Ruso: Smallest Incorporated Town in North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota

Ruso, North Dakota is in McLean County and had a reported population of 4 in the 2010 Census. A claim from an unknown source that we’ve seen around the web says Ruso is the smallest incorporated town in North Dakota. Several unincorporated towns are even smaller, like Hanks (pop. 1), and Merricourt, and ghost towns with zero residents.

Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota. Image/Google Earth

Kelsey Rusch visited Ruso in 2010 and contributed these photos with the following comments:

Right off highway 41, south of Velva, you will find Ruso. Though it has ten or so abandoned buildings, there appear to be three residences as well, making it inhabited, but probably for not too much longer.

It is located just south east of the borders of McLean, Ward, and McHenry counties in a very beautiful yet desolate part of the state.

According to the North Dakota Place Names book, “The post office was established on December 1, 1906 with Edwin J Burgess as pm. The village incorporated in 1909 and by 1910 reported a population of 141, with a doctor, newpaper, and many other luxuries often missing in new townsites.” The Place Names book (first published 1988), claims the zip code was 58778 and was still open at the time. However, a sign outside what I assume was the post office suggests that it closed in 1981.

Ruso, North Dakota

As far as the name “Ruso,” the Place Names book says the name either is a Russian word meaning “south of us,” or, as others say, it was coined from the words SOuth RUssia, which was the homeland of many of the area settlers.

Ruso, North Dakota

The town is in a very peaceful location. The sole road passes one residence right next to the highway before leading to several abandoned ones. The post office, now a home, sits in the middle of town, next to a collapsed building and across from an empty and overgrown field. From what I can gather a section of the field used to be a baseball diamond. If only the kids who used to play there saw it today.

Further down the road sits what was once a pretty nice sized school but now is used as a residence. Around the corner and down the road sits what was once a beautiful church. Two outhouses sit to the east of the church, and to the west a flax field is planted almost all the way up to the doors of the church, which faces west. The grounds surrounding the church, unfortunately, are a mess. There is a junked bus sitting outside, as well as two or three junked pickups. Numerous other things are scattered around and it is obvious the few remaining residents do not take care of the church any more.

Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota

There were a few other abandoned buildings hidden in the trees surrounding the city but they were either posted or too overgrown to get to. If anyone has any other information about Ruso, especially about history or as to why there is a large bus that says “Huntley Project Red Devils” parked outside of the church, I’d definitely love to hear more about this place. It was very calm and serene and is in a beautiful location in the state.

Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota
Ruso, North Dakota

Photos by Kelsey Rusch, original content copyright © Sonic Tremor Media

69 Comments on “Ruso: Smallest Incorporated Town in North Dakota

  1. Huntley Project is a school in Worden, MT (east of Billings). Red Devils is their school mascot name.

  2. I was a deputy sheriff in McLean County in 1977 -1978 working out of Garrison when I and another deputy stopped in Russo at the bar on a bar check, we went on to Butte and were called back to Russo
    , because the bar was on fire. It burned to the ground that night as we watched and could not believe that less than a hour earlier we were in there visiting we the people in the bar.
    It was rebuilt, but the place was never the same. It is so sad to see the town in the shape it is now. McLean County was a great place to work and I will always remember the great times I had working there from 1974-1976 stationed out of Turtle Lake and again out of Garrison 1977-1978, and Underwood 1978-1979.
    The Sheriff was Arlin Thompson and he was a great boss and McLean County was a great place to work..

    • My grandparents lived in the house before it was the bar. They ran a grocery store there. If I remember correctly they actually built the house, but I may be wrong. And I think the store was called Riba Grocery. I have several pictures of the Ruso area.

      • Hi Verla.. You do not remember me, but I babysat you when very small.. I remember your house in Ruso and your Mom and Dad. If I remember right.. was 7 kids, and oldest was Terry.. about 8!! How times have changed.. would babysit all evening.. pay 1.00…that was the price back then! Terry was very close to our family.. he played many games of pinochle with my parents before he was married.

        Was great to see a name I recalled..any pictures you can email would be great!! Thanks.

        • Hi Diane, it’s Belinda Ribs. Terry just loved your family. I can’t believe it has been 12 and a half years since he passed.

        • Diane we were in ND in July this year. We spent a lot of time with Joe and Penny. It was so good to get back and see ND. We stayed with Larry at his house in Butte. I do remember you, wow that was so many years ago. I know I have pictures I just need to find them. Sadly, and I’m sure you know, we lost Terry in 2003. I miss him everyday!

