A Lonely Outpost: Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota, in Williams County, about 33 miles northwest of Williston, is a lonely outpost on the prairie, just one resident away from being a ghost town.

Hanks was the subject of some national media in 2008 when National Geographic published The Emptied Prairie (available at the link only with a subscription) by Charles Bowden, a polarizing piece roundly denounced by many North Dakotans in letters to editors, in the Dickinson Press for example, or the Bismarck Tribune.

In the article, Bowden characterized a number of North Dakota communities, including Hanks, truthfully with respect to their shrinking populations, but in terms that many found depressing or disparaging.

Clay Jenkinson, as the the Theodore Roosevelt scholar-in-residence at Dickinson State University at the time, summed it up in the Bismarck Tribune in January 2008:

This is a fascinating, but also unsettling, time in North Dakota’s history. Pity that all Charles Bowden saw was decay, depopulation, despair and decline.

We’re going to be an urban people with a vast (and indeed empty) prairie landscape to play in. We’ll earn our living in cities and spend our leisure time out among the potholes and pronghorns, coyotes and coulees, buttes and badlands.

As I contemplate the future of North Dakota I feel considerable sadness, but I do not see decline.

Hanks, North Dakota

In 2010, when oil was booming in the region, our artist friend John Piepkorn paid a visit to Hanks and found it sleepy as ever. John’s comments:

I stopped in Hanks, North Dakota and took some pictures of the remaining structures. I also talked to the one remaining resident for about 15 minutes, she said she had heard of Ghosts of North Dakota, and I asked if I could take a few pictures of the town.

Hanks, North Dakota

I took some of an abandoned house at the top of the hill, some of the cemetery which is north of town on a gravel road about 1/4 mile, some pics of what the lady described as the old bank (above) although it had a gas pump outside of it, and the interior looked like someone had used it as a house, and one other old house.

Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota

Hanks, North Dakota

The old school is used as a museum now which is open only on Sunday afternoons.

Hanks, North Dakota

The last remaining structure from another North Dakota ghost town, Bonetraill, is now located in Hanks too. You can see it in this Hanks post with photos submitted by Clif Nelson in 2012.

Do you know more about Hanks, North Dakota? Can you provide an update on things as they are today? Please leave a comment below.

Photos by John Piepkorn. Original content copyright © Sonic Tremor Media

61 Comments on “A Lonely Outpost: Hanks, North Dakota

  1. All the galleries are good but you simply cannot beat western ND and the beauty of the land.

  2. This is so sad…i mean i drove by Hanks a billion times as i grew up in Grenora, but never remember even going INTO Hanks or Zahl. Thanks for the pictures.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, and you might find my recent post to be of interest. I’m a descendent of the Schultzes, original Hanks homesteaders, and in your time, the farm was run by the Al Lacqua family. Best Regards. Mike Schultz

      • Al Laqua…correct spelling…he was my great uncle. My grandpa Francis turns 90 in August. Last of that generation living. He is very proud of his Hanks roots. I’ve been on the heritage tour a couple of times.

        • My Dad was born (1928) and went to school in Hanks and has mentioned the Laqua name before. His family once lived in the old ‘bank building’. I would love to hear stories from 1928-1938 when they lived there.

  3. I remember Hanks, in Junior High, we use to go there from Grenora and watch the dances they had there. Some were pretty exciting. Fun times. What a neat area. A lot of good memories.

  4. new to nd….(4yrs)one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen

  5. I drove through Hanks to get to get home every day growing up. My X sister in law, Deb Quarne and 65 horses are all that remain now.

    • I talked to Deb when I was there, it was interesting to hear about things from someone who is the only resident of the town.

    • That would be my Grandma’s house that is left in Hanks! Spent lots of my childhood at that house and exploring the old abandon buildings, sometimes with Debbie 😀

      • Patsy – you might find my recent post to be of interest. My grandparents’ house is in the pictures, and it subsequently owned by Al Lacqua. Best regards. Mike

  6. That’s our family farm. So many good memories at that place. Interesting to see, but sad in many ways as that chapter of my life is closed. I live a thousand miles away and think about the farm daily. Hanks North Dakota was at one time known as Mesa, North Dakota. Just a bit of information for you.

