What Happened to Ghost Town Omemee, North Dakota?
Omemee, North Dakota, a ghost town in Bottineau County, has been a source of intrigue since we first became aware of it in 2005. We were initially made aware of Omemee by a North Dakota resident who alerted us that someone was trying to sell lots in Omemee to out-of-state buyers under questionable circumstances, an effort which amounted to nothing in the end. Later, Fargo resident Mark Johnson sent us some photos of Omemee taken around 2010, and we also received some correspondence and photos from people who had family roots in Omemee, too, but we had never visited Omemee ourselves until Easter weekend, 2017.
It’s hard to appreciate the vanishing act Omemee pulled by just looking at photos, but the postcard shown above gives you some idea of the magnitude. The view is from 1904 (approximately) and Omemee’s peak population was reported at 650 in 1906. The postcard shows us grain elevators, a school, a church, and dozens of homes. Like any growing prairie town of the era, Omemee had a bank, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, a restaurant, an opera house, and even its own newspaper, The Omemee Herald.
Something happened, though, and Omemee vanished from the landscape.
On the site of Omemee in 2017, we struggled to find many structures to photograph.
At first glance, this place looked like a former residential dwelling, with a garage and a home surrounded by a crumbling picket fence.
There’s even an outhouse in the back.
Upon closer inspection, it looked too small to have been a house. Below: a peek inside.
The story of this particular structure remains a mystery. Hopefully, someone can fill in the facts in the comments.
Above: a look inside the garage.
When we arrived in Omemee, we were most interested in photographing the building above, sometimes referred to as the “Superintendent’s House”. For many years, it had been the most significant remaining structure in Omemee. However, we looked around, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Then Terry ran across a pile of bricks.
A look at Google Earth revealed the tale… sometime between 2010 and 2013, someone bulldozed the structure. As a result, almost all of the structures in Omemee, particularly the ones built from materials like wood and brick, are now gone, with the few structures shown on this page as the exceptions. It won’t be long before Omemee is no longer a ghost town, but an archaeological ruin.
What happened to Omemee, North Dakota? What would make 650 people pack up and leave town? Documented answers aren’t easy to come by. A 1906 review by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture listed competition from nearby Bottineau, and the lack of a townsite promoter, as reasons for Omemee’s decline. Someone also once told us that there were water problems in Omemee. Whatever the cause, the junction of two railroads (the Soo Line and the Great Northern) couldn’t save Omemee. The last census which listed Omemee as inhabited was in 1990, and the population was 3.
On a separate post about Omemee, there is a comment from Stacy, a former resident of Omemee, which reads:
I was one of the last people to truly reside in the town. I lived there until I was 15 in 1996. I moved from there to Bottineau and my family stayed there several years after that. I just wanted to let you know that from what I know most people actually picked up there houses and moved. I don’t mean their belongings, but their actual houses. A few buildings were left standing when my family purchased the land, but not many. The buildings that were left we used to house farm animals and they didn’t last long. The town didn’t vanish, those of us that lived there moved on. The spirit of the town will forever and will also haunt me forever. I have no plans of ever returning to the “ghost” town of Omemee.
In places, there are remnants of pavement and sidewalks still showing.
Unless someone razes the remains, the structures made from fieldstone will be the last aboveground clues to Omemee’s existence.
A local farmer still uses the Omemee town site to store some equipment and straw bales.
There are open holes around the site which makes it somewhat perilous to visit. Above: possibly a former cistern with rubble dumped in it.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp except where noted, copyright © Sonic Tremor Media