Published June 26, 2022

Upside Down Under: Ghosts of North Dakota past…

Written by
Marvin Baker
| The Dakotan
Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

I have a North Dakota map from the 1950s and I was looking at it to see if any highways have changed. Then I got a little curious about several small towns in Cavalier County that either no longer exist or are hanging on by a thread.

Alsen, Calio, Clyde, Hannah, Wales, Loma, Nekoma, Easby, Calvin and Maida are all listed on the map. The sad thing is, every one of those communities has lost nearly its entire population in the past 70 years. Many of them moved to Langdon, many moved to Devils Lake and still others moved to Grand Forks and Fargo, leaving those little towns that once prospered in the lurch.

Just to give you an example, Hannah, just two miles from the Canadian border northwest of Langdon, showed a population of 257 in 1950. It might be a stretch to say there are 20 people living there now. Wales was a little smaller at 235, but today has about 30 residents.

All 53 counties in the state have seen this phenomenon. Just because Cass is a populated county, its small towns have had their share of population loss as well. But in Cass County’s case, people jumped ship but they didn’t always move to Fargo. Many moved to Casselton, Mapleton and since 1957, Kindred.

You can pick a county, any county and you can see the same thing playing out. The small town dies out while regional communities and cities get the increases.

In a way it’s sad because so many small towns that were lined up along the steel rail have disappeared. At the same time, we’ve seen the population of Fargo, Bismarck, Williston, Dickinson and Minot explode in the past 70 years.

But again, pick any county. Just for conversation sake, I’ll choose Griggs County with the county seat being Cooperstown. Just so you know, Binford, Jessie, Sutton, Revere, Hannaford, Walum and Karnak are com-munities in Griggs County. Have you ever heard of any of them other than Cooperstown?

And when you look at an old map, it’s sometimes confusing because there are place names that aren’t famil-iar. I followed the railroad west of Devils Lake and found Brinsmade, Harlow, Baker and Fillmore. In Towner County there’s Agate, Bisbee Crocus and Perth. Wait, Perth is a large city in Australia. Well, the North Dakota version has 9 people. In 1950 it had 124.

My home county is Emmons and it too has its share of ghosts. Linton is the county seat and there are nu-merous other communities that no longer list a population. Two of them are Livona and Kintyre. I know people live there because we used to go there to play baseball and people would come out to watch their Kintyre Cubs.

Another is Temvik, the midway point between Hazelton and Linton. Old timers have told me that Temvik was a thriving community until the “Dirty ‘30s.” Then things went south and a population that once stood at nearly 300, is now just 4.

Hague, Hull and Westfield are other communities in Emmons County south of Strasburg that have taken the population guillotine over the years.

Today, Ruso is considered the smallest bonafide community in North Dakota with a population of 4. There are no doubt others with 4 or 6 like Temvik, but no longer have a city government. Foxholm, in Ward County is one such community, but it lists 22 residents.

Every county has these places; Guelph in Dickey, Backoo in Pembina, Bordulac in Foster, Landa in Bot-tineau, Stady in Divide, Burt in Hettinger, Crystal Springs in Kidder, Cuba in Barnes, Balta in Pierce, Ante-lope in Stark, Wabek in Mountrail, Fort Clark in Oliver, Battleview in Burke and the list goes on.

Over the years that I’ve traveled the state of North Dakota I’ve either stopped or driven through many of the towns mentioned, including Hannah, where I attended the centennial in 1996. My only regret is that I didn’t take more photographs.

These dying or lost towns remind me of an old African proverb. “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

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