Jailbreak in Conway

Conway is a near-ghost town in Walsh County, southwest of Grafton.  Conway’s peak population was reported in the 1900 census as 216.  Today the population is 23.

Conway, North Dakota

On September 7th, 1897, the New York Times published the following story:


Tramps Imprisoned in Conway Set Fire to Jail

Fargo, ND. Sept 6th — The city marshal and a posse, after a hard fight, captured three tramps who had robbed several stores at Conway, a small town in western Walsh county, and lodged them in the city jail.

At an early hour Sunday morning the jail was discovered to be on fire, and before the flames could be extinguished, one of the vagrants was cremated and the other two have since died from frightful burns.  It is supposed the men tried to burn a whole [sic] through which they could escape and the blaze got beyond their control.

New York Times, Sep. 7, 1897
Conway, North Dakota

US Census Data for Conway
Total Population by Place

1900 – 216
1910 – 184
1920 – 148
1930 – 100
1940 – 120
1950 – 107
1960 – 67
1970 – 57
1980 – 33
1990 – 24
2000 – 23
2010 – 23

Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota

Every vacant lot we saw, we wondered whether it was the site of the former jail mentioned in the New York Times article.

Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota

Conway Memorial Park was dedicated to the soldier shown below, Lt. Frank L. Vorachek.  We were able to determine that he was a veteran of the Army Air Corps ca. 1916-17, and that he later graduated from the UND School of Law.  If anyone else knows more about Lt. Voracheck, we’d like to hear from you.

Sadly, the park doesn’t seem to get much use anymore.

Conway, North Dakota

Terry walked into this belt of trees and discovered the park.

Conway, North Dakota

It is sometimes… unsettling, to be in a playground where there are no children to play.

Conway, North Dakota

Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota

Conway, North Dakota

Conway, North Dakota

All of the furniture is falling into the basement. Note the spiderweb in the doorway.

Conway, North Dakota
Conway, North Dakota

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

49 Comments on “Jailbreak in Conway

  1. Hey

    What is the white building with the porch, appears to be in fairly good condition. Photos are great. Hate to see the vandalism though. Agree with TrollDoll, the stuff in that kitchen is cool.

  2. I believe the large white building is the town hall. I was at a wedding dance there a while back. Keep up the good work!! Love the photos, Although a little saddening.

    • Yes, the white building was the town hall and also used by the Catholic Church in Conway as their parish center. I grew up a couple of miles from Conway and have many fond memories of that hall. It’s where we had our church bazaars every October–home made goodies, games (always bingo!) and a huge turkey and all the trimmings dinner. It had a large kitchen and dining room with a dance hall on the porch side of the building. I lived there in the 1960s and 70s and all the other buildings were already abandoned and in very poor shape. I haven’t been there for a long time. Thank you for these pictures. I think I’ll make a point of driving through next time I’m in that area.

      • I printed this page out for my mother, Fran Sanger, and she thinks you may be the daughter of her Uncle Johnny Bartuska, her mother’s brother. Small world! She has fond memories of childhood in Conway, as well.

  3. I think some of the spookiest pictures on this site are the interiors of abandoned houses that still have all the furniture still inside.

  4. I’m told that the 6th picture from the top is the Conway town hall, home to many a church bazaar out of St. Mark’s Catholic Church (now decommissioned). The door on the projection to the right of the photo is the entryway into the kitchen. There was a dining room that was separated from a the “hall” by a wall.

    Conway and Pisek were separate parishes served by one priest, who lived in Pisek.

    The Conway Catholic cemetery is the final resting place of many Bartuskas, Jedlickas, and Peckas. There is an adjacent burial ground for Protestants.

    • My husbands Great grandparents Heising and Burris donated the land for the Catholic Church. We are heading that way in July to see where his mom grew up in Conway.

  5. The ‘Giant Strides’ in the park reminded me of the set we had in the school yard at Alexander, ND. Don’t see them anymore… Not ‘child friendly’

    • It and the merry-go-round used to be located at the school which no longer exists. I got my head cracked open on the merry-go-round and my tongue frozen to the giant strides. Ah the memories of stupid childhood!

  6. I believe the small brick structure to be the vault from the store run by my grandmother, Emma Sobolik. I have never seen a photo of the orginal store.

