    From the same book, under Hensel, one finds “This was a rural post office established November 1, 1887 with Joseph Erwin pm, who named it for his hometown of Hensel, Ontario, Canada. It was located three miles NW of Canton until it moved to that townsite in 1889, retaining its name. The townsite is now generally called Hensel, although its legal name remains Canton.”

  4. I used to work at the elevator in Hensel back in 2006. It was pretty lively in the mornings, with all the farmers stopping in for coffee, so it’s nice to see there is still some life left in the town. I always wanted to go into the town hall, but the first time I went to the top of the elevator, I looked down and saw the roof is completely caved in.

  5. My great grandfather was one of the original developers of Hensel, moving there from St. Thomas in 1888. He ran a general store there which was torn down long ago. He also backed my grandfather’s inland store in Kintloss. In 1913 he retired and moved to Montana to live with a daughter. He died in 1925.

    • Hi William,

      My great-great grandfather Robert W Johnston moved to Hensel in 1884. He was a barber there. From BC Canada, we visited Hensel in 2008 but couldn’t learn any more history. Do you have anything you can share? I’ve been searching so long.

      BC Canada

      • Karen,
        I received most of my Hensel information from Lorne Hillier of Hensel who passed away in 1998. Lorne was one of the founders of the Pembina County Historical Society. You may be able to reach them at pchsm@polarcomm.com.

        • I have a photo of the Conlon/Hartje store in Hensel, if you’d like a copy, let me know. Have both inside and outside photos.

          • My husband is a Hartje, he lived in Crystal. I have just begun to look up his ancestry. Both Hensel and Canton City have come up in my research and I wasn’t sure where Canton city was located. I’m guessing the Hartje who was part owner of the grocery store in Hensel was probably related to my husband in some manner. He didn’t know Hensel was actually Canton City.

          • Hello Jim:
            I’m just starting to research our family name (Hartje), and came across these postings. Fascinating. Not sure if I have a connection here, but it’s possible. If still available, could you please email me the inside & outside photos of Hartje’s department store in Hensel? Spent a week in S.D. digging dinosaur bones (Hell creek formation) this summer, and I’m convinced the beauty of S.D. and vicinity is simply one of this country’s best kept secrets. Bob.

      • Karen, your great great grandfather Robert Johnston, do you know his children’s names or other any other relatives names? My grandfather Morley Johnston grew up on a farm 2 miles South of Hensel. I remember my dad and my aunts saying the Johnstons came to Crystal and Hensel from Canada but no one knows much of the history before Morley. I had no idea I may possibly have a barber in my family tree.

        • My grandma was a Johnston and I know she was fom north of Crystal Her Dad was Earls Johnston and they were related.

      • RYAN, The barber Robert W Johnston was in Hensel 1884-1904. His kids were Hal, Alda, Stan, Bert, Garth, Myrtle, Isaac. The last 5 were born in Hensel, ending 1896. I’m sure I know all their kids’ names. I have never come across the name Morley. Too bad.

        BC Canada

  6. We have been curious of the naming of Hensel, ND as this is my husband’s family name. It appears that they had no part in the naming or living in the area. They were Prussian immigrants from the area of Pomerania and first came to Iowa and then to north central MN.

    • I grew up just down the road from Hensel. We also had our wedding reception at the Hensel Hall and so did my parents 25 years earlier. My Dad talked about going to a movie in Hensel that was shown on one of the buildings walls. I went to Hensel School 1-6 grade

  7. Hensel was a great town back in the day i would love to visit again sorry to hear about the post office

    • I watched them build that new cement elevator in the early 50’s, it was the most impressive elevator I had ever seen. Today the only elevators doing well are the one’s that can handle 110 freight cars at one time. Small elevators can’t compete because of extra freight costs.

    • My family had farms in the area. T.W. Husband was my uncle by marriage (my aunt was Runa Bernhoft) with only the road to Hensel separating my other uncle’s farm, Bill Magnusson (my aunt was Mable Bernhoft). I remember Hensel even 50 years ago as being the place to walk to from the farm to post my letters. Thank you for the information about the Hensel History web site.

