View Full Version : Decaying barns in the eastern Dakotas

al olson
14-Dec-2007, 17:05
Ken Lee's Cathedrals of the Earth thread reminded me that I wanted to inform forum members of a photo jaunt that I am planning for photographing old barns in eastern South and North Dakota.

First a little background: In the summer of 2006 I visited north central North Dakota for a class reunion. I was stunned by how much crop farming had changed. In the past, farms of one or two sections (square miles) were sufficient to support a farm family.

However, in Ward and Bottineau counties the economics have changed. Farmers in their 70s don’t want to farm any more and the children don’t want to take over the farm either. Farms have been combined across section line roads, houses and outbuildings have been removed, shelter belts have been taken out, sloughs and pastures have been filled in, no one keeps livestock anymore so fence lines are gone and crops are seeded in the ditches up to roadside. I drove along one Canola field that was 4 miles long and at least 2 miles deep.

My intent was to photograph the ghost town (although it is still designated on the latest AAA maps) of Omemee, which my cousin had shown me in 1989. In its heyday when I spent summers on my uncle’s farm we would go into town on Saturday night. My aunt would sell her eggs and cream and my uncle would go over to the implement dealer to buy machinery parts. At that time Omemee had two grocery stores, three elevators, two implement/auto dealers, a soda bottling plant, a two story brick high school, banks, post office, a train depot, and a lot of residences.

By my 2006 visit, it was all gone. There was one small, stone house in disrepair and I could make out the rail bed. Foundations had disappeared. I was told that abandoned buildings were removed because antique hunters would enter the buildings, injure themselves, and then sue the owner.

Then last month I traveled to Minnesota with my son to pick up a camper trailer. We traveled up the eastern edges of ND and SD. The differences were amazing. While tilled acreage was still large, not many crops extended over a section. What was impressive, however was the state of the farmsteads. While the house may be occupied, the barns and outbuildings were in a state of decay (no livestock anymore). Some farmsteads were