Ghost Town Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in McKenzie County, about fifteen minutes west of Watford City. As far back as 1960, Charbonneau had already been de-listed from the Census, but according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Charbonneau was founded in 1913 and a peak population of 125 was reported in 1920. Charbonneau’s name was derived from nearby Charbonneau Creek, which was in turn named for the interpreter on the Lewis & Clark expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau.

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Our friend John Piepkorn contributed these photos in 2010 with the following comments:

The attached pictures are from Charbonneau. It is a true ghost town west of Alexander and about a mile south of Highway 200 in McKenzie County. The post office closed in the 1960’s and is no longer there. The school in still standing, but the ceiling is starting to crumble. There is a small cemetery up on the hill as you enter the town from the North and a couple of grain elevators that appear to be in decent shape. There are also two houses that are still standing, one of which, I took a couple of interior shots, and also an interior shot of the school.

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau is just one of 18 places in North Dakota we classify as a “true ghost town”, a place where buildings still stand but the people have gone. See the rest of them here.

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota

Charbonneau, North Dakota

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

39 Comments on “Ghost Town Charbonneau, North Dakota

  1. I rented a farm house in Charbonneau 1974-1976 when I started as Deputy Sheriff in McKenzie Co. My patrol area was Williston to Squaw Creek, the Montana border to Alexander. I became Sheriff of McKenzie Co in 1976 and moved into Watford City. Many memories of that area and people who lived there.

    Jim Quickstad

  2. I didn’t even notice when I was taking the interior shot of the house with the wild wallpaper, but there are 3 barn swallows sitting in the nest at the top of the picture.

  3. My Mom lived here as a young girl in the mid 1920’s. She has fond memeries of it. It’s fun for me to see the pictures.

  4. My mother was born in Charbonneau in the 20’s. Her madian name was alice Smith. Could anyone give me any information, we have no family history for this time frame. Thank you!

  5. My mother grew up in Charbonneau. Thats were I was born (I will not say the year lol). Her madin name was Johnson. Love the town was or still is great place to live.

  6. I just stopped by to take some pictures of Charbonneau and I was there for 20 or so mins. In that time there was at least ten oil trucks that rolled though the intersection of town. Sadly I’m sure that is more traffic than that town saw at its peak.

    • I spent many summers with my grandmother and uncle just down the road. I recognize all pictures. I have many wonderful memories of Charbonneau and all the great people who lived there. Ruth from Detroit LakesMN

  7. My mother went to school in Charbonneau when she was a little girl – the 1940s? We go out once in awhile to see how the ol’ town is doing. Her family farmed north of Charbonneau in Elk Township.

  8. I believe my father was born there. Willis Newman Ditsworth was his name, and his father J. G. had the Ditsworth General Hardware Store there, I think. Does this sounds familiar to anyone?

  9. My father, George Thorgramson ran the elevator there for many years along with the Cartwright elevator. My sister Dixie and I have many fond memories of Charbonneau. My sister has passed away and so has my Dad so I haven’t been over by the little ghost town in prob 4 years but we always loved to check it out to see what changed.What great memories from our early years. While my dad was running the elevator there was still a man that lived in one of the homes once he passed it was only Dad in town a couple times a week..

    • I remember you all! Sorry to hear Dixie passed! Great memories of growing up there and our youth!
      Marlene Safely Mead

        • Yes, our farm is just south of Charbonneau. My great grandmother had a boarding house there. My Dad and both Aunts went to school there. The house across from the elevators was once the Post Office. When I was young Bill Bell was the Post Master and lived there. Use to ride our bikes to go get the mail. One of my favorite stories Daddy told us from he was young there was a town cat and when it died the Methodist preacher had a funeral for the cat for all the kids. A lot of fond memories.

  10. Can you explore the buildings legally or do you need permission from the current

  11. My father was born there in 1924. His mother and newborn sister died there in 1926 and are buried in the cemetery.

  12. I have an old postcard picture of my relatives- the post card is addressed to my great grandfather LeRoy Stanton, Lowville, NY. The names are listed as Carl Kelly and Clifford Millard (cousins to LeRoy). It reads, Dear Friends: I am well and hope you are the same. I am working on a ranch and helping break broncos. Start plowing with them tomorrow. From your friend Carl Kelly c/o Joseph Braddock North Dakota Charbonneau….it is postmarked 1917

  13. Went to Charbonneau last week and got some nice photos. We did not go inside any of the buildings since they were all posted as private, but looked in the windows. We did step up on the porch of the school house and looked in the door. A huge owl flew out the attic window as we stood there. It was pretty awesome. I love the lilacs around the house near the school and plan to go back out there in the spring to see them blooming. We saw the marker in the cemetery for the mother and newborn baby mentioned by Jon Gravning in a previous comment. 🙁
    I emailed the McKenzie County tax office to find out about contacting owners to inquire about property and permission to photograph inside some of the remaining buildings, though I am thinking the school floor looks pretty unsafe and drops into a very deep basement. They also told me that the Long X Museum and Visitor Center in Watford City has a lot of interesting information on the history of the area. I hope they have photos of Charbonneau in it’s best of times. 🙂

    • They are all unsafe to enter unfortunately. Grew up south of there and we own what was once Post office by elevators. There are photos at Lewis and Clark Mueseum in Alexander.