      • Lorne Hillier is my grandpa. I spent my first few years living in Hensel, and visited often after that. Such fond memories.

      • Jane, I hope you see this! There is a man on Facebook who came across a photo of a lady I am assuming would be your relative — a Ms. Carol Magnusson of Hensel, ND. It is a beautiful photograph of her! He would love to return it to the family! Please email me at vineyardalto@yahoo.com
        Leslie Aubrey

        • I am Lorne Hillier’s oldest child. Glad to see he was able to supply you with more information. I was born there in 1942 and moved away in 1961. It was a nice place to grow up, with 10cent movies,roller skating, basketball tournaments, christmas programs, dances, and my wedding shower all held in town hall!
          In 1989 we bought a house on 2nd street from my brother Tom. We kept it as a vacation home for visits for 10 years until both parents had died. My brother, Bill, still has a second home there with his wife, Judi. My brother, Jay, resides at the old farmstead 1.5 miles, west of town.

  8. In 1925 my great uncle passed away at the age of 25.He was kicked by a cow. His funeral was at KENSAL,N.D. but his parents misunderstood and went to HENSEL,N.D. There must be 200 miles distance between the two towns. How divastating that must of been for them to miss their sons funeral.

    • Donna – what a sad story! Can’t imagine how much their sorrow was compounded.

  9. Thanks for this site. My husbands ggrandparents, Sven and Serrine Oie, homesteaded in Hensel from about 1878 to 1895 before moving to Roseau. Would love to know more about the town and also about Mountain where Sven’s younger brother, Ole, married Sara Olafson. Thanks for posting Lorne’s history and the pictures of Hensel. I really enjoyed both.

  10. I remember roller skating in the Hensel Hall when I was a child. (circa late ’50’s early ’60’s) We lived in Crystal, a town about 6 miles south of Hensel.

  11. I am Lorne ‘s oldest child. I lived my first 19 yrs 1.5 miles west of town. I also roller skated, went to movies, basketball games, Christmas pageants, wedding showers ( including my own), dances, and many other events in the Hall Thank you for posting these pics Sharon

    • Dan Erlendson read your recall. I know Hensel
      I have a book showing the location of Hensel shops.

      Dan Erlendson
      8420 Wayne Ave
      Stanwood WA 98292

  12. I live 1.25 miles west of Hensel. It is not really a ghost town as about 40 people live in it and there is a thriving agribusiness within and around the town. The church pictured was a United Methodist Church and the building was demolished in early 2012. The large storefront building is scheduled for demolition later in the Fall of 2012 (that is the building which was the original Conlan Store). The smaller building with the “SHOP” sign has completely been restored/renovated and is currently a thriving business. The bar building used to be a bank and is now a private residence. When I was a kid in the 1960’s there were two grocery stores, a 8 grade schoolhouse, a hair salon, two bars, the church, several potato storage warehouses, two grain elevators, a sunflower processing plant, an implement dealership, a cafe and about 150 residents. The old town hall (the boarded up concrete building photo) was an active place with roller skating, dances and a multitude of community and school events. Lorne Hillier, mentioned above, was my Father (I am the youngest of five kids at age 54). The Post Office, for now, is not closing but probably as our Federal Government is drastically and regrettably reduced in size it may indeed close. Canton was the original name of the Post Office site which was actually located about 2 miles Southwest of the present town site. It was moved to its location because it needed to be next to the Great Northern Railroad. Considering all, out little town is doing a pretty good job of holding on as a place for people to live a peaceful rural life and are sort of a bedroom community for Cavalier and Grafton.

  13. Not much to add to the great comments by others. I also grew up close to, and in and around Hensel. I actually thought that Canton was incorporated into the City of Hensel in the 1970’s when Don Puppe was Mayor and the “King of Hensel”, but I have no proof of that. Don also ran operated the bar, which along with Hartje’s Store was one of the main places to hang out. I lived in town for a few years in the late 70s, taking advantage of my brother’s hospitality and absence from his house. There have always been residents that had second homes in town, favoring the warmer climates in the south – or southern ND – for the winter.

