It’s always a thrill to see enthusiastic residents get involved in saving historically and culturally significant places in their communities, but in North Dakota’s vanishing small towns, the losses frequently outnumber the wins by a significant margin. It’s something we’ve seen time and again in over ten years of photographing North Dakota.
What follows is our personal list, by no means exhaustive, of ten significant North Dakota places that have unfortunately lost their battle with time.
1. The Opp House
This home stood in a field outside Lincoln Valley, North Dakota until the early-2000’s when it was razed due to safety and infestation concerns. It was the former home of the Opp family, who just packed up and left one day, leaving most of their belongings behind. It became a very early icon of our website and we’re saddened to see it go.
2. Hamberg School
A fire claimed this Hamberg School on April 1st, 2012. It was a beautiful place.
3. Stardust 17
We took these photos in August of 2011 and in the fall of 2012, they took down what remains of the screen at Stardust 17, the drive-in theater outside of Grafton, North Dakota.
The incredible near-ghost town we visited in 2006 is no more, most of it destroyed by fires of suspicious origin according to some local residents.
5. Sanger County House
The Sanger County House, a former boarding house for travelers, and perhaps the most significant original remaining structure in Sanger, North Dakota, has collapsed.
This church is all that remains of the rural outpost that was once Deisem. This former Seventh Day Adventist Church is severely structurally compromised. When it finally collapses, the above-ground remains of Deisem will pass into history.
7. Bentley Church
Less than two years after we photographed this church in Bentley, the steeple had collapsed. We’re told the church is today just a pile of lumber.
8. Temple School
Contributor Mark Johnson visited Temple, a true ghost town, in 2004 and photographed this school. In the years since, the school has been moved and re-purposed as an addition to a home.
9. Fargo College
Fargo College opened in 1890 and blossomed into a sizable campus over the next few decades, including the Jones Hall building shown above, and later Dill Hall and a Carnegie Library. Finances took a nosedive however beginning with the Great Depression, and by 1964 all but one remaining original structure had been torn down. The only remaining structure is the former Watson Hall Conservatory of Music at 601 Fourth Street South, which is now the home of the Fargo Fine Arts Club.
10. Moody’s Department Store
Moody’s was a landmark department store in Fargo at the gateway to the west. This store stood on the corner of a city block in Fargo with the Waldorf Hotel one block away and the Northern Pacific Depot across the street — it was frequently the first stop for any traveler headed west on the railroad through North Dakota. The Moody’s store was a character in the drama that played out in the Great Fargo Fire of 1893 — home to a fire alarm box for which nobody could find a key. The city bought the building for so-called urban renewal in 1966, and the site is now home to the Bank of the West building, completed in 1973. Many of these Fargo places were featured in our book, Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found.
Bonus Place: Sanish, North Dakota
Upon completion of the Garrison Dam and the subsequent flooding of the Missouri River Valley to create the Lake Sakakawea reservoir, Sanish was abandoned in 1953 and the residents moved to higher ground. We photographed the remaining foundations when the lake was at extremely low-levels in 2005.
See also: Building Four Bears Bridge
See also: Ten More Lost North Dakota Places
22 thoughts on “Ten Lost North Dakota Places”
Wow. Just wow. This is why I do UrbEx. I had a chance to go into many of those buildings and did. And now they’re gone.
Bentley Church, I saw that coming. It looked ready to collapse when I visited back in 2009. The steeple had fallen by then.
Hamburg School, what a tragic loss. Wanted to try going inside, but the floors didn’t appear structurally sound.
Temple School, in remarkable shape when I visited in 2008. Kind of glad someone found use for it, but still…I had written my name on one of the chalkboards still inside.
Fillmore, a wonderful find. Too bad so much of it had to burn. The best part of the town for exploring is gone forever.
I know, right? And believe it or not, I have another ten coming in a future blog post.
I attended Belden School for three months in the spring of 1949. My mother filled out the term of a teacher that had to quit and we lived in the teacherage behind the school. It was in Belden but it was called the Diamond School and it had two rooms – big for a country school.