  3. according to my ex-father in law from velva the bus has been there since the late 80s early 90s it had broken down between ruso and velva and was left and never repaired or retrieved and was towed by some local farmer to its current resting place. i have no way of verifying this but he’s been in velva all his life since 43 so i would imagine its probly right along the lines of what happened. side note the bar/restaurant called the 41 club was reopened about ten years ago (late 90s i drank there one time shortly after turning 21 in 98) and ran for maybe 2 or 3 years before closing again. the building itself is i believe being used as a residence and is in pretty good repair. there are usually a couple of newer vehicles sitting out front. i had posted another comment on another thread about ruso a while ago and had to take a road trip to check it out again last month on my way to strawberry lake for some fishing.

  4. I was a deputy sheriff for McLean County in 1999, stationed out of Turtle Lake. Ruso was on the far edge of my patrol area, along with Benedict and Butte. I remember there was a few people living there but not much left of the town. I did take a pretty good rollover accident call right at by those train tracks in the photo.

  5. My dad grew up right outside the city limits of Ruso. He always jokes that Ruso was a town of 8 (now 6) but that didn’t include the suburbs.

  6. My husband Glenn is from just outside of Ruso, and went to school in Ruso for 3 years. His grandfather pastored in the church pictured and that is where we were married in 1978. Can still remember the post office, two gas stations, grocery store and the bar being open there. He graduated in 1975 from the small town Butte, which school is closed now too.

  7. My mom was the last postmaster at Ruso’s post office, which was located in what was the old bank building (also a residence). The post office closed sometime in the 2000s. The sign that the author speaks of that mentions 1981 was in commemoration of Ruso’s 75th Anniversary Celebration. It is a shame that the church grounds are in the shape that they are in now – it’s not necessarily the fault of the few residents (most of whom have no connection to the church), but rather the person who purchased the property and is using it as a junkyard. My great-grandfather was a carpenter and helped build the church and the furnishings inside. I remember going to bridal and baby showers and anniversary celebrations in the church basement as a young girl. I also remember softball games being played in the baseball diamond. The stone building across from the baseball diamond was the old jail. Both of my grandfathers and many other relatives attended school in Ruso. My grandmother worked in the bar that Deputy Sheriff Bob speaks of and I remember hearing about the fire. Ruso used to have 5 grain elevators in its heyday. I often wish I could timetravel and visit Ruso during its height! The Ruso Record newspaper is available for viewing on microfilm at the State Archives in Bismarck and has a lot of interesting information from the busy days of the town.

    • I remember a snake in the basement when I was a kid. It was just a garter snake (as we called them), so we took it outside and played with it LOL.

    • My grand parents bought the old bank building and lived there for many years, grandma Ann lushenko was the post master untill she retired but the post office kept operating there for sometime.

    • My father Ervin Overlund was the minister at the Lutheran Church there from around 1965-1969. We lived in Benedict and he drove to Ruso and to Hope Lutheran Church out in the country. I remember going to the church as a child. It makes me sad to see it in such bad shape.

      • Very sad that someone in authority of the church let that happen. I was born at Ruso, was Baptized, confirmed and married in that church. It is such a disgrace to have that happen. Church should have been torn town or burned.. not to be left the eyesore it is.
        My grandfather was depot agent at Ruso back in 30’s.. at one time Ruso had 6 elevators, more than Velva. Went thru 8 grades at the school in Ruso.. Many good memories, in the 50’s I am sure their were still 40-50 people living in Ruso. On the map of Ruso.. to the far see hwy 41, our farm was one just north of town.. has a red building there.. which you can see. I remember Mike P., the Lushenos, Stobers, Ribas, Buseths, many families. Part of my heart will always be with Ruso.

  8. Who owns that great jailhouse in the center of town? I’d like contact information.

    • I think the jailhouse you mention was turned into my uncle’s (Alvin Nelson) blacksmith shop in the early 1940’s. My grandmother (Gunda Nelson) lived across the road from the schoolhouse. I lived there with her from 1942-1945.
      The church was the Lutheran Church of which my grandmother was a member. I can remember turning the crank so the organist could play.
      My aunt owned the bar on the other side of town before it burned down.

      • And my Grandmother Bertha Riba played that organ for sometime.

        • I remember your grandmother who played the organ. She played it when my dad was the minister there, I’m pretty sure. What a blast from the past!

