Return to Fillmore

Fillmore, North Dakota

We first visited Fillmore in 2006 and we were completely blown away. Fillmore was one of the most impressive near-ghost towns we had ever been to. At the time, there just a couple of part-time residents, and more than a dozen abandoned structures including a bar, a store, a community hall/gymnasium, an auto shop, and numerous homes.

For some time, we had known the gymnasium had been listed for sale. In summer of 2012, we started hearing from people who said something had happened in Fillmore. A centennial celebration had taken place, and in the process of cleanup before the celebration, a number of structures had been burned. We heard rumors of lawsuits, and got emails from people who told us stories about angry property owners. In an effort to get a little clarity on it, I emailed and spoke with several people on both sides of the conflict over what happened in Fillmore, and this is what I was told:

  • Organizers of the centennial had concerns about the safety of attendees due to the large number of abandoned properties, and attempted to contact property owners about remedying the situation.
  • Property owners gave me varying accounts of whether they were contacted, and whether they were given enough time to comply with requests to secure their properties.
  • Prior to the celebration, a number of properties were cleaned out and valuables removed.
  • The bar, the store, the gymnasium, and the auto shop, all burned.  Numerous houses are all gone from the Fillmore town site since our last visit too.
  • Fire investigators determined the fires which took down the gymnasium and neighboring structures were intentionally set, but nobody can prove who did it.

These are conclusions I was able to draw based solely on conversations and correspondence with people involved.  And it brings several things to mind.  The importance of respecting property owners’ rights, for instance, regardless of whether the property owners are local residents.  On the flip-side, if a property owner lives in a distant location and purchases a property for a song with the intention of ‘doing something with it, someday,’ what responsibility do they have to visit their property regularly and maintain it? And how can these disputes be resolved respectfully?

In a state like North Dakota where properties in remote locations are frequently forfeited to the county for back taxes, then purchased by someone else for a dirt cheap price, these are not easy questions to answer.  But what we can say for sure is that Fillmore, North Dakota will never be the same.  We left with heavy hearts after seeing that fifty percent of the town is now gone.

Here’s a photo from 2006 on the sidewalk in front of the bar and store.

Fillmore, North Dakota, 2006

And here’s a photo we took in 2012 looking down the same sidewalk.  Both buildings gone.

Fillmore, North Dakota

Here’s a photo of the gymnasium/community center in 2006.

Fillmore, North Dakota

And here’s what remains today.  Just the front steps.

Fillmore, North Dakota

Here’s another view of the bar and store in 2006, note the position of the double pine trees behind the building.

Fillmore, North Dakota

Here’s a photo from 2012.  The double pine trees are still there, but both buildings are gone.

Fillmore, North Dakota

A Fillmore home in 2012.

Fillmore, North Dakota

Here’s the same home in 2006.

Fillmore, North Dakota

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

46 Comments on “Return to Fillmore

  1. I am shocked that anyone feel they have the right to do anything to any property that does not belong to them. I do not care what the reason. If you thought it was important for safety, block it off yourself. It is your celebration, take some responsiblity to respect others property. This sickens me.

  2. I’m glad that you guys have brought this to the attention of Ghosts of ND followers here. These buildings were in fact burned down by/with orders from the Centennial Reunion committee. In the July 13, 2012 issue of the Pierce County Tribune (published in Rugby), the story about the reunion held the previous week reads, “Several buildings, deemed hazardous, were burned prior to the weekend.” I was shocked that they had the gall to do such a terrible thing and think nothing of it. As the previous poster here wrote, they should have taken responsibility and blocked off the buildings. I have heard that many of the people who attended were also disgusted that they had done this, and had been expecting to see these buildings. Not necessariy to be able to walk through them, but to see them if even just from a short distance. As far as I’m concerned, these reunion committee members should be charged with arson !!!

  3. I am curious what kind of a centennial celebration do you have in a town where there is no one left to start with,then you burn the buildings that are remaining to the ground?….PUZZLED I am…maybe a few former people wanted to remember how it was and did not like how it was,so THEY changed it….sounds like some meddlesome people to me….if there is nothing left,what do you celebrate,tell me that?

  4. I have seen many disrespectful & disccussing things but this is terrible no matter how you look at it, distruction of history is just wrong and we will never have it back, not much chance of another celebration of community history here. Very sad.