  7. Love the pictures….I grew up in Veseleyville, north of Conway. Keep up your good work!!

    • Hey Romona,
      We took many trips to Conway to visit our Aunt & Uncle. Good memories! Good seeing your name!
      I’m Eileen’s “little” sis, Bev

  8. Love the pics, havent been to Conway for years; my Mom, Auntie & Uncles were all born & raised there. Think just after ’65 when all the kids were married & on their own my grandparents moved from there but we all went back for visits, bazaars & the centeniels. So many memories…I remember playing in that vault many times 🙂

  9. Does anyone from the Conway area know if the St. Mark’s Catholic Cemetery has always been a Roman Catholic cemetery? Would love any information on the origins, if anyone knows.

  10. My husband served a church in Fordville near Conway and I remember going to the turkey dinners at the Conway Parish hall. They were fabulous and that is a beautiful area. We loved it there.

  11. i grew up in this town…. my grandfather, Douglas Omdahl developed my sense of work ethic, peace, and spirituality here….. i love this town…. ghost town or not….. i miss visiting….. i miss my family get togethers…. though i have had some very bad experiences here…. i wouldn’t hesitate to build a house here when i retire and live the rest of my days in peace…… though Conway is somewhat dead as far as population….its still big in my heart….. !!!

  12. I wonder if that house (with the great kitchen appliances) was the haunted house that Diana Eisner, Joanne Schoyen and I snuck into one winter in the early 70’s. We heard a noise and it scared us so much that we ran outside so fast that we all got stuck in the snow banks and suffice to say there was a bit of colored snow after that escapade. I just remember being so terrified, and then laughing so hard we couldn’t stop. Guess that’s what happens to 8th grade girls. Seeing the pictures of Conway brought back lots of fun memories. I grew up in Fordville so didn’t spend much time in Conway.

  13. this is my hometown, i lived here most of my life, i grew up on the west side of town, where the burlington northern train went right by, since then the tracks have been tore out, now the railroad joins the soo line track just north of town, i live now in a trailer house on the property i grew up on, the house that me and my 2 brothers and one sister grew up in has been destroyed, my mom and dad have both passed away, and my oldest brother lives on north east part of town, he lives in the old ed pecka house, that was once used as the conway post office, my other older brother lives in my Grandma mary peckas house , she passed away also, and my sister moved to a farm where she lives with her husband and two kids. i wil live and retire and die here in conway, this old town is a part of me like the air i breath and the blood that runs through my viens.

  14. I love the pictures of the playground and the old buildings. Do you know who owns the white house with the furniture in it? I’d love to rescue that white cabinet in the back before it falls into the basement. It deserves a second chance.

    • hi jackie, my brother mike slebodnik owns the house, but the white cabinet, isnt a cabinet, its a dresser and i own that, theres also a old white stove in there to (:

      • Hi Vincent, The dresser reminds me of those old dry sinks that used to have a pitcher sitting on top. I don’t have room really for anothe piece of furniture, but I would like to rescue it if possible. Do you know if it is still sound and if you would want to sell it? I like to repaint old furniture for fun and save old pieces. The stove is cool too, but I know I don’t have room for that. Anyway, just thought I would ask if you would want to sell it…if it can even be got out of the house safely. 🙂 I liked the pictures and have never visited your town. I live in Fargo and like to make road trips in the summer. Perhaps I could visit sometime. 🙂

  15. Love the photos and this Web site, and I’m not even from North Dakota. However, the Walsh Count Historical Society Web site (above) says peak population was 228 in 1890. By 1900, I guess Conway had already started its population decline…

  16. I was just in Conway today and took many pictures while there. I would like to come back soon to take more pictures and hopefully talk to someone to learn more about Conway.

    I really like the old service station and would love to know more about the teal colored house with the observatory in the yard.

  17. I have attended several of my husbands family reunions in Conway, ND in that old building and spent time playing on that (quite dangerous) playground equipment with family. Even used that outhouse once or twice (no other bathrooms to be found anywhere). It always saddens me to see these beautiful old places abandoned. Incidentally, that hall in Conway has gorgeous antique tin stretching from wall to ceiling in a large auditorium that we played bingo in. Just amazing.

  18. Hi Vincent,
    My name is Sharene Novak Bloss, my father frank Novak was Mary pecka brother. My father died in 2000. Aunt. Mary and Tom I re beer visiting them when I was 13. I came out with my aunt geneva, Mary’s sister, I might have met you then. I remover hanging out with Cindy and Todd. I never knew aunt Mary’s house was the post office. Who lives in aunt Geneva’s old house?
    Nice reading your post

  19. I seem to remember hearing that Conway was one of the first communities in that area. My great grandfather who was born and lived in the Lawton area when he was young once mentioned that Conway was the nearest “town” for a while.