    • Which one was your farm Chris, the one with the corral and the international truck or the really old one up on the hill. When did you live there and when did you leave and all that stuff?

  7. I grew up in the area and remember the parades they used to have there. My mother, my siblings and I used to pick juneberries just up the hill from Hanks. We even sledded down a couple of the hills in the wintertime, good fun!

  8. Wow, just about everyone who ever lived in Hanks must has written something here. I read about Hanks in National Geographic Magazine not too long ago. I can’t imagine how Deb handles the loneliness. I’d go insane. Remember the movie, “The shinning”? I plan on going to see Hanks on my cross country motorcycle trip. I hope I’m lucky enough to meet Deb. One can always learn something from someone with such a strong fortitude. I’ll have to think of something nice she would like as a gift. We’re the same age so it shouldn’t be too difficult to think of something, Oh, you lucky people who got to grow up where the air is clean, the sky is full of stars and you don’t have to sit in traffic hour after hour. Although, you can keep the cold weather.

    Buy American. Buy a Harley Davidson.

    • I grew up on a farm just a few miles north, and went to Hanks grade school for 6th though 8th grade. Fond memories include going to Hanks to play Halloween tricks, playing on the Hanks Grade school basketball team – where I was the tallest kid – but my basketball career ended in Hanks since I didn’t grow any more, whereas other boys kept growing in height in high school. But while it lasted, it was great fun traveling around to neighboring towns for basketball games and tournaments. Also fond memories of the Grade School carnivals and donkey basketball games held in the Hanks school gym. Finally, the joy of picking june berries in the ravines to the north and west of Hanks.

      • Dave, you might find my recent post to be of interest. My grandparents’ house and farm are in the pictures, and were subsequently owned by the Al Lacqua family. All the best regards. MIke

  9. My grandmother used to help a farmer named Knute Knudson near Hanks I was there in the 50’s and 60’s off and on. They had a house in Williston and the farm near Hanks. My two brothers and I went into the stores of the abandoned buildings and collected neon signs and stuff…which are all gone now from an abandoned storage shed my mom left behind. Sad to see the few buildings left there. The big train museum in Sacramento, CA has a mail car in it…about 20 years ago I was very surprised to see that in the mail car was a slot for Grenora..I think there was one for Hanks too…small world!

  10. My mother, Ruth grew up in Hanks and her Dad ran the hardware store with gas pump. I admire their strength through the depression and weather. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Pingback: Another Look at Hanks : GhostsofNorthDakota.com

    • My grandparents Ben & Dorothy Moorhead lived in Hanks when I was a kid. Their house was right behind the bank building. Spent many hours there exploring & running around the town with my siblings & my cousins. A lot of great family memories!!

  12. My grandmother Olive Greve grew up on a farm southwest of Hanks. She was born in 1920, and her dad’s name was John Fremsted. Apparently there are photos of him in the museum. I have not made it there, yet. I have relatives in the Grenora and Williston areas. As a kid (in the late 70’s and early 80’s) we went to family reunions at the farm of Laurel and Ivan Olson. Laurel is my grandma Olive’s sister.

    Back around 1999, we had a 90th birthday party for Ivan and a small family reunion. I was lucky enough to get a ride around the countryside with my grandma and her sister, and they showed us their old home site (just a field now) and the old school house they attended. It is still standing, and is in use as grain storage. It was great to hear their stories of travel and travail from life in the northern plains.

    I live in Idaho now, but I grew up in Minnesota. Grandma Olive is still alive and well, aged 92, and lives in Luverne, MN.

    This site is really amazing. It was recently shown to me by a friend from MN. I can’t stop reading and looking, and I have been up too late for several nights in a row. I travel through North Dakota with some regularity, and have been through several of the towns listed. I just made a trip across highways 12 and 2 back in September. Wish I had seen this site before, I would have had a little more insight into some of the history of the wonderful small towns along the way. I’ll pay closer attention next time.

    Thanks for creating and building upon this site. It is truly fantastic.

    • Hi Corey! I am Laurels daughter Cheryl Greve. I live in Williston and if you get a chance get ahold of me next time you are up here. I will get ahold of the Laqua that takes care of the Hanks museum and we can go in. Ivan has a lot of stuff in there too. It is only open on sundays in the summer. My email address is ckihle123@hotmail.com

      • Cheryl, good to see you on this wonderful site. Not sure how long it has been since we met in person.

