Revisiting Nanson: The Ghost Town in Waving Country

Nanson, North Dakota

We visited Nanson, North Dakota, a true ghost town with zero residents in southern Rolette County, in 2012. We traveled through waving country to get there (when an occasional car or truck passed, the drivers frequently waved) and found a townsite rapidly disappearing. There were only four significant structures still standing in Nanson, and the Great Northern Railroad tracks that led to the founding of the town were long gone, too. On Easter weekend, 2017, we decided to make a return trip to Nanson on our way home from another ghost town, Omemee, North Dakota, and see if anything had changed.

Nanson, North Dakota

As with our previous visit, we had to park at the end of the road and walk into the townsite due to the wet road. Our visit in 2012 was at the height of summer, with the leaves on the trees, and we were immediately struck when we visited this time by how haunting Nanson looked in the spring, with the trees bare.

The home shown above is the first structure you come to when visiting Nanson. Below: a look inside.

Nanson, North Dakota

There was a post office in Nanson, from 1905 to 1981, and the town reportedly had a population of 125 in 1920, but it had declined to just 25 by 1960. Today, nobody lives in Nanson, North Dakota.

Nanson, North Dakota

Nanson, North Dakota

When we visited in 2012, we found the townsite totally overrun with wood ticks, and we were picking them off ourselves in the car all the way home. This time, an early spring had us concerned about ticks again, so we treated our clothes with permethrin before we left and, although we saw ticks clinging to blades of prairie grass during our visit, we didn’t find a single live tick on us. That stuff works.

Nanson, North Dakota

Nanson, North Dakota

At the center of the townsite, an old home and garage still stand, surrounded at its perimeter by a sagging wire fence.

Nanson, North Dakota

Nanson, North Dakota

Nanson, North Dakota

Many times we’ve been reminded that exploring these places is dangerous, and the photo above is a prime example. There are open basements, wells, and cisterns everywhere. If you can imagine exploring a place like this later in the summer, when the grass is knee or waist-high, you can imagine how easy it would be to fall into something like this and get seriously hurt. Take two steps back without looking behind yourself while you’re trying to get that perfect shot and it would be easy to injure yourself in a fall.

Nanson, North Dakota

At the north end of the townsite is a home that looks like Salvador Dali’s workshop, slowly crumbling into its own basement. The basement was full of water when we visited this time, likely runoff from the recent snow melt. This house was already falling apart when we visited in 2012. Five years later, it was in a little worse condition and will likely deteriorate quickly in the coming years.

Nanson, North Dakota

The whole time we were exploring Nanson, a turkey vulture patrolled above our heads, gliding in lazy circles like a guardian of carrion. He would fly overhead, retreat for a time, and then return, as if to remind us that Nanson is a place for memories, but not living things.

Nanson, North Dakota

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

21 Comments on “Revisiting Nanson: The Ghost Town in Waving Country

  1. Your post are tremendous and I really enjoy seeing the pictures of your explorations. The abandoned wells, etc. are very dangerous. When I find one, I try to mark them or cover them up. Hopefully the hole in the pic above was marked or covered. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. Wonder how long the trees will last? Folks would plant them as wind breaks, shelter from the sun and to breakup the monotony of the plains. They will outlast the buildings, but I suppose in time they too will all disappear…

    • Which would be right and proper for the prairie, eh?

  3. Outstanding pictures of the area and especially the sky. Thank you

  4. Several of Nanson’s buildings are preserved at the Dale & Martha Hawk Museum near Wolford, North Dakota.

  5. If only the walls of those old buildings could talk, they would tell quite a story of the people and the town.

    John from Massachusetts.

  6. Love the photos as usual and this time loved the poetic reference to the turkey vulture and its significance.

  7. I grew up in North Dakota. Lived in Hesper for a few years when I was very young before moving to a farm in Arne Township. Lived in Fargo for several years after that.

  8. Thank you so much. I grew up in Rolette County with so many good memories. It’s sad to see things as such, but it is the process of life.

  9. I worked for a truck line and used to make a delivery of Fireworks once a year to the Mercantile Store run by a nice elderly gentleman named Henry Johnson or Peterson? This would have been in late 80’s or early 90’s. The store was a step back in time and I always would spend extra time every time I stopped. I could always imagine the store in its hayday with people doing their shopping, visiting folks and Henry waiting on his customers. There was a Auction Sale when it closed but I didn’t make it. I have a souvenir piece from the town that I cherish. I think the building was moved to the Hawk Museum at Wolford.

    • I remember as a young child going up to Nansen for the fireworks and getting a pair of shoes there as well as the wooden floors as we picked out penny candy!

  10. This really helped me with my history assignment, thank you!

  11. I remember this place, as we stopped there several times in the early 1980,s for lunch and to purchase blue jeans. They were cheap at the time, $ 6.00. His name was Henry Johnson and he had a post office. You could find almost anything at his store. The store was moved to the Hawk Museum for anyone to visit.

  12. Our family lived close to Nanson on a farm. My older siblings went to the country school there. The school was also moved the Hawke farm. We went through it there and found my siblings school records and information. It was a great find that brought back lots of memories. We loved going to the store. I think there were two Johnson brothers that worked there. I took my wife there before the store was moved. Thank you for this project. Mark.

  13. Henry Johnson is a relative of mine. I have several photos of Nansen in it’s “heyday”…. Even the train going by the Store.

  14. My family lived in Nanson during the early 40’s. The house with the front porch and the barn out back ( not garage) was our home. We had a couple cows and a bunch of chickens. My father was the grain elevator manager for a short time. My sister and I attended the one room “grade school” on the south edge of town where our mother and her six siblings had also received their elementary education – Ox Creek School # 4

    • Dear Lola,
      My husband, Kurt Friederich, and I were reminiscing about the Friederich law firm in Rugby, ND. We found your name here, so we are reaching out to see how you are!
      – from Ann Friederich (

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