  20. seeing abandoned, towns, buildings,, and homes, makes one sad, because of the history that at one time was there, and is long forgotten,, and it seems like no one cares enough to write things down to be passed down to future generations. Beautiful photos,, great job

  21. My mom was a Swehla and grew up by Conway. She had friends there and an Aunt that lived on the north end of town. We went to several of the Catholic Church suppers in that hall, when i was a kid. I still try to get there once during the summer.

  22. This is my home town..still have family that lives there !! I love my Conway!!!

    • My father gre up in Conway. Frank Novak. His sister was Mary pecka.

      • Which Mary Pecka? I think there were three Mary Peckas in town when I was growing up!

        • I forgot her sons name, he lived with her
          My dad frank lived in Chicago
          Mary’s other sisters lived in Illinois as well

        • Cindy pecka is a cousin I went to Conway when I was 13 I visited with my mom and Mary sister Geneva

        • Mary lived with her son I cannot remember his name .
          Cindy is my cousin I can to visit once when I was 13. I was with my mom and Geneva my aunt

  23. what an interesting site,, and seeing the old play ground, and its all weeded up, and homes that once had families, how sad, that those parts of a town get so run down, but people move away, and things get left behind.. if the walls in those places could talk, BUT, just hope some one has things written down as to the history part, or that will be lost forever..

  24. About the jail fire, on his death bed the sheriff admitted that he started the fire in anger over being beaten badly by one of the prisoners according to a story told by my grandmother Alice Foerster who lived next door to him then.

    • Hello Elwood Omdahl. My name is Mary Kenmir and I am your cousin. My grandmother was Mary A. Berg, who was Alice Foerster’s sister. My mother was born in Conway in 1911. I visited Conway and stayed with your Grandparents, Peter and Alice while Mary Berg and I were on a trip and were on our way home, in 1966. I found this website by accident, but had to write when I saw your post and your Grandmother’s name. I don’t know any of you, but my mother was a one of the Round Robbins and was great friends with Margaret Omdahl.

  25. My name is Barbara (Foerster) Melicher, and I grew up in Conway after my seventh birthday. We moved from the Peter Foerster farm, about five miles away, and moved into that brick building (store) that is pictured several times here. I lived in that store for many years while my Mother was the store manager and my Father still farmed. I remember where the old jail was supposed to be. I went to elementary school in Conway and remember the recesses where we played on the merry-go-round and the giant slide! My children and their cousins played on those playgrounds many times when we came back to visit my parents, Peter and Alice Foerster! We attended St. Mark’s Catholic Church and I was married there in 1951. Our wedding dance was held in the Conway Town Hall!! The Conway Town Hall was formerly called the ZCBJ Hall. These pictures and people’s comments have brought back precious old memories of Conway for me!! My son and daughter took a trip with me to Conway a couple of years ago and we looked at the old buildings and took pictures. We also visited the two cemeteries. Mary Kenmir is my cousin. Her Grandmother, Mary Berg, was my most favorite aunt, my Mother’s sister.

    • Hello Barbara Melicher – would you believe that I was your babysitter in Grand Forks about 60 years ago and went to school in Conway 3rd/4th grades in about 1954. I’m DeAnne Nasinec and lived on family farm till we moved to Grand Forks. I walked from farm to school in Conway along the railroad tracks w/ my family dog and played on that Merry-go-Round. There were only 2 of us in my grade- all 8 grades in one classroom – walked past little store and remember the vault on Main Street. My grandmother, Mary Zikmund, lived in Conway w/ my uncle, Pete Zikmund near the train depot. My dad brought cream to the depot that the trains took away. We could see the train tracks from the farm, called it the Goose. As an adult I returned to Conway and was able to go thru my grandmother’s house which was being used to hang herbs to dry. by Mr. Omdahl who was burning branches out back. I wasn’t sure which house it was but he showed me and allowed me to go thru – so shocked to see how much smaller it was than I remembered. Our family farm is still there having been lived in by my cousin, Joey Zikmund and the house is still there but greatly expanded w/ many other buildings on that property. I just today discussed w/ my cousin, Marie Greciar who lives in Pisek. What a great day of memories I’ve had today! I now live in So. CA but will always have such wonderful memories of the farm and Conway.

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