  5. Wow. This is truly saddening.

    This is why I do urbex and visit as many of these abandonments that I can. I got lots of pictures of those buildings a handful of years ago that are now gone forever. I cannot tell you how many places I’ve been and upon revisiting–sometimes only a short time later–find that the site has been completely obliterated, torn down, or otherwise wrecked.

  6. In our community we still have maybe 100 residents . But we have over 20 houses bought cheaply by out of state people .they show up for a couple of times a year. and leave the weeds and grass take over . the city council has it cleaned up and they have a fit . they do NO mainentance on their property .

  7. It seems it would be difficult to enforce zoning regulations to address building structure/appearance/upkeep/safety issues in a town like Filmore. (Note: I am not including towns like the one Gene Reierson addresses, those are active, viable communities.) I would also guess that most people (read: property owners) would not put all of that on their priority list given that Filmore is an abandoned town. That said, this was a shocking post on every level. It seems that there are some serious legal issues at stake here in addition to the ethical ones. Of all the towns showcased on GND Filmore was my favorite, hands down. This has made me feel really bad; the question now is how to prevent the rest of Filmore and the other towns like it from disappearing? This is a tough, emotionally charged issue to say the least. I am so very, very sorry to learn of this.

    • The way to preserve these towns for future generations is to get the STATE involved. This is North Dakota history, and the state government has a duty to preserve it. That could mean anything from establishing a small museum with limited hours of operation, to simply putting up a plaque at the town site with a description of the history of the town. Otherwise, these places will be blown to dust over time and nobody will have any knowledge of their existence.

  8. Why even have a centennial if you are gonna burnmost of the buildings down before you have it. Too bad someone even thought of having a centennial.Warning to other little towns like this: If anyone even mentions a centennial celebration tell them if the town is going to end up like Fillmore tell them to shove it. If someone burned one of my buildings to get ready for some “celebration”, notification or not I’d sue them, big time.

  9. These people that put on the celebration were trying to do something good by having this for alulmni and maybe they would have been responsible if anyone had gotten hurt in the falling down buildlings. They shouldn’t have burned them without consent but the owners should have seen to it that they were taken care of or made safe. Seems to me it is a little fault on both sides of the story.

  10. I was in Fillmore the summer of 2011 and those buildings had deteriorated far more than the pictures from 2006. They were a hazard. The floor in the gym/community center was breaking through and buildings were about to fall down. Whomever owned the buildings should have taken them down at that point, if not sooner. If someone had been hurt in those properties, wouldn’t the owners have been liable for that? Someone probably did them a favor and saved them a lawsuit. Not one of those buildings would ever have been renovated and needed to come down. With that said, I thought the folks of Fillmore did a creative job for the centennial putting up street signs, hanging flower baskets and posting pictures in front of each building’s location showing how they looked way back when. A very clever way to display the town that no longer was. It was fun to walk around and check them all out. The event itself was a huge success and everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. They realized an event like this will probably not ever happen again and embraced every moment of it. So instead of criticizing, I want to say hats off to all the people who put the Fillmore Centennial Celebration together. If you have ever been involved in a celebration like this you know what a huge undertaking it is and how time consuming it can be. All who worked on it did a fantastic job and I applaud them for thinking of people’s safety and making the centennial a happy, memorable event.

    • I was in Fillmore the spring of 2012. I found little change in the buildings. People must learn to take responsibility for themselves if they get hurt wandering into abandoned buildings instead of always blaming others for their own reckless behavior. If any of these members of the centennial commitee had anything to do with the destruction of these buildings It is ARSON and should be punished with a prison sentence and a large fine. As a member of the law enforcement community this is my opinion.

      • Yes, it is true that people need to take responsibility for their actions. In a perfect world, there would be no need for law enforcement, but the reality is people are,attracted to old abandoned buildings. When accidents occur, then it is the liability of the property owner with possibility of law suit. There are no easy answers. I am all for preservation of historic sites. I grew up near Fillmore. My great grandfather had a mercantile store, in it’ s early beginnings, as he followed the railroad westward. My grandmother was post
        mistress-Elling twp is named for him. I would love, love to see preservation of this early pioneer town, but who would fund it….and who would maintain it.???’ Perhaps…….it could be rebuilt, become a tourist attraction and tell it’ s story from the rise of it’ s ashes. Any ideas? If folks could put positive energy into a sad situation, who knows where the road could lead. Just wondering, something to think about. Has anyone looked into what resources are available fromvtbexState Historical Society?