        I will be in Luverne in a couple of weeks for Olive’s 95th birthday. I can’t wait.

        I won’t be able to make it to Hanks on this trip, but maybe next time. I will be in touch.

  13. My wife grew up on a farm just a few miles south of hanks. Her dad attended school there for a few years and her grandmother ran a store there. Its a beautiful spot in the state. I got a kick out of the old coal mine entrances you can see from the highway.

  14. My great uncle ran the elevator in Hanks during the 60’s. His name was Ed Bertsch. He recently passed away in Brooten, MN after living there for 30+ years and running that elevator.

  15. My Grandmother and her Mother homesteaded south of Hanks. Their names were Anna and Marie Hammer.
    They were from the area called Gulbtandsalen, Norway. My Grandmother Anna, married John O Pederson and
    moved to his homestead near Bonetrail. I would like to be in touch with anyone from these areas or had relatives
    that homesteaded near Hanks or Bonetrail.
    Ilonna Pederson

  16. My grandfather, Herman A. Schultz, originally of Green Lake, WI, was the original pioneer homesteader in Hanks, ND, in about 1902. We still own the land and the farm buildings are in the first picture in your series. My Grandmother, Helvine Ausland Schultz, was the first teacher in the school in your pictures. My father, Frederick HC Schultz, graduated from Hanks High School in 1938, with 5 other seniors, in this school in which grades 1-12 were taught. The last 2 pictures in the interior of an abandoned house, are of my gransparents’ home, which I visited many times. The abandoned house beautifully depicted at the top of the hill, belonged to my great uncle and aunt, Edward and Pauline Schilke Schultz. From these humble origins my father went on to become a university physics department chairman. He lived 92 years and passed away last week. Late in life, his distinguished academic and scienfitic career notwithstanding, his fondest memories were of life on the farm in Hanks, and World War II Navy Service. His ashes will be interred in the Hanks Cemetery, also in your pictures.

    • Mike — My wife, Charlotte Johnson Logan (1925-1989) was the daughter of Charles William Johnson (1893-1949) and Bertha Solberg Johnson (1895-1965). Charlotte’s sister was Vivian Johnson Sullivan, who, I think, graduated from Hanks high school in 1938. Charlotte had a very dear friend named Grace Schultz Pharris, who, I think, was your aunt as I have read here by you. Those two girls, Grace and Charlotte, grew up together from baby time all the way up through graduation from the University of North Dakota. Bertha told me one time that the parents of Grace played cards with Bertha and Charles (Charlotte’s parents) and on those occasions the two babies were left together lying in the bedroom. After graduation from college Charlotte moved to Chicago and worked at the University of Chicago bookstore. I met her in 1947 and we were married in 1948. After gaining three children we would take trips out to Jerome Idaho to see Grace and Duge Pharris so that the women could unite and we could all have good times. On one occasion we went further up in Idaho to the ranch of Duge’s brother. On one those occasions, and at other times, we extended trips by going through Hanks, North Dakota, so that our children could see where their grandmother, Charlottre grew up. In Hanks we would always visit Avis and Lloyd Kholman. The last time we were there were only about four occupied houses in Hanks, but we did visit the museum. I have many pictures of Hanks taken since the 1950s and would be glad to share them with you. I’d send them on a hard drive. I know that I cannot put my email in this message but I have to assign it below, maybe you can find it there. So good to meet you on this website. But I can give you my address: Fred Logan, 635 S Park Centre Ave, Ap’t 2103, Green valley, Az., 85614. Thanks, with LOVE for Grace & Charlotte. I’m 98 years old.

  17. I was in 3rd grade in Hanks in 1950-51. Gladys Rodvold was my teacher and my mother taught the upper grade room. I met a lot of nice people there. I have kept in touch with some through Facebook. A few years ago, I stopped by to take a picture of the school which is now a museum. I couldn’t figure out where to go to find the person that had the key. I would really liked to have seen it.
    My mother and I picked choke cherries south of Hanks. Someone was kind enough to invite us. The best jelly I have ever tasted!!

    • Fay: I believe my first grade teachers first name was Gladys – not sure but I am sure I got my back end warmed up for talking to much on the first day!

