North Dakota Ghost Towns

People living in North Dakota in the early twentieth century experienced success and prosperity. As the railroads developed, thousands of settlers spilled into North Dakota with hopes of wealthier lives. Towns and other settlements sprang up quickly, dotting North Dakota with abundant new growth. Back then, ghost towns were hardly discussed. Today, more than 1,000 ghost towns of North Dakota can be identified. They are a source of intrigue for both tourists and locals, and they are some of the top attractions found in the state.

Ghost towns in North Dakota speak of another time. They are windows into state history. Found throughout the windswept Great Plains, depopulation and less than ideal settlement numbers both contributed to many of the ghost towns in North Dakota. Settled between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the towns’ decrease in population was also due to the harsh living conditions of the Great Plains. Those living on large, developed farmlands found that their homesteads were not enough to support their families. The growing use of the railroad and the increasing popularity of automobiles offered hope. However, the rise of industry and mechanization, and the growing use of farming machinery, created the stark reality that fewer people were needed to manage a working farm.

What are now the ghost towns of North Dakota also saw a great number of droughts, which made life even more difficult. Poverty followed, and farmers struggled through increasingly hard times. Ghost towns of North Dakota also developed partly because of the Great Depression, another prominent cause of population decline in the picturesque, rural parts of the state. Many farmers permanently lost their lands. The once-optimistic industry of wheat-growing for flour mills in St Paul and Minneapolis became incredibly arduous. The last straw for many of the North Dakota ghost towns was the epidemic rate at which railroads abandoned rural communities. All of these hardships, and many more, led to the demise of hundreds of once-flourishing rural communities.

Exploring these ghost towns of North Dakota is now one of the most intriguing things to do in the state. Ghost towns are found all over North Dakota, making it convenient to visit any number of them during North Dakota vacations. Between the eastern Red River Valley and the North Dakota Badlands in the west, there are hundreds of sites some that are almost fully abandoned, some that are truly ghost towns, and still some that have disintegrated into rubble. Some of the abandoned school houses are still filled with reminders of students, with books and desks scattered inside painting a picture of people who once thrived in the prairies.

Old clapboard houses stained with time, the remains of architecturally fascinating churches, and solitary buildings in the vast fields are some of the sights to take in when exploring ghost towns in North Dakota. Visiting some of these ghost towns can feel like being swallowed by the seemingly endless grasslands, but still they are easy to find. Within driving distance of Fargo alone there are seven ghost towns to explore. Near Jamestown lies Heaton, one of the best ghost towns and home to a large number of vacant old buildings. Between Williston and Minot there are even more ghost towns awaiting exploration. They are literally all over North Dakota.

Enveloped by the understated beauty of this often under-appreciated state, North Dakota's ghost towns are where you'll see hand-built stone churches, ancient grain elevators, old feed mills blanketed in wildflowers, dilapidated post offices, and other captivating relics. The memories may fade, but they are kept alive by people's need to see what it might have been like to see a community vanish, almost into thin air.

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