        • All good points, Bonnie, except you conveniently overlook the most important point. NONE OF THAT gives anyone the right to burn down someone else’s property, whether they claim it’s to protect someone else or not. PERIOD.

  11. I agree with Yvonne, if you were not there or not from this area you cannot understand how wonderful the celebration was! To have a stage with bands, beer gardens, tents with 2 large catered meals, vendors, childrens games, camp sites created, in a location where there is no water or electricity was simply amazing! I helped on the committee and attended meetings and the commitee NEVER gave orders to burn the buildings, it simply is not true. It was unfortunate that folks could not see what was left of the buildings, but they were in terrible condition as Yvonne indicated and sometimes that is disheartening for folks to see also. But please, do not judge people without knowing the story. I live 3 miles from this ghost town and it was wonderful to have people come to the middle of nowhere to relive the past and to see that some of us still live successfully out here! In conclusion, the committee did NOT burn or give orders to burn those properties.

    • Then tell us Christie, just WHO DID burn down or give the orders to burn these privately owned buildings?? I don’t believe you for a minute. I think you are just saying this to protect yourself/the committee from legal charges.
      Oh, and I think visitors to Fillmore could have “handled” seeing the buildings in the shape they were in just fine. But just keep patting yourselves on the back.

    • If it wasn’t someone connected with the centennial who did burn the buildings? Something just doesn’t add up here, Christie. The condition of the buildings is irrelevent hower in any case.

    • Funny, because I WAS at the centennial celebration, and guess what?? Several people said it WAS the committee that conceded and gave the ok to burn the buildings down, and I’m talking residents OF THE AREA. They told me this because they were so angry at the committee and owners of the buildings who decided “forget what the community wants, we’re going to just do it”. Get your stories straight, lies or not.
      You couldn’t even walk around the town, residents were yelling at people to stay away from the buildings. I had an absolutely miserable time.

  12. This is just terrible. A complete disregard for historical significance. Have your centennial on the outskirts of Fillmore, and respect what remains of that site, which I have always heard was one of the most perfect, undefiled examples of a North Dakota ghost town. That’s what it is! It’s not a rigged up Disneyland idea of what a prairie town should be. What do we show our children and grandchildren 10, 20, 30 years from now? Nothing anymore. Hope you had a nice party.

  13. A good thought, but those buildings would not have been standing in 10 years let alone 30. They would have fallen into big heaps. It would have been wonderful if people had the extra money lying around to keep at least the community hall up and standing, because it really was a cool and historical building. Unfortunately, that wasn’t able to happen. Even 10 or 20 years ago, the renovations would have been very costly. So it really isn’t a disregard for historical significance, just something that was not feasible. Sad but true.

  14. I don’t think that the concept of a historical “ghost town” or “pioneer town” includes renovations and attempts toward some sort of functionality. I think the love for these abandoned pioneer towns is “an appreciation of history, architecture and heritage.” Especially for those of us whose grandparents and great grandparents were hardworking citizens in that community. This means leaving them as is and not meddling with the role that time and nature play. I think we come from two very different concepts of what is sincerely of value there. I just find it heartbreaking that Fillmore is now basically a grassy wide spot in the road.

  15. Without renovation, upkeep and maintenance, Mother Nature will continue to claim Fillmore as her own. Indeed, she is well on her way. In time, without human intervention, Fillmore will become a grassy wide spot in the road regardless. The issue poses an interesting ethical dilemma. Should we intervene in the natural process? Should we intervene and attempt to preserve ghost towns? If so, who is financially responsible? Who is legally responsible? If they are decayed beyond reasonable repair should we hurry Mother Nature along and knock down or burn buildings such as what happened in Fillmore? How is that process determined? Who decides? Clearly, there are multifaceted points of view as evidenced as the posts, and no easy answers. Maybe the easiest thing to do is have the county in which the ghost is located post a sign telling visitors that any risk or injury incurred while there is their own. This would allow the current owners of buildings to do what they feel is right in terms of renovation and maintenance, it places all legal liabilities on the visitor’s back, and it allows the ghost town to exist in whatever state it is in and will become thus, allowing all of us to continue to enjoy them for what they are, for as long as they continue to exist.

  16. I think Manfred, North Dakota is an excellent example of a North Dakota town that was not willing to give up and give in. They have managed to preserve the town with the help of caring volunteers. The result is something truly remarkable. If you haven’t been to Manfred it is truly worth a visit. God bless the residents of Manfred.

