North Dakota

Ghost Towns in the Upper Midwest

Why are Ghost Towns so interesting?
GhostTowns Of ND
GhostTowns Of ND
Authors note - I do not condone trespassing or breaking into abandoned buildings. Old buildings are a safety hazard, and often on private property. Get the owner’s permission before you explore these areas and please be careful.

If you are like me, you find ghost towns and abandoned places fascinating.

What is it about ghost towns that intrigue us so much, and what is a ghost town?
My dictionary has the following to say about ghost towns.

Ghost town


A town permanently abandoned by its inhabitants, as because of a business decline or because a nearby mine has been worked out.

Travelling throughout the upper Midwest you may come across any number of towns that fall into this category. You don’t need to drive far to find a town - or what’s left of a town - without any inhabitants, completely abandoned. Empty schoolhouses, empty churches and deserted farms and houses scatter our countryside.

And then there are the tiny towns which seem on the verge of becoming a ghost town. These are those communities with only a few residents. Out here on the prairie you can come across towns with only 7 inhabitants. There are towns with 17. Highway signs all along the upper Midwest boast minute populations of 13, 30, 33, 45, 100, 200...

In fact, the headquarters for this website, lies in Turton, South Dakota - Population 68. And scattered all around us out here in Eastern South Dakota are pockets of deserted buildings, farms and churches.

And for some reason, ghost towns are just so darn interesting.

I have some faint memory from childhood of my older sister sneaking into or breaking into some old abandoned building. I'm not even sure where it was but one thing I do remember for sure. I remember it being an exciting thing to do!

But why do ghost towns and abandoned places interest us so much anyway?

My guess is that Ghost Towns touch us in a way that other historical places cannot. I mean, it is one thing to view the relics of a distant and ancient Inca civilization in some museum somewhere. There they lie behind a thick slab of glass - tools, beads and pottery. The relics are beautiful and fascinating indeed. It is all very interesting, but also, I don’t know. It all seems so distant and detached from me personally.

To visit a deserted farm-yard in North Dakota on the other hand, a place that served as someone’s home only a few decades ago - this moves me in a completely different manner.

I stem from this part of the country after all. Both my Grandfathers farmed in the upper Midwest. This whole territory is, in a way, “my own backyard”. These abandoned farms and towns – these ghost towns - are my own very deserted, abandoned and overgrown back yard.
Visiting these places summons up a whole spectrum of human emotions and feelings that fail me entirely when I am, for example, standing in that Inca museum looking down at a glass display.

I find ghost towns bizarre, a bit scary, and sometimes a bit sad. But I also find joy in visiting these places. Because, as sad as it might be to consider that these communities have died, I also find some strange sense of pride. I suppose it’s a bit cheesy, but I'm sort of proud of our forefathers and all those who settled this upper Midwest so many years ago. It took, after all, skill, hard work and then even more hard work through some of the harshest of conditions. I wonder how many of us could do that today? I mean really, without Iphones? Without Starbucks?

The thing is, the fact that such a community has died out does not make it a failure, at least not in my eyes. Maybe some of these places perished too early, but perhaps these towns served their purpose in their own place and time in American history. And isn’t that the best that any of us can hope for ourselves as individuals walking the planet? Can we strive for anything better than the hope that we have done the best we can in our own personal place and in our own personal time here on earth? That is to say before -let’s face it folks –we too must someday perish.

So maybe exploring and investigating ghost towns helps us somehow. In my case it helps me get a sense of another place and time, it gives me some odd sense of pride, and it reminds me of my own mortality.

If you find ghost towns interesting (for whatever reason) I have some great news for you.

In North Dakota there a couple of guys who find ghost towns interesting too and they are doing a great job of documenting these places online - while these ghost towns can still be documented.

In their own words: is a partnership of two Fargo radio professionals, Troy and Rat, in an endeavor to photographically document the remains of North Dakota’s pioneer towns before they vanish to the ages. This project has nothing to do with ghosts or the supernatural.

So, you don't necessarily have to leave the comfort of your home to explore some of the most fascinating ghost towns in the United States. Just take a look at some of these fascinating photos at

Happy Exploring!

Author: EVM STAFF on 05/05 2011
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Posted by: Anonymous on May 03 2011
My 'almost' ghost town is Braddock, ND. Grandpa built the house on prairie land and we are currently watching nature reclaim it. Thanks for your commentary and attention to these beautiful pieces of our history.

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