      • Diane, we are from the same Ruso families! My Dad, Ted, and our uncle, Alvin, built the jail -when? I have no clue! We, my mom, my sister Ailene and I (Donna) were back in the 90’s for a family reunion. It was very emotional for me to walk the land where my family began. I’m planning another trip soon.

    • My dad owned the jail until just a couple of years ago.

  9. I am trying to figure out how to get around this venue. I posted some photo’s taken in Ruso on Facebook. We lived in Ruso in the early 40s

    • Do you remember the Riba’s. That is my family. I heard Grandma and Grandpas house (that was turned into a bar) has recently burned down.

      • The 41 club did burn down. The day after it happened me and my family drove by to see if it was true. I live in Benedict and remember going there a few times with my dad. He would have a few drinks and I would drive home. That was a lovely bar. A young couple owned it but sold it after they married. The people they sold it says they wont build it again. Where the bar was is now an empty spot.

    • I remember when you lived in Ruso, knew your Mom and Dad, friends of my Mom and Dad.. Your Dad was in the depot! So nice seeing names I remember. I think you were about the age of my brother Jim.

      If you have any pictures you can email, would appreciate it! Thanks!

      • Diane, I think we are related. My grandfather was Herbert Legg and according to my research on he left England to live with his uncle (most likely your grandfather) James Legg. Herbert then went to Brandon Manitoba where his sister Florence lived. Do you know any of the Legg family in Canada?

    • I remember when you lived in Ruso.. Also knew your Mom when she lived in Velva.. in fact she came to my home to visit. Your Dad was in Depot.. In late 20’s my grandfather was Depot Agent in Ruso James A Legg.

      I think you were about the same age as my brother Jim.

      Was nice to see a name I knew! If u have any pictures u could email, would appreciate it! Thanks.

  10. I started school in Ruso, ND in 1942. My father was the Soo Line station agent. I can identify what some of your photos are and have some to add.
    Don Gardner

  11. Grew up right out of town and went 8 yrs to the school shown. Both my uncle and grandfather seved as railroad depot agents.

    Remember Don as we started school together.
    would like you to contact me as I live in McClusky now.

    Jim Legg

  12. Lisa (who commented above) is my cousin. I remember the bar in Ruso very well….we would come to visit Gramma in the summers and Christmas time–and when Gramma was still working @ the bar, I would go with her and she would feed me cheese cubes. What a memory to retain! I remember the church as well, and some other little store (memory is fuzzy on that one). I had a lot of fun in Ruso in my childhood, and have some great memories.

  13. I too loved visiting the Leonard and Hilda Ericksons (my Grandparents) and Bertha and Walt Riba (also Grandparents) in Ruso in the summertime as we moved to New Mexico as kids. Enjoyed seeing the photos and hearing the comments. Also enjoyed spending time at Strawberry Lake with relatives Lois and Morris Madsen. Attended church there too.

    • I remember a Geena (?) Madsen. Her face had been burned in a horrible accident.

      • I remember her, she looked into a barrel with a match?
        The baseball field I played on. My Grandma and Grandpa had a farm in the area. Joe and Margaret Schiff, they had 13 children, many of the family still live around the area. Loved riding into Ruso with my cousins on horseback…good times.

      • The woman burned was Neena Severson, I own lots in Ruso, love the sunsets

        • Hi dad haha ran across this website working on a research paper. Does anyone still live in the old schoolhouse?

  14. For anyone that wants contact me, Email

    Jim – Wasn’t Bertha Riba our teacher one year? We also had one of the store owners, (Hansons) daughters. I can remember you, Judy Schultz and I were in the 1st grade in 42.

  15. Donna (Meader) Sandstrom, I remember your mom and your dad. When your dad would harvest the hay with your brothers, they would pass by Grandma’s house and I would get a lift to the top of the wagon, so I could ride up to your farm.
    I am planning a trip back to Ruso sometime in May. I have seen Janice, Edith, and Karen (Borgen) in the past six months. Karen has been coming to Zion, Illinois for cancer treatments and her sisters came once with her. It was so good to get together after almost 50 years.
    My email is: Please send me yours. My mom was MaeBelle. I’ll fill you in more when you email, and we can compare notes.

  16. My dad was raised in ruso, his parents owned the store, then years later while my dad was in the navy during Vietnam they bought the post office and for many years grandma Ann lushenko was post master, the post office was in the front part of the house. The house at one time was the bank. My dad (bill) owned the property accross the street that was the jail, untill just a few years ago sold it.