    The story of the town’s demise is pretty typical of other towns in rural ND. Good roads and declining populations left fewer shoppers and lower school enrollments.

    Be nice if someone could post a picture of the school. Four rooms with two grades to a room when I attended in the 60s.

    Nice web site.

    • Hi Tom…. This was interesting to find this sight. I’d also like a picture of the Hensel School. I’m sure someone would have one. Lots of fun memories there.

    • Good one Tom, actually Dad was known as the Pheasant king, fitting name with all the pheasants we raised.

  14. My Grandfather and Grandmother lived in Hensel, North Dakota, Steni and Ena Snydal. We spent a ton of time in and around Hensel as kids and to this day, I still travel up to Hensel, Mountain and Walhalla every Memorial Day to visit. I can honestly say some of the best days of my life were in and around Hensel. I appreciate the photos in this posting very much as they bring back memories. God Bless, Paul Graveline

    • I worked with your grandpa one season – maybe fall of 1971 – combining on the Glen Hartje farm. He was running a combine and I drove an IH truck of his that I could never restart if I turned it off once it was warmed up. Just returned from a visit to ND tonight.

      • Tom:
        Thank you for the note. I spend a few days with Steni in the field as well as a child. I have a vision of the women working on the patato pickers with thier scarves tied on their heads as they removed small patatos, etc. I remember the IH Truck and today I have Steni’s 1971 Ford F100 pickup. It runs like a top and is in near perfect shape. Just drove it today.
        God Bless,

  15. Barry Puppe
    I was one of the lucky ones to grow up in Hensel as well. I still to this day get asked are those great steaks still available there. Unfortunately the bar my dad and mother ran while raising three kids is no longer in business.
    I remember while in school as a young person, my dad came over there while we were in class to take care of a bobcat that was prowling the play grounds in the weeds. Thankfully no one was taken by the big cat.
    That town was booming when I was growing up. We had one of the best softball teams around. We competed every time we went out of the field and won a good share of our games. The people of Hensel’s past and present are the proof of our North Dakota values, hard workers, ethical, smart and always willing to lend a hand to a neighbor.
    My dad was the mayor for many years and did a great job of keeping the fire station going. That was the one thing was sad to no longer exist. Like many others, I could write a book about Hensel, but time is kicking my in the rear end right now to get at some other pending issues.
    Good to see everyone else updating here.

  16. I enjoyed reading this information. My grandfather was born in 1896 in Hensel, and I was curious about the town. His family later moved to Manitoba.

    • Hi Barry. It was fun to find this sight and hear the stories. Hensel was a big part of our lives. I remembering Mom sending me to hensel to buy something from the little store that we needed for the meal we were cooking. The post office was right there and then Puppe’s bar on the corner. Many memories of steak night there. Always the best. I have watched the video’s your Dad took in the bar with my parents there. Fun times. Does your family have pictures of the Hensel school? there has to be some pictures of it somewhere. I was so sad to hear that it was torn down.
      Our wedding dance was in the Hensel Hall and so was my parents 25 years before that. I remember the basket ball games there and how fun they were. Did you ever go roller skating at the hall? It was fun.
      I love the video’s from your Dad that show the soft ball games of our parents and then even my brother playing with all the “Hensel Crew” Those were always fun. Very competative and they always had a good time. Probably a little booze here and there.

  17. My mother (Signe Bestul) had her first teaching job in Hensel. Her eyes lit up when I told her that I stopped there to see the town. Must have had fond memories!

  18. Great to see these old pictures. My grandparents lived in Hensel in the 70’s maybe early 80’s. My grandpa managed the grain elevator and I use to love going to visit him at work, have a soda, visit with the truckers and then go for my elevator ride to the top of the elevator to see the whole world. Sad to see how the town is pretty much abandoned. Memories of a dance at the Hensel Hall and going to the grocery store/post office with my grandma sure