  18. My dad’s family homesteaded I believe just South of Hanks and I went to the first grade in Hanks in 1947. I started school when I was five as requested of my family due to the fact that I would have been the only kid for that grade the next year. My grandmother lived just down the hill from main street, I remember going with my aunt Agneta to fetch water from the community well. My dad and his brothers all worked at the elevator once they returned from the war, I was born in California during the war, my mother was from Williston. My grandmother was a Murphy, married Einar Anderson and widowed early on, then remarried to an Erkie, then widowed again. The things I remember from so many years ago – the big hill that all the motorcycle guys would try to conquer just a short ways from the general store, the Catholic church just across from where we lived that we attended, my uncle Frank Murphy’s home with the gold star in the front door, my uncle Joe’s DKW motorcycle that was a war souvenir and the apple box on the back wall of grandma’s house that had a gunny sack over it that was wet down to cool whatever was placed inside it. Most likely my directions are incorrect because those memories are from a long time ago and I doubt that I ever knew what North, South, East and West were in those days.

    • Tom~ My grandparents were Frank and Cornelia Murphy that lived across from the Catholic Church. My mother, Agnes Murphy Stewart, is their only living child. I read this post to her and she is wondering if your dad was Andrew? As kids we spent a lot of time in Hanks.

      • Kathy,

        My dad, Frederick Schultz, and my aunt, Grace Schultz Pharris, went to school with your mother, and her brothers and sisters. I believe my grandmother,, Helvine Ausland Schults, was the first teacher in the Hanks school. When we were kids we loved to hear my dad’s stories of growing up on the farm in Hanks. I remember hearing your grandparents’ names, as well as that of your uncle, Bernard Murphy. My aunt died many years ago, and my dad passed away early this year.

        Mike Schultz

      • Kathy; yes my father’s name is Andrew and we lived just down the street from Uncle Frank. I can still picture the living room with the picture of the navel ship with crew above the couch.

  19. I spent many days in Hanks staying with my Grandparents, Ben and Dorothy Moirhead. It was a big deal to go those 6 miles into Hanks from the farm and get to stay with them. Lots of love in that home

  20. Great pics, thanks for sharing I love ghost towns

  21. I grew up in Williston and had relatives in Hanks. I remember all the Summer picnics and museum tours. I also remember being in grade school and setting out to sneak into the abandoned houses, many seemed untouched at that time. I would look in wonder at the old wonderful things, and open books that smelled of must. I think those days were the birth of my love of vintage. I now live in the Eastern half of ND, but will always remember growing up out West and will always love the great state of North Dakota!

  22. My mother, Louella Erkie Ortberg was born/raised/lived at Hanks. The coal mine/home was just east of Hanks.

  23. To Tommie Anderson and Maria Ortberg Willer. Mrs. Erkie, Agneta, Joe, Teresa and Louella lived just across the gulley to the west. Part of a train car door for a bridge. The gulley filled with water when it rained. Mrs. Erkie always took care of my sister and I when my Dad was often rushed to Williston hospital in an insulin shock. Teresa was my 7th grade teacher. Joe was my Dad’s best friend, (mine too). Anyone remember Spike his dog? I remember when Andy came to Hanks with his young son, Tommie. He was a little fellow. He had a little sister too! His Mommie wasn’t a very big person either. Maria, If you were born before or while your folks lived in Grenora I probably baby sat you once. That is once! Louella and John could not get into there house when they came home as I was sleeping and they couldn’t wake me. They had to crawl in a window. Needless to say they didn’t ask me to sit for them again. I loved them all. Wonderful people. The Murphys too. So many people in Hanks at the time. 1943-1950. Al Laqua’s family, I use to call them Jule and Alia. Before they had children I bothered them daily with my visits. Agnes Murphy Stewart’s family, I remember their wedding well! Love to see Agnes when we run into each other occasionally. I could go on and on. Loved that place! Nee Lorna Rustad

    • Lorna; thanks for a great post! We moved back to North Dakota after the war from California where both sisters and myself were born. Mom (Cecilia or better known as Cis) brought the three of us on the train before dad was discharged and we lived with my grandparents (mom’s parents) Gus and May Buell in Williston until dad got home. I don’t know what year that was but believe it to be sometime in 1945. That would have been when I was 3, Barbara would have been 1 and Cathy just a baby. You are correct; we were small people (then!) Dad was 5’6″ and mom was 4’11” – good memory Lorna.

