Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ghosts of North Dakota: Photoalbum of Lost Towns of the Prairie

"till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return." - Genesis 3:19

Ruins are places where geography, history, archaeology, and society meet. Scholars, tourists, and the average person can admire ruins at their physical location, through literature, or other media. People reconstruct, and sometimes imagine, the reasons why a place started, who lived there, and why the placed died. These thoughts help integrate a lost place into the contemporary cultural landscape. Tourists to Mexico City will go out of their way to see the massive buildings of New Spain, Aztec Tenochtitlan, and the pre-Aztec Teotihuacan to understand the force that made Mexico what it is today. Holy Land visitors will visit the holy sites of the three major faiths and imagine the their patriarchs' lives to build a sense of oneself in their religious cosmos. Preservationists will use their influence to protect ruins through groups like UNESCO to ensure the human-place relationship can exist for future generations.

Sadly cultures do not appreciate the ruins made by their own culture. Stories these cultural ruins have to offer are lost on present generations. Sure, urban centers have "historical buildings" and "historical districts" but these efforts are sometimes driven by anti-development sentiment as they are preservationist motivated. Urban preservationists, and the public in general, seem to have little concern for the ruins of the rural countryside. Think about the Great Plains, there are countless ghost towns full of ruins that are rarely considered national treasures let alone worthy things to learn from. I accept these ruins as part of a time we have moved away from as a society but the lack of respect most preservationists and historians give to these places shows the discount between urban and rural forces (do not even get me started about the Buffalo Commons!).

Parts of the Great Plains are dying. The era of interior-frontier farm towns has past as farming becomes more centralized and the population shifts more to an urban character. The frontier towns do not merely cease to be but go through a process of becoming ruins before the Great Plains reclaims them.

Ghosts of North Dakota
is an excellent photo blog site documenting ghost towns in North Dakota. The photographs are both fascinating and tragic as one reads the stories of towns where people lived and labored. One can browse through the various ghost towns via a map of North Dakota. The website is complemented well by National Geographic's article on ghost towns in North Dakota.

The ruins of the Great Plains is a part of me. I remember visiting my grandparents' farm and having them tell me the history (and fairy tale-style stories) of the ruins, who lived there, and what happened there. As these ruins are lost due to demographic shifts let us take a moment to absorb this unique part of Americana and appreciate them before they are gone forever.


Twelve Mile Circle said...

I love these kinds of websites. This one reminds me of one with a similar purpose in a different geographic area: "Vanishing South Georgia" at

Anonymous said...

Really like the story. Lots of these places in the "Heartland"

SD Farm Girl

Anonymous said...

North Dakota! Home of Josh Duhamelin. Also, it's spelt prairie.