  17. The Vulcan Centennial will be celebrated on the August long wkneeed in 2013. Events will be started on August 2 and will wrap up on August 5. We would love to have you stop by! Let me know if there is anything else I can help you out with!! Cheers!-Cat

  18. I probably should have commented here instead of at the other Fillmore webpage.

    I went to the centennial celebration, and while I already wrote a humongously long perspective on this issue, I will add this:

    If you KNEW these buildings were beyond repair, why did we wait 3 WEEKS before the celebration to burn them down? My boyfriend made the comment, “geez, looking at these tracks, it looks like they had just burned down these buildings a few days ago”. When there’s still orange gates up blocking people out, not only does it look tacky, but it DID get people riled and upset, including me.

    No, I’m not from the area. But I went back because we had family that used to live there. And I must say the timing of all this was done very poorly.

  19. Stayed in Fillmore back in the mid 80’s with a friend Scott Thompson whose mother lived there then. His grandpa ran the bar and it was still open. They had a self serve grocery store. Leave money or just write it down. Really happy I was able to experience that. The gym was also open so we went in there and shot hoops. Good memories but sorry to hear of the fires. It looks like the church is still there. Never was inside of it but it looks impressive.

  20. Pingback: Ten Lost North Dakota Places :

  21. Pingback: Fillmore, ND - :

  22. So happy and sad to see this site. My husband and I lived in the brown house in first set of photos. It was a great little house bought by my mother-in-law for $200. We lived there in the mid ninetys and was a fantastic community.
    Thank you for including Fillmore on your site.

  23. Any update on this? Was anyone charged with a crime for burning down the buildings?

    Anyway, sad to see Fillmore turn out like this. My mom’s side of the family is from the area (Schwab family), and I believe they all went to school in Fillmore. My uncle Jeff still lives on the family farm up by Cranberry Lake. My memories of Fillmore are shooting hoops in the gym and getting a coke at the “bar”. It was the first bar I had every been in :p This was back in the 80’s during a summer stay. I’ll never forget the place.

  24. Pingback: See Wayne and Swoon | Pussy Goes Grrr


    • Hi Pam, I believe you are cousins to Brian. Delphine talked about you guys all the time and meet Tony several times. I am the one that painted your Grandma’s house last. I loved that little house. You will have to let us know if you make it to visit Fillmore some time, Brian and I can come down that day.

  26. It’s sad that thngs ended up as they did, with respect to the old buildings, but as a Detroiter, I totally sympathize with the frustration of people who live in a community that is held hostage by absentee property owners. Out-of-state people buy property for pennies on the dollar, speculating future value or, worst of all, there are real estate hoarders who buy with no real intention of doing anything with the properties. In either case, arson is arson.

  27. I remember Filmore. I lived there in 1955. I was 4 at the time. My dad was the foreman on a road construction project nearby. The workers had trailer houses next to the store, under some big trees. I remember a counter on the left as you enter and shelves behind it. My mom bought our groceries there. Once she bought a big ceramic mountain goat , a new fishing pole, reel and tackle for my dad for Father’s day. I still have all of them. I also remember tripping on a big pumpkin that was sitting on the front step and splitting my toe open. Mom had to bandage it and buy me new toe less sandals because of that! I got a new baloon and the wind swept it away. I was so sad as I watched it float away past the grain elevator! I had several friends to play with there. I think one was named Mike.

  28. Are we certain that it was a centennial celebration for the town? Or could it have been a centennial celebration for the well-preserved church in Fillmore? I believe it is a Catholic church. Perhaps we need to track down those who are involved with the church if we want some answers?

    • We own the stone/Catholic church and we had nothing to do with any of it . We were told that we needed to either post our properties of be there to protect it . We did both. It was tragic a loss of unique building that new owner had plans to renovate. The church that was the center of the doings was the white Lutheran church.

  29. Great Website! I’m looking for info: it is said that my grandfather founded Fillmore—his name was Olaf Sterry.
    Also around the early 1900s, there was a family named Amdahl. Would appreciate any information.

    Craig Sterry

  30. I visited Fillmore today, I have pictures If anyone is interested in the condition of the town.

  31. To you are saying preserve put you money where your mouth is things detoriate look at the mural in Esmond had to be done 20 years later

Leave a Reply