  17. Thank you, Kelsey, for submitting these great photos of Ruso! My grandfather and his parents lived there for a time from 1906-1911. So I visited there in the summer of 2002(I believe). The post office was still in business then. The postmaster was very helpful in telling me about the town. The sign that says ‘1981’ for the 75th anniversary of the founding of Ruso if I understood the postmaster correctly.

  18. Could someone please tell me when the bar burned down? My husband and I are arguing about how long ago it was! Thank you in advance.

    • The bar which was last called Farmers Bar burned down December 16, 2011 I beleive. My family lives 4 miles north of Ruso and I used to work there.

  19. Pingback: Kongsberg, ND :

  20. My grandparents Marvin and Judy Johnson have a farm in Ruso. My Grandpa Marvin was born there in 1926 and lived his whole life there. Grandpa Marvin passed away in 2005 but Grandma Judy still lives out there. We just shingled her house last summer and many family members flood the farm in the fall for hunting.

  21. I was born in 1925 and grew up in Ruso. My parents and many of my family are buried in the Ruso cemetery. The school was large enough to accommodate 2 years of high school when I was growing up. There was a big bell that was rung to signal the start of a school day. We kids would take turns ringing it. It was great fun as the bell was so big, you would pull down on the rope and be pulled up into the air by the return swing of the bell. You could hear the bell all over the county. We lived a few miles away, so usually my brothers and I walked to school. Sometimes we would take one of the horses though. And in the winter sometimes Dad would bring us in the cutter sleigh. In the winter Mom would make ice cream and we would bury it in the snow bank to eat at recess. Growing up there was an experience. We cooked & heated the house with a wood stove. We had kerosene lamps & candles for lighting and there was no indoor plumbing. Mom did the wash once a week, boiling water on the stove and washing everything using a washboard and soap. The clothes were hung out on a line to dry – in the winter she’d bring the frozen garments in to finish off drying by the stove. Bath time was once a week too & followed the same process – boil the water on the stove & use it to scrub yourself while sitting in a big washtub in the kitchen.

    • I am interested to know who your family was.. and if you remember any Leggs. We grew up farm just north of Ruso. I had an aunt that went to high school at Ruso. All my family went to Ruso school, until some then had to go to Butte after 5th grade.

      So nice to read comments…Hope I get a reply, so know who your family was…

  22. Your great-grandfather was my father – I’m so glad to have found this website

  23. The lady,s name that was burned in the face was Neena Severson. She owned the bar & cafe at Strawberry Lake and was our neighbor. My Grandparents lived in Ruso they were Walt & Bertha Riba.

  24. My name is Mary Lou and in March of 2015 I started doing family history. I found a clipping about my Great Uncle Esedor Emil. I recall that it is possible the name was changed from Emilenko to Emil?
    Does Esedor have family members in the area?
    I recall years ago that my mother Hazel Korolsky and I were in the Benedict area I believe, and visited with her cousin, which would be my second cousin Andrew or Alfred Emil, which would be Emil’s sons. I am hoping to find the names of Emil’s mother and father, which would also be the parents to Sonja Korolsky and where my grandparents lived in the Ukraine before moving to America. I thank anyone who can help me with this.

    • Hi Mary Lou, Just saw Your post, My Father William Lushenko was a nephew of Esedor Emil, His mother and Esedor were Brother and Sister, I knew Andrew and Alfred very well. My Parents moved to Ruso in 1948, They owned a grocery store and cream station there and later My Mother Ann was postmaster for 25 years. So I was in 3rd grade when We moved there and went to HS in Minot . Would like to know who Your Parents are. Take care !! The area They came from is Kiev, Ukraine .

      • My parents are George and Hazel Udelhofen. They lived for many years in Balfour and there were other family members in the Kief and Butte area. If you would like to have more detailed information or further contact, you can contact me through my yahoo account at mlm_1950 and from there I can direct you to my regular account.

  25. My name is Dwight Pflipsen and my uncle, Mike Pflipsen owned the gas station and mechanic shop next to the Post office. The sign that is referred to was in front of his gas station and the post was part of his filling station area. He also owned the property where the ball diamond is on. Mike ran the gas station for many years and was a bachelor his whole life. In 1980 his gas station burned down while he was sleeping inside. Somehow he was able to get out and he lived with my father, Hubert Pflipsen of Max, until he went into the Nursing home in Garrison. I have since purchased the lots from him and visit Ruso every year when I come back to ND.

