Werner, North Dakota and a Bridge to Nowhere

Werner, North Dakota

Werner, North Dakota is in Dunn County, about 13 miles east of Killdeer. We’re unsure of the exact population, but in 1971, when residents voted to dissolve the town, the vote count was 7-2 in favor of dissolution, so the headcount is quite likely in the single digits these days. Although we were really a couple decades late in photographing the town as it once was, we decided to visit and shoot Werner, North Dakota and a bridge to nowhere.

Werner, North Dakota

Werner was a rare town in at least one respect — it was incorporated as a Northern Pacific Railroad town in 1917, but the Post Office wasn’t established until two years later. In most cases, the Post Office would have been established before, or concurrently with, a town’s founding.

The bridge shown here spans Spring Creek on the southwest edge of Werner.

Werner, North Dakota

We looked for a plaque on this bridge that would identify the builder, but we couldn’t see one anywhere. In the early days of North Dakota statehood, most bridges like this were built by out-of-state bridge builders like Gillette-Herzog Manufacturing Company out of Minneapolis, Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, and the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Works, but by the time Werner was founded, North Dakota bridge builders, like Fargo Bridge and Iron Company, had entered the market. If you know who built this bridge, please leave a comment below.

Werner, North Dakota

Visiting these places in modern day, sometimes nearly a century after they were built, it’s frequently hard to imagine how useful they were. This bridge spans Spring Creek as part of a road that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, and its main purpose seems like it might have been to make access to the nearby fields easier.

Werner, North Dakota

Werner, North Dakota

Tire tracks in the long grass leading to this bridge made us think that someone occasionally still drives over this bridge–a brave someone. We got nervous just walking on it.

Werner, North Dakota
Werner, North Dakota

As for the town of Werner, it was like other places we sometimes encounter, where we were unsure if we were going to be seen as trespassers. On the west side of town, there were three deteriorating vacant homes down one seldom used “road,” abandoned so long ago that it was more like two rutted wheel tracks in the tall grass, and we weren’t sure if we could respectfully wander down the road without upsetting someone, so we stayed out.

Werner, North Dakota

The rest of Werner’s vacant properties are somewhat spread out around the town site, with open spaces in-between. When it had a population of over 200 residents, these vacant lots were full of homes and businesses. Werner even had its own newspaper at one time, the Werner Record. According to the out-of-print North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick, the last business in Werner was the service station, which closed when operator Arthur Kummer passed-on in 1970.

Werner, North Dakota

What do you know about Werner, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.

Werner, North Dakota

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

16 Comments on “Werner, North Dakota and a Bridge to Nowhere

  1. My Dad Clemens “Jake” Jacobs Born in Dodge, but grew up in Werner and went to School there

  2. Werner had a high school. I just read an excellent book “Scoria Roads” by Norma Thorstad Knapp who grew up near Werner. Her mother graduated from Werner in 1939 and she has many memories of Werner and the Vang Church, near there.

    • Thank you very much, Sandra Penke, for mentioning my book “Scoria Roads.” In this book, I wrote about growing up Norwegian in western ND and how the sweet, safe areas where I lived were impacted by the recent oil boom. My paternal grandparents, Nels and Amanda Thorstad, lived in Werner in the 1930s and early 40s. Both my parents also lived there for a time and both graduated from Werner High School. My dad, Edwin Thorstad, the youngest of four boys, lived there the majority of his life and graduated from Werner High School in 1930 . Mom, Arleen Nodland Thorstad, was raised on a farm south of Werner, lived with Aunt Mable Nodland Knudson in Werner during her high school years, and then graduated from Werner High in 1939.

  3. The Werner little white house with the green roof was built by my grandfather Paul M. Hoffer. It was completed in 1919. My dad was the first baby to born in the house.

  4. The town of Werner, North Dakota was named in honor of my great grandparents. (I have no idea if they ever set foot in the town.)

