Following the Rails of North Dakota

The Dakota Territory was settled sparsely until the late 19th century, when the railroads entered the region and vigorously marketed the land. 


According to Wikipedia:

“The success of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Great Northern Railroad was based on the abundant crops and rapidly increasing settlement in the Red River Valley along the Minnesota border between 1871 and 1890.”

“The railroad was the engine of settlement for the state. The Northern Pacific Railroad was given land grants by the federal government so that it could borrow money to build its system.  The federal government kept every other section of land and gave it away to homesteaders. Meanwhile, the Great Northern Railroad energetically promoted settlement along its lines in the northern portion of the state.  The Great Northern Railroad bought its lands from the federal government, as it received no land grants, and resold the land to farmers one by one. It operated agencies in Germany and Scandinavia that promoted its lands and brought families over at low cost.”

“The battle between The Great northern Railway and Soo line Railroad to control access across northern North Dakota resulted in 500 miles of new track and more than 50 new town sites just in one year.  Many of the towns sites were never settled and were abandoned”

Towns began to dot the countryside as growth followed the rails.  As the population of North Dakota declined, the buildings were left under the care of Mother Nature.  Follow the old railway lines and you may just find yourself in the presence of a ghost town yourself.  Many of these abandoned towns and the land that these debilitated buildings reside on, are now privately owned.  Stories of the old inhabitants that once lived in these homes or worked in the buildings flowed though my mind as we drove through the empty streets.

The back roads of North Dakota were unlike any other that we have encountered.  Some roads would end in a marshland full of migrating birds others would just end…  Road Closed.


12 thoughts on “Following the Rails of North Dakota

  1. That was an outstanding trip. Great photos. The wildlife was certainly plentiful and the endless backroads [and dead ends] keep us intrigued the whole way to and from.

  2. Pat says:

    Great post. We just finished a trip where we took highway 2 across the northern states. Your photos brought back great memories and makes me want to go back real soon. You captured some wonderful images.

  3. Heather says:

    this is an awesome series…the old building and the signs are so cool!

  4. Wow, these images are so powerful. They speak of Americana of the past. Showing so much promise that has been lost over the years. How I envy your ability to go out and explore like this.

  5. […] Dakota Ghosts- The old school in Forbes, North Dakota Abandoned Outside Forbes, ND Following the rails of North Dakota North Dakota […]

  6. BV says:

    Wow, the “Road Closed” photo sure makes me want to keep driving and see why!! 🙂

  7. The history of this state was really written by the railroads for the first century or so, and their influence is powerful to this day. I recognize a number of those locations. Ever seen the brick elevators? Merricourt and Great Bend, among others.

    • Yes, I would have to agree that the history of the state was written by the railroads, then the disappearance of them 🙂 Follow the old railways and you shall find many of the old ghost towns 🙂 We have seen Merricourt- a very interesting place, but we have not seen the brick elevators! We plan on heading back at some point before they all disappear! Thanks for the tips.

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