    The town seemed a little bigger back then. 🙂

  19. I also grew up in Hensel and on a farm close to it. I remember most of things others have posted but does anyone else remember when our “fathers” took the firetruck and flooded the corner across from “Puppe’s Bar” – the Greenwood farm – and we had an ice skating rink? That was in probably 1957/58…Of course the ice wasn’t real smooth but still we could skate. I too remember the elevator being built and the meals Millie Unke cooked at Hartje’s Store/Cafe for the men working on the elevator. When I was in 8th grade (maybe…) myself and two other girls that lived in town climbed to the top ON THE OUTSIDE on a Sunday, have a picture of us up there…..then we got scared and couldn’t climb down so the elevator manager had to come and “rescue” us one at a time down to the level where the inside elevator ran…and it wasn’t like an elevator in a high rise!!! Skating, dancing, movies, basketball, wedding showers, Christmas “plays” 8th grade grasdution all in the Hensel Hall. My Mother graduated from Hensel High School in 1941 and back then they even had a girls basketball team and took state championshhip earlier that year!!!

    • I remember going to the basketball games at the Hensel hall and also roller skating every friday or Saturday night. Those were fun times.

  20. Hi my name is Stefan Kristjansson and I live in Iceland. I stayed at Ena place in Hensel during the 80’s I was wondering if you are relative to Bill Grafton who lives? in Gand Forks.


    • Stefan:
      My father is Bill Graveline. He is a great Man, father, husband, son, historian, researcher, teacher and business person. Ena is his Mother and my Dad has spent a large portion of his life researching the Icelanders of North Dakota. He is still alive and doing great in Grand Forks. He is God’s gift to all of us…hope you are well.
      Paul Graveline
      Lakeville, Minnesota

  21. I grew up in Crystal, another very small town in Pembina county , This town was always referred to as ‘Hensel’
    The Hensel Hall was the highlight of the town. Thank-you for the many memories , and the education on the naming of this wonderful small town in North Dakota.

  22. I have numerous books on North Dakota history, and in one of them, published in 2000 is “Main Street North Dakota in Vintage Postcards.” There is one of Hensel and the info with it says that Canton City is the legal name and Hensel is a nickname. No other explanation given, unfortunately. I only know it as Hensel. My dad was born in 1913 and grew up there. He was a star on the high school basketball and track teams in the late 1920’s. We lived in Grand Forks and my Grandparents had a farm outside of Crystal. Along with the crops the raised champion turkeys which they entered in numerous turkey shows….yes, turkey shows! We always drove through Hensel on out way to the farm. My grandparents were Frank & Ruth Ralston. My dad went on to become a successful physician. As a child I was always fascinated by the old towns dad would drive through. He always took a local highway so we’d have to slow down to 15 mph to pass through towns that sometimes were only 2 blocks long. The old facades fascinated me, they still do. Having grown up in Grand Forks I was amazed how anyone could live in such small towns. I’m so happy to have found this site. I believe these early memories ignited my love for North Dakota history, and pioneer history of the Dakotas. My grandparents are buried in Mountain.

  23. I have a photo of the Hensel School that I took shortly before it was torn down. I can scan and email to anyone who wants it. Send me your email address to P O Box 345, Walhalla, ND 58282 — don’t want to post any email addresses so the spammer don’t get it!

    Puppe’s Bar was originally the State Bank of Hensel, which was burglarized back in 1905. There was a copy of the news story on display at Don Puppe’s prayer service.

  24. Just found an old photo of the Hensel school as well…..same offer as above for anyone wanting a copy.

  25. To Stefan Kristjansson:
    Ena and Steni Snydal had numberous people visit from Iceland. Growing up on the farm in Hensel, my grandparents spoke Icelandic often, especially when they did not want us to know what they were talking about. Your question I believe is about my Father, Bill Graveline who lives in Grand Forks, ND. He is still alive and well and has spend a good portion of his live researching our family tree. Stefan, if you send me a email at paulc502@aol.com I will put in you in touch with Bill.
    God Bless You,
    Paul Graveline

