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.

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Saved from the Deluge: Independence Congregational Church

On several occasions we’ve made an effort to document the abandonment of civilizations along the Missouri River in 1953 due to a coming flood created by the Garrison Dam project — the story of Sanish, North Dakota, the construction of Four Bears Bridge, a visit to an Elbowoods Church, and a lost highway to the bottom of a lake, for example — and the story of Independence is another of those.

Independence, North Dakota stood along the west bank of the Missouri River. Douglas A. Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names” says it was founded in 1885 by Wolf Chief of the Gros Ventres, and named “Independence” to signify independence from the other tribes at Fort Berthold.

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Built from the Earth: The Hutmacher Farmstead

The Hutmacher farm is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered the midwest’s finest still-standing example of the earthen abodes built by Germans from Russia. Believe it or not, Alex Hutmacher lived here until 1979.

The Hutmacher farm has been undergoing restoration. You can get more information here. These photos contributed by Kim Dvorak.

More reading on the Hutmacher farm here and here.

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Werner, North Dakota and a Bridge to Nowhere

Werner, North Dakota is in Dunn County, about 13 miles east of Killdeer. We’re unsure of the exact population, but in 1971, when residents voted to dissolve the town, the vote count was 7-2 in favor of dissolution, so the headcount is quite likely in the single digits these days. Although we were really a couple decades late in photographing the town as it once was, we decided to visit and shoot Werner, North Dakota and a bridge to nowhere.

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This Lost Highway Leads to the Bottom of a Lake

We’ve visited a few lost highways before, like this one in Minnesota, or this flooded road near Devils Lake, but in my opinion, this is the most significant lost highway in the state of North Dakota, for reasons I’ll explain below.

While there are many reasons a highway becomes lost — rerouting of the road, mining, and freeway construction, for example — this road fell victim to the greatest flood in North Dakota history, a man-made flood, and now, this lost highway leads to the bottom of a lake.

North Dakota Lost Highway

About three miles north of Twin Buttes, North Dakota, on the Fort Berthold Reservation in Dunn County, Highway 8 becomes a dead end at the point shown above. In the upper left you can see Lake Sakakawea in the distance, the reservoir which forced the abandonment of this highway. There was an area on the left where we could see previous visitors had been driving around the barricades, but we chose to park here and hike the mile to the bottom.

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