If you’ve ever read a book called “Ghosts of North Dakota,” there’s one common theme throughout the publication. It’s about ghost towns in North Dakota, but nearly every community written about still exists.
There are real ghost towns in North Dakota. It’s just that finding history about them is not always easy or plentiful. But there are ways to find out about some places that may have thrived during territorial days and today are nothing more than a memory.
Newspaper archives at the North Dakota Historical Society are probably the best way to get accurate history of actual ghost towns. Records in the county courthouse can also be a big help. There are lots of these forgotten places, some in every county and although locals may know the lore, often times the rest of the state is left out of some interesting history.
Following are several examples.
1.) Winona – This was a thriving community directly across the Missouri River from Fort Yates in Emmons County and sprang up because of troops stationed at Fort Yates. At one time, it was the largest community between Bismarck and Sturgis on a stage coach line. It is still known for the Spicer family being murdered there in 1897. By 1900, Winona was gone and Linton had sprung up.
2.) Kermit – A once growing community in Divide County, Kermit and Noonan were competing towns. But as so many stories go, the railroad came through, in this case the Great Northern through Noonan, and the town of Kermit began to fade away until nothing remained but an old wood grain elevator.
3.) Vang – Located in the Pembina Gorge in Cavalier County between Mount Carmel and Walhalla, Vang was never a big community, but came to prominence for a short time because of bentonite mining. Situated approximately 5 miles from the Canadian border, Walhalla was the closest principal community and when the bentonite industry faded, so did the town with people moving to Walhalla, Langdon and other places.
4.) Sanger – Founded in 1879, this town in Oliver County was originally known as Bentley. It was the county seat until 1884 when the community was renamed Sanger. This ghost gained notoriety for being the birthplace of Hazel Miner, a local heroine who sacrificed her own life to save her brother and sister in a 1920 blizzard. The town was fully abandoned in 1985 when the last remaining building, a grain elevator, was torn down.
5.) Sherbrooke – named after the city of Sherbrooke, Quebec, the Sherbrooke House Hotel was a prominent fixture in this Steele County community. Hotel records indicate President William McKinley stayed in the hotel in 1896 during a trip to North Dakota. It was also the Steele County seat until 1919 when it was moved to Finley.
6.) Tagus – Many people in Mountrail County are aware of Tagus, which was founded in 1900, approximately 40 miles west of Minot along the Great Northern Railway. By 1970, the population was down to 14 and the last business closed in 1976. In 2001, the last remaining church there was destroyed by fire, attributed to vandalism. An old, rail car along U.S. Highway 2 marks the general area of Tagus.
7.) Brisbane – Located in Grant County, which was originally part of Morton County, Brisbane was established in 1911 with a post office, general store, grocery store, grain elevator and blacksmith. The first settlers were exclusively involved in raising livestock, but later gave way to grain as well. The Leith Index, in 1913, called it a “hustling little town” and that “quite a little dairying is carried out.” It’s unclear if the town was named after Brisbane, Australia.
8.)– Williamsport – Established as a territorial county seat in Emmons County, it was located approximately 3 miles east of Hazelton. Like Winona, the town thrived until Linton was platted in 1899. Williamsport became the subject of a political dispute between the northern half of Emmons County and southern half. A vote was passed to move the county seat to the center of Emmons County before Linton existed. As a result, Williamsport ceased to exist and today is farmland.
9.) Crystal Springs – If you’ve traveled on Interstate 94 from Bismarck to Jamestown, you’ve most likely noticed the abandoned, brick school building on the side of the road in eastern Kidder County. That is what’s left of Crystal Springs. The town was settled in the 1870s by about 100 Polish familes and was next to a large lake called Crystal Springs Lake. Before 1920 it had two banks, two elevators, a pool hall and even a pharmacy. Two fires; one in 1916 and one in 1920 took their toll. The town never recovered after the 1920 fire. The post office closed in 1993.
10.) Merricourt – Established with a farm post office in 1883, it is a British place name and sprang up when the Soo Line Railroad came through in northwest Dickey County. Unlike many other ghosts, Merricourt still has numerous buildings and visitors can often be seen looking at an overgrown bank building, a brick elevator and various other remains of this town that peaked it’s population at 153 in 1940.