    My great grandparents had a ranch near Beulah, ND. When the train came through their property the railroad “asked” my grandfather if they could move the ranch house as it stood on the most direct and advantageous route. My grandparents agreed, and my grandmother, Helen Werner, and one of her four sisters “road in the house” as it was moved out of the way of the encroaching iron rails of progress. In appreciation, the railroad named the newly created town in honor of the family.

  5. As to the town being incorporated before the post office, the story I remember is that there needed to be a town along the railroad every so many miles. Since there was no town at that mile marker, the Northern Pacific incorporated “Werner” and kept pushing west to leave the “town” to fend for itself.

    By the way, you know you’re gettin’ on in years when a ghost town is named after your relatives that were alive when you were born.

  6. The bridge carried traffic between Werner and Dunn Center (west of Werner) along a road that has mostly disappeared.

  7. Goldie Kummer was Arthur Kummer’s wife. She lived in the house that was next to the gas station. She taught school for 40 years. When I knew her in the 1980s she was lamenting the fact that she could no longer ride her horse, she was in her 80s then. She remembered riding her horse to the one-room schoolhouse during a blizzard and the children had to thaw her hands before they could get her to loosen the reins so she could get off the horse to go into the building. My husband was her pastor, she attended the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Dodge, ND. My husband helped her re-roof her mother’s home in Werner. Goldie was bothered by the slowness of the young man that was helping my husband, so she picked up a roll of roofing paper and climbed the old ladder to the roof of the house to hurry things along! She saved every paper, piece of clothing and book that she had ever owned. She loved cats and had many in her home. Unfortunately, Goldie’s house caught fire and burned to the ground in the middle of the night as she sat by watching in her car away from the fire. The UPS man found her in the car the next day, very cold, but alive. She lived in Dunn Center at a Nursing Home (I believe) until she died. She was quite the character and told wonderful stories. She epitomized the pioneer spirit in North Dakota.

  8. There is still a Werner cemetery that is maintained just off the highway.

    • My grandparent Paul and Rose Hoffer are buried there, along with their daughter Maryann. Someone stole the metal cross my grandpa made for her grave. He had to build her a casket too. Very sad. Their home is still standing in Werner.

  9. My mother was born and raised in Werner. She has incredible memories about her life there, including stories about “Grandpa” Thorstad and his work as a carpenter and the Vang Church. My grandfather, Olai Wiiliams, owned the local hardware store in Werner. He encouraged and supported the efforts of Mr. Thorstad to use his skills for the care and maintenance of the church. I don’t have all the details, but I know this is a story of a town that pulled together for the benefit of all.

    • My paternal grandfather built the Werner School 1916 to 1917. I have several photos of the school under construction and a winter photo from this era of the crossroads that were “downtown” Werner.

      If anyone is interested in the photos, please let me know.

      Does anyone know when and why the school met its “demise”?

      Charles ckmagopus@gmail.com

  10. My grandparents and their large extended family lived and raised their family in Werner. My mother Donna Mae Tollefson (McDonald) was born and raised in Werner until the family moved – along with a large portion of extended family/friends over the ensuing years – to Oregon. I have many stories and memories of Werner … the Telegraph Office which my Grandmother Cinderella Thompson (Tollefson) worked at. The church, the brick schoolhouse (a source of great pride) and the hardware/grocery store where I vividly remember getting my first super cold HighC glass bottled pop with my Grandfather Alvin Martin Tollefson. We were traveling back to the old places/attending 50th Wedding Anniversary(s) both in North Dakota and Minnesota/Iowa …. it was a very special family trip with extended family AND meeting some family for the very first time!!! Joyful!!! I also visited Werner growing up … several times in the 1960’s and finally in 1972/3. It is sad to see the town no more …

    • Thank you for documenting your memories. My grandfather was the town black smith Paull Hoffer who had 9 children attending the Werner School. His black smith building was right by the old rail road tracks. The little white house he built is still standing. We have not been back since about 2013. I would love to go again. I completed a Hoffer memory book and donated it to the Dunn County museum.

Leave a Reply