  14. In about 1910 my great uncles Herman and Bill left Minnesota and headed west. They lived south of Charbonneau for a number of years. In 1918 Herman and Bill’s wife Pearl died during the “Spanish flu” epidemic that swept the country. They were both in their 20s and were buried in the Charbonneau cemetery. Very nice photos of the old town, by the way.

    • It appears from Google Earth that a rail line went through town. Anyone know the history of that? When it was built and/or removed?

      • North Dakota Place Names by Douglas Wick is a great source of railroad information. According to the entry for Charbonneau, the Great Northern likely came to Charbonneau around 1913. No information on when it puled out.

  15. I grew up south of there and Post Office and Elevator was still in operation when I was young. My great grandmother had a hotel and boarding house in Charbonneau. Post Office closed in 1967 William Bell was the last Postmaster in Charbonneau. I remember riding our bikes to Charbonneau to get the mail. It sits across ride from Elevators it is the house with the wallpaper. It was a private home for a period of time last lived in the early 80’s. My grandparents Edward and Eva Safely came to Charbonneau 1918 and homesteaded south of there from Des Moines, IA along with my great uncle anf great, grandmother. My dad Lyle Safely and his two sisters Catherine Romo and Luella Babbit all went to school there. They have all passed but heard many stories growing up. One of my favorites was there was a town cat and when the cat died the Methodist minister held a funeral for the cat for all the kids. The building to the west that has fallen in was once the Creamery. There was once a newspaper, church, general store, hotel, school, creamery, elevator, post office and bank. Only buildings still standing is school, post office and elevators but unfortunately all unsafe to enter and posted for publics safety.

  16. Once upon a time in the very early 50s I spent nearly a year working nights on the Fairview bridge for the Great Northern RR on the Fairview bridge crossing the Yellowstone River since both autos and trains used the one way passage that we controlled from shack on east end of the bridge–I later was telegrapher at Culbertson Mt for several years before moving west & eventually Seattle.

    • Hello Warren! I am writing a piece on the Fairview Bridge for the magazine, North Dakota Horizons. I am not sure if you will get this message, but I would love to interview you if you do happen to see this. What an interesting story you have!

  17. I have fond memories of shooting images in Charbonneau while living in Watford City for a couple of years (June of 2014 through June 2016), for the silent stories behind these ghost towns fascinates me to no end. I spent a lot of time shooting landscapes, abandoned homesteads, farm implements and more during my time off while living in North Dakota and I miss the region a lot. I, too, am curious about the former GN rail line that extended at least as far as Watford City (the old right-of-way is visible in numerous places all the way from its crossing of the Yellowstone on the historic Fairview bridge over through Charbonneau, Alexander, Arnegard and the long fill alongside what is now old US85 on the west side of Watford. I’ve a deep respect for those that homesteaded the region and certainly wish such abandoned walls could speak.

    Here is a link to my images (all of which are copyrighted, just for the record, but hope anyone interested enjoys viewing these) from McKenzie County while living there from 2014 to 2016:

    There are also additional North Dakota images (among many other regions from the northern Plains) if one visits the albums at my Flickr account (all are sorted by state and county), the link for which is posted below for anyone interested.

    • Excellent photos, Mr. Welborn. You captured the spirit of the places.

  18. Again, as I have stated several times on this website, the highest compliments for a wonderful and interesting job well done. My thanks, also, to John Piepkorn for his wonderful photography and willingness to share. One thing that really bothers me when looking at so many of these ghost town areas is the stupid and senseless vandalism that some morons have to do. In these particular photos, why did a refrigerator need to be tipped over? Just because someone moved out of the house at one time, why did an old couch have to be tipped and a TV smashed? I am sure they were not endangering anyone. I guess that some people just can’t find anything better to do than damage a bunch of property. I was very happy to see the many comments here of past residents or family ties to this remote area. It may be vacant, but it is not forgotten. Thanks again for this great website!
    Lynn Mickelson

  19. According to the book “Energizing the Peace Garden State”, it would seem that 1965 was the year Charbonneau became a ghost town, as the Montana-Dakota Utilities did not list it among the towns it served after that year.

  20. I am related to Touissant Charbonneau and did not know there had been a town named after him. Great photos! Maybe one day I will get up there. My great-grandparents and grandparents were not far away in Grand Forks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I guess they all stayed nearby.

  21. We are direct descendents of Touissant Charbenneau, we want back our land, we deserve our do, we deserve this land

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