  26. May 2915 My cousin and I just went to Hensel to see where our Gramma grew up! It was wonderful to finally get there!
    Our Gramma was named Clara Gillies and was one of the 10 children of Mary and Frank Gillies Sr. Our Great Grandfather Frank Gillies was Mayor of Hensel in 1910 and our Gramma’s Sister Sara Gillies was Post Mistress for many years! Our Great Grand Father owned a machine shop which sold McCorrmack brand farming equipment! We were so happy to see where our Gramma’s childhood home stood and the machine shop! The Hensel Hall where so many social events took place! We noticed that two names in the Hensel phone book had Gillies as a last name! John Gillies, our Gramma’s oldest brother! He married moved to Canada and had a boy and girl!
    Does anyone know if our great grandfather Frank Gillies, Sr. had a brother who might have Had boys whose descendants may still live near Hensel?
    Thanks Claire and Vivian

  27. I was raised in Hensel during my early childhood (1936-1946), My parent’s names were Carlyle and Magda Lynn Goetz. My uncle, Harrett Goetz and my grandmother, Hulda Goetz had a farm just west of Hensel. My uncle and aunt, Henry and Viola Sellheim, lived on a farm 2 miles east of Hensel. They had seven children. LaRue, Orville, Betty, Donald, Dale, MaryAnn and Kay Sellheim. I went to school (1-8 grades) and graduated from 8th grade in ’46 and then moved to Grafton so I could attend high school. My first teacher in Hensel was Laura Fleming and my other teacher was Lillian Jordon Johnson. My friends and playmates were Roland Dusterhoff, Lee Hartje, Doyle Hillier, Curtis Weitstock, Nina Olson, Irene Puppe, Corine Jordon, Conlon sisters, and Bonnie Husband.
    No one has mentioned the second bar,owned by Fred Redke, in their posts. Fred was also my barber. The postman was Cliff Olson and the gas station was owned by Chris Bernhoft.
    The previous posts that have been written have jogged my memory and brought back thoughts of many friends and family.I’m 83 years old and living in Scottsdale Arizona with my bride “Marcy” of 61 years. My e-mail address is mggoetz@cox.net.

    • My grandparents were Henry and Viola Sellheim who lived in Hensel on main street. From my understanding, at one time my grandfather was a cop and grandmother a post mistress. We stayed with them occasionally and I remember vividly a murder that happened in the home across the alley from their home. Apparently the father of the house came home one noon and killed the mother leaving the boys homeless. It was shocking to me as a child because we knew the kids.

    • Hi Gerald Geotz! We seem to be related…I posted a while back in response to your post.

  28. I graduated from 8th grade in 1956. I remember all your friends. Fred and Edith Radke were close friends of my parents . They had a bowling alley next to the bar. Your uncle Harrett once gave me a ride to Grand Forks so I could see my new boyfriend ,Dick Dabney, in the summer of 1961 . Dick and I have been married since Dec of that year! We retired to Maricopa, AZ in 2005.

  29. Hensel was my address for 22 years. What wonderful memories! Sharon Hilliier was my classmate and am still in touch with a few of the old crew!

  30. I would like to take a trip to Hensel some day before I kick the bucket, my mom was born here in 1936 her name is Genevieve Laura Berry and I never got the chance to meet her but I have had the good luck of meeting her sister my Aunt Evelyn. Soon my wife and I will be getting our motor home and getting out of the Arizona heat and hitting the road to see a lot of this great country and this will be one of my stop’s….

  31. MY mom is from Hensel, Evelyn (Kaye). Herb and Evelyn Lawonn, are my grandparents, they are both deceased. I always enjoyed visiting.
    Every visit to see the grandparents, would include Hartje’s store, and Ralphies, a little gas station with snacks. Miss those days.

  32. My Grandfather was born in Canton ND. His Name is Jon (John) Halldorson. Don’t have any other info about him other than he Married a Lady from Pine Creek Minnesota and they raised their 3 boys in Piney Manitoba. One of those boys was my Dad Marvin Halldorson. Just putting it out there in case someone knows something about my Grandfarthers family. I assume he was born around 1900 give or take a decade. Lol

  33. Hi Jolie, I went to school with your mom and her sister, Shirley. I knew you grandparents well. They were noted for the dandelion wine Herb made. The groceries store was owned by my great uncle Ralph Hillier and his wife, Myrtle.

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