I think it was probably 1997-ish, we were in Temple to put flowers out at the cemetery. There were still quite a few buildings, that were in pretty good shape. I loved the school. I think they were maybe still using it for township meetings or something at that time. Then the elevator? I think it was…had a bat dive at my head when I first walked in. Gave me a good scare. Haha. Last I went through there, in 2020, it truly had become a ghost town. Couldn’t really even tell where a lot of the buildings had been, except for relation to the railroad tracks. Everything was down, and grown over.
The Ploom Creek Hauges Norwegian Lutheran Church Church SW of Williston is one I would recommend. I shot pics of it in 2010 and it has since been totally erased from the landscape.
I looked for and found what was left of the town of Krem. My uncle Richard and I walked two of the cemeteries … The corner of part of the old Rolling Mill is very obvious but, I learned that the last building, the summer kitchen of one of the leading citizens, had been burned down. Evidently a group of teen agers out partying set fire to it. Very sad.
1. The Opp House. My mother, her parents, and her four siblings (the Opps) headed west into Montana, unwilling to accept government handouts to North Dakota farmers. The house was bought and moved from a nearby town in the early 1940s. The Opps left behind a lot of stuff including uncles, aunts, grandparents, and the family dog (a collie named “Lassie”). Several Opps were buried in the Lincoln Valley Cemetery which is at the western border of this property. Grandma Rose Opp’s house still stands (totally covered by trees) facing east on a south-western corner lot in Lincoln Valley.
It’s sad how fast these places fall into ruin. It’s bittersweet to see the Stardust on this list, even though I see the actual location almost daily. It was always a treat when our parents loaded us up in the car and took us to the movie there. There was something special about watching a movie in your jammies in the back seat of the car, sharing popcorn and a pop, trying to stay awake for the second movie on double feature night. The place was always packed with people of all ages. I remember my mom not letting us kids go to the concession stand alone because she didn’t want us around the rowdy teenagers, one of whom is now my boss. It’s been a little over 20 years since that storm took out the screen and shut the place down. A little part of me always hoped they would reopen, and still does I guess, thinking maybe after they finish rejuvenating the Strand, they might find it in their hearts to keep the fundraiser going and bring back the Stardust. I know it won’t happen, but it doesn’t hurt to have a dream…
Great post on a great site. A note about Moody’s: the Bank of the West building is on the southeast corner of Main and Broadway. The Waldorf was a block west down Main, on 7th, and the train station is across the street on the north side of Main. The post makes it sound as if they were on the same block, but they occupied three different blocks.
But: great post! And great site.
Yes sir, i ham handed the way i described the block between the Waldorf and Moody’s. I’ll be making a correction to that.
The Bentley church should have had a bell, that could have been erected on a cement platform as a memorial to the people that at one time attended that church,
The OPP house,, sad to hear that the family up and left, does anyone know why ??? sometimes the disappointment of failure in homesteading or bad weather conditions along with sickness and hardships were at the heart of the problems for those treading this path
You can find out more by reading comments of others sometimes. Read the comment written by Jason, which was posted November 13, 2013. He gives a brief explanation of why they left.
Would you like some photos of Ramsey North Dakota ?
If any of you wanna know the exact coordinates of the drive in theater, here they are: 48.411921, -97.449600
My brother was the last Soo Line operator in Sanish. I remember visiting him her. Sanish/Van Hook/ Newtown … a fascination story … Why didn’t they just name the new town “Vanish”?
My brother was the last Soo Line operator in Sanish. I remember visiting him there. Sanish/Van Hook/ Newtown … a fascinating story … Why didn’t they just name the new town “Vanish”?
Thank you so much for posting these pictures of Bentley and for your wonderful website. My grandfather (Einer Tulberg) lived in Bentley in 1911, as noted in the Petition for Naturalization filed by his stepfather Lars Tullberg (both from Wisconsin) in 1911. Einer and his half-brother Carl were helping Lars prove up a homestead nearby (191N 092W – SW Quarter of Section 20).