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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Return to Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel

Fairview Lift Bridge is a place we’ve visited before, but the last time we were there, the sky was full of smoke from wildfires, so we promised ourselves we would go back again when we got another chance, and that chance came in July, 2017. We had just learned that the adjoining Cartwright Tunnel, the only railroad tunnel in the state of North Dakota, was in danger of implosion if funding couldn’t be raised for a restoration, so that became another excuse to visit this rusty beauty spanning the Yellowstone River.

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Charbonneau: A Ghost Town Named for a Man of “No Particular Merit”

When Lewis & Clark came to the area that is today North Dakota, they began to recruit men and women to join the Corps of Discovery. One of their new recruits was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who had been living among the Hidatsa. He had taken two Shoshone women as his wives–Otter Woman and Sakakawea (Sacagawea). Lewis and Clark saw an opportunity in hiring Charbonneau, since he could speak French and some Hidatsa, and his wives could speak Shoshone. Charbonneau was hired as a translator for the expedition, but was judged harshly by members of the Corps, and by historians in later days. Charbonneau was found to be timid in the water, and quick tempered with his wives. Although some came to appreciate Charbonneau’s cooking, in particular, a recipe for sausage made from bison meat, Meriwether Lewis said he was “a man of no particular merit.”

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Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

The events of 1930 could be considered a textbook example of “hard times” anywhere in America. The stock market crashed near the end of 1929 and ushered-in the Great Depression. Unemployment skyrocketed along with the price of imported goods. North Dakota and other rural states endured unprecedented drought that would eventually lead to the Dust Bowl. In the midst of these events, it wasn’t uncommon for families to pack up as many of their belongings as they could carry and move to greener pastures, leaving their homes and farms behind. Even so, the residents of the tiny community of Schafer, North Dakota and nearby Watford City found it odd when, in the spring of 1930, the six members of the Haven family stopped showing up in town.

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Ghost Town 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.

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Grassy Butte, North Dakota

Grassy Butte, ND is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in southern McKenzie County. It does not appear in any of the census records back as far as 1960, but it reportedly harbored 100 citizens at one time. Monica Hardy contributed these photos in 2010 with the following comments:

The building that looks like a church in the background of the post office/museum pictures are of a private home. Someone renovated the home. There were other bldgs in the town that had been renovated into private homes. This town is very close to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park… no hotels located in this town at present.

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11 North Dakota Attractions You Can Visit for Free

One of the things we’ve always loved about photographing North Dakota’s abandoned places and roadside attractions is that it feels like an alternative form of tourism–that is to say, most of these places are interesting and fun to visit, but there are generally no crowds and no admission fees.  However, when you have the kids in the car, or Grandma and Grandpa tagging along on a day trip, sometimes you need something a little more family friendly, with fewer rusty nails to step on (and cheap is always good). So, gas up the family truckster. Here are eleven North Dakota attractions you can visit for free.

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Defining what exactly constitutes a “ghost town” can sometimes be tricky.  In our years of exploring North Dakota’s abandoned places, we’ve often encountered former towns where the townsite itself is empty, but there’s a farm about half a mile down the road.  Sometimes a former town like Sims, North Dakota has an active church, but nobody actually lives on the town site.  And still other times, we will hear objections from people who feel as though we’ve misrepresented their town, or somehow labeled it a ghost town because it appears on this website, in which case we clarify that this site is about ghost towns and abandoned places, like the former First National Bank and Barber Auditorium in Marmarth, North Dakota, a town with a population numbering more than a hundred.

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20 True Ghost Towns: Population Zero

Dust Bowl Grassy Butte

Grassy Butte, North Dakota is a very remote Badlands settlement in McKenzie County near the Montana border, an unincorporated community with a population in the dozens. In the 1930s, Grassy Butte was one of a multitude of places where the locals who’d arrived in search of the American dream faced sad realities and hard choices. The population was in the hundreds then, and knowing that, you now understand the choice that many eventually made. ¬†They left.¬† Continue reading “Dust Bowl Grassy Butte”