Roadtrip: Ghosts Towns and Vanishing Places along State Highway 200
North Dakota’s longest State Highway is Highway 200, and it stretches over 400 miles from the Red River near Halstad, Minnesota to the Montana border at Fairview. As we’ve been exploring North Dakota’s vanishing places since 2003, it’s a highway we’ve found ourselves on again and again, and we’re due to show appreciation for a road that will take you to so many amazing places.
Feel like a hypothetical roadtrip? Let’s start in the East.
Start at I29 and proceed west on State Highway 200. Mayville/Portland is a great place to stop for a bite if need be. Continue west on Highway 200, and drive for about 15 minutes, then head south, for Blabon and Sherbrooke, in Steele County, just a few miles off 200.
In Sherbrooke, you’ll find a true ghost town that was once the seat of Steele County but had it snatched away by business interests who bemoaned Sherbooke’s lack of a railroad or navigable river. President McKinley even stayed at the Sherbooke House Hotel once in 1896, but today, there are only a few standing homes and foundations of former businesses remaining in Sherbrooke.
Blabon, the first place we ever visited in 2003, is a tiny community with a handful of residents, several abandoned homes alongside a few inhabited ones, and perhaps one crumbling house that looks like it might be an original structure.
From Blabon, head northwest to rejoin Highway 200 at Finley and proceed west to the former…
Finley Air Force Station
Finley Air Force Station, like the Minot and Fortuna Air Force Stations, was conceived as a Ground Control Intercept Station designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers in any potential World War III Scenario. Today, the site has become a landfill.
From Finley, head south on 200 again and follow the signs as it turns west. Just a few miles east of Cooperstown, we come to Washburn Township Bridge, a cranky old automobile bridge that today serves most faithfully as a fishing pier.
Washburn Township Bridge, near Cooperstown
After dropping a line at Washburn Township Bridge, proceed west on ND 200 through Cooperstown, another great place to get a bite to eat if necessary, and, if you feel like a detour, this next place stands just south of town along County Road 19.
Shepard View is an estate built in 1905 by an Englishman, David Marson, an early settler to Griggs County.
Next, rejoin Highway 200. Continue west until you arrive at…
James River Church
The James River Landmark Church stands atop a hill right next to State Highway 200, and you won’t be able to miss it. The church was reportedly founded in 1919 and closed in 1969. Today’s it’s boarded up and locked, but it’s maintained in nice condition otherwise.
Continue west, through Carrington, where Highway 200 becomes concurrent with US Highway 52 for awhile, and detour north by a few miles to visit…
Cathay, North Dakota
The 2010 Census tallied 43 people in Cathay, North Dakota, and we found vacant buildings like the old Post Office and School, as well as a number of churches, to be quite photogenic.
Just a little further west on Highway 200 you’ll come across Heaton, not even a mile north of the road.
Heaton, North Dakota, last time we checked, was down to a single resident, Brian Miller, a young man who grew up in the area and eventually bought a house in Heaton. When his neighbors moved-out, he found himself the only remaining resident of Heaton. Gordon Kahl is buried in the Heaton Cemetery.
Chaseley, North Dakota
Chaseley is next as you continue west along ND 200. We met a nice local property owner on the day we were there, and she gave us some nice backstory on the places that remain in Chaseley.
When you’re done in Chaseley, head west again on Highway 200. When you get to Denhoff, head north of the highway for about 10 minutes and visit…
Lincoln Valley, North Dakota is another true ghost town with zero remaining residents. Joe Leintz, the last person to live in Lincoln Valley, left in the 1970s. It’s a place we’ve visited on multiple occasions and one of our favorite true ghost towns.
As you continue west on ND 200, you’ll have a relaxing cruise through the backroads of North Dakota before you get to the next place on this list.
Sanger, North Dakota is just south of Washburn and Highway 200 on the west bank of the Missouri River. When we first visited Sanger it was a ghost town, but we returned a few years later to find two gentlemen had moved into town and were fixing up a couple of the houses. So, as of this writing, the population is two. Unfortunately, the County House (shown above), a former boarding house for travelers making the two-day journey by wagon from Minot to Bismarck, has recently collapsed.
Next, proceed west on State Highway 200 to Halliday.
Take a detour north of Highway 200 at Halliday, head north of Twin Buttes, and take a hike down an abandoned North Dakota Highway.
Before the damming of the Missouri river, this highway led to Elbowoods, North Dakota, and the original location of the Four Bears Bridge. When the Missouri was dammed, this river valley filled with water to create Lake Sakakawea, Elbowoods was abandoned, the bridge was floated to a new location, and a crossing here was no longer possible except by ferry. With the lack of traffic, a little more than a mile of highway fell out of use, and now it’s a lost highway to the bottom of Lake Sakakawea.
Rejoin Highway 200 and proceed west until you come to Werner, a quiet spot on the prairie with a few vacant homes and an impressive single-truss bridge over Spring Creek on the southwest edge of town.
Enjoy another leisurely stretch of backroad cruising until 200 joins US 85 northbound and proceed to Grassy Butte. Make sure you check out the sod post office while you’re there.
Continue west on ND 200 and deviate by a few miles to visit Schafer, just east of Watford City. The Schafer Jail was the site of the last vigilante lynching in North Dakota. Continue on State Highway 200 to…
Charbonneau is a town with an interesting history and beautiful vistas punctuated in places by picturesque vacant structures clustered around the former rail line, and one apparent resident whom we did not see on the day we were there.
If you follow ND 200 to its end, just down the road from Charbonneau, at the Montana border, you’ll have to stop and see this next place.
Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel
Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel is on borrowed time as a combined attraction. Although the bridge is nicely maintained as a tourist attraction, the tunnel is badly in need of a restoration, and in danger of implosion. See it while you still can. (Update: The tunnel has undergone a rebuild.)
This has been a hypothetical roadtrip featuring a few places we’ve visited over the years. It goes without saying that, if you should decide to visit some of these places, that you have appropriate permission to visit, or you photograph from public property with zoom lenses etc… Take only pictures and leave only footprints.
What’s your favorite place along North Dakota 200? Please leave a comment.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media