    • Oh I remember your Uncle! Had not thought of that name for years! Was a grocery store, also a repair shop of some sort, I know he fixed shoes.. Buseth was his name. Then was the gas station.. then post office! So nice to see some of these names from long ago. I grew up the first farm north of Ruso.. Thanks for your comment, interesting to see.

    • Dwight, I have been doing research on the Pflipsen family and came upon this website and saw your comment. I can remember visiting uncle Mike on many occasions while traveling from Garrison to Strawberry lake in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Dad would always want to stop and visit with mike at his little shop along the way. Always enjoyed that because I always got a free soda pop.

      • Hi Ron. If you send me your email, I will send you additional Pflipsen history. Good to hear from you. My sisters, Doris and Rosemary, just stopped in to see your sister, Marlyn, the first part of Sept.

  26. I grew up south of Turtle Lake. The Ravnaas family lived near Ruso, most went to school in Turtle Lake. Paul Ravnaas, born about 1948 died young in a tractor accident. Lydia Ravnaas (youngest) was in my class (’67) at Turtle Lake, Lui Ravnaas (eldest?) taught in Turtle Lake from about 1964 until he retired sometime after 1995. He was probably born shortly after 1940. He still lives in Turtle Lake and a Google search should give contact info. One of my brothers farms some of Lui’s land. There was a couple of other Ravnaas “kids” whose names currently escape me. I’d guess that the original Ravnaas farm was south of Ruso, but Lui would know.

    • Hi,
      The Ravnaas’ is family of mine. Lui, Lydia, Bonnie and Maureen are My second cousins.
      I am Norwegian, but we have visited them a couple of times. The first time, in 1982, Orvin Ravnaas took us to Ruso to show us where they used to live. I recall it well. The house was in poor condition at the time. I have always wished to see a photo of it to see if I remember it correctly. It was a small house and I believe it had a front porch facing the road.
      If anyone has some good stories or memories of my relatives it would be great to hear about it :).

      • It is lovely to read your comments Hilde. I value the friendship that I had with Lydia when we were growing up as classmates. I have had 20 years of formal education and Lui remains my favorite teacher for all of that time. Thank you.

        • How lovely to hear from you Tim :). I have only met both Lui and Lydia once actually as we stayed at their parents farm north of Turtle Lake. I turned 12 shortly after our first visit, so I am much younger than them and actually even younger than Lui’s children. When visiting Lui and his family his children took me and my brother to see their school in Turtle Lake. I met Lydia when they took us to see Fort Mandan. She gave me a doll which I still have to this day (somewhere…).
          Bonnie’s husband Clyde Nelson used to have a garage which I think was called Clyde’s body shop and it was in Turtle Lake.
          My goodness, I see that I forgot to mention both their brother Orvin Jr. and Leif. Orvin is often called Ola and he lives close to where his parents farm was and Leif lives in Valley city – unless they have moved lately.. :). Both are so nice and most (if not all) of them can still speak Norwegian and it’ because their grandparents forced them to when they were at their house :D.
          I stay in touch with some of their children from time to time on social media. They are pretty much the same age as myself 🙂

          • I hope that I’m not diverting too much from the topic of this website to say that my paternal Grandfather, who homesteaded south of what is now Turtle Lake (founded in 1905) in 1904, was from Skåne Sweden. My paternal Grandmother was born in Pennock Minnesota to recent immigrants from Nordland Norway (probably Mo I Rana). Since most of immigrant origin in the area were of German extraction, my Dad and brothers grew up speaking all of German, Norwegian, Swedish and English. When we went to town – either Washburn, Turtle Lake or Mercer – It was not unusual for my Dad to run into someone and started speaking something other than English. And when they started laughing we could guess they were telling dirty jokes. 🙂 I heard all of those languages growing up, but did not learn any of them. When my father grew close to his end at age 98 he would frequently start speaking in one of his boyhood tongues.

  27. For I came across the name of this town Ruso ND where a handful of survivors of the Armenian genocide came to settle and make a new life for themselves, between 1918 – 1928. I would so much like to know more about their stories and the life they made for themselves in Ruso. The powerful movie “The Cut” will shed a light.

  28. Thank you so much for this site. My Grandpa and Grandma moved about 2 miles out of Ruso in 1906. My dad was born there December 24, 1906 and he was baptized in the church there. They moved back to Minnesota in 1913. I have a picture of the church when it was much newer and also pictures of the church and town of Ruso when I was there in 2003. It was very exciting to see where my dad was born and lived the beginning years of his life.

Leave a Reply to Dwight Pflipsen Cancel reply