      • I have pictures of you. Stop by if you come this way. We live in Grenora now. Two blocks east of the bar!

  24. In researching my grandfather’s family (from Grafton, ND) I came across my grandfather’s and his older brother’s WWI draft registrations. The registrations showed that his older brother, Elmer Ellefson and his wife Olga, owned a general mercantile store in Hanks. The birth date on his registration was a match so I’m sure that it is the same Elmer Ellefson. The date on his draft registration was September, 1918. We had always heard that my grandfather had an older brother but that he had died young so I was very surprised to find this bit of information. Does anyone recall or have any knowledge of the Ellefson’s or their store from back in the mid to late teen’s (or later)? I would love to here some memories! Thanks –

    • Gary, I just looked up Ellefson in a local history book and found a write up by Nyla, Elmer’s daughter. I would be more likely to get any communication from you via mail. P O Box 104, Grenora, Nd. 58845. I could copy write up and send it to you. Nyla also graduated from Grenora, HS in 1930. She has passed.

      • Lorna – thank you so much for the response. Sorry it took me so long to get back to the site and respond. I will write to you shortly. Thanks again – Gary Ellefson

  25. Hey this is cool you guys are my cousins Teresa was my mom Dad was Elwood {Al} I remember going there when i was a kid to see Grama We were raised in Opheim,Mt. there untill 1967 moved to Misiouri And still here

  26. I grew up in the yellow house on the hill. I attended Hanks School through 8th grade and then was bussed to Grenora for High School. My parents were Al and Julia Laqua, Dad was the Mayor of Hanks for a number of years! Many great memories, sledding on the hills in the winter, exploring old coal mines, drinking water from the artiesian spring when the Schultz’s would come to visit. Dad bought some of the land from Herman Schultz. I still call Hanks home, as my wife and I live on a farm a couple miles southwest of there, but I still own the “yellow house on the hill”! 🙂

    • Hi, Vince! So great to read your story of the ND farm. Great memories of hiking out to the spring & around the hills with you & your sisters. Also fun times during Fall harvest. My wife & I live in a small farming community in Pennsylvania for the past 11 years. All my very best to you & your family. Mike Schultz

  27. Has anyone here heard of the Hanks Hardware Co.? They installed a small light plant to provide electricity to residents in town before what was then Montana-Dakota Power Co. came to town in 1927. I’m curious as to when the town first got electricity.

  28. Grew up in Grenora, Spent many hours driving through Hanks either heading up the hill/down the hill to grandpas farm northeast of Hanks. Can’t quite orient the pics with what I remember as Hyw 50, left over train tracks, past elevators, through town past store, up the hill. Any help with that. As I recall Web Bubluz was the area historian who started the museum. Memory not what it used to be so if I’m mistaken clarity is good.

  29. My great grandfather was Willard Hanks and I believe the town was named after him. His daughter Laura Hanks was my grandmother. I just ran across some old notes of hers where she mentioned the town.
    It looks like beautiful country. Would love to visit someday.

  30. Pingback: 8 Questions with Photographer John Piepkorn - Ghosts of North Dakota

  31. Pingback: Ruso: Smallest Incorporated Town in North Dakota

  32. I grew up in Grenora, but attend 7th and 8th grade in Hanks. I remember attending the annual Hanks carnival in the gym of the old school. Once the new school house was completed in Grenora, most of the kids that attended Hanks and Zahl were bussed to Grenora and the Hanks school was closed. Also, My Aunt Dorothy & Uncle Morris Ross operated a bar in Hanks for a short time. I’m guessing it was in the mid 1960’s. Morris and Dorothy lived in Hanks for many years and farmed in the area.

    • We lived in Hank’s for about 3 years around 1948/49/50. I was young but remember my parents rented a farm right at Hank’s. It was on a hill alongside a big hill. There was an orchard, the barn was a ways from the house. I remember it vividly, especially the interior of the house. I went to school there. My parents were Ted and Evelyn Schaefer. We left there and moved to Minnesota and later back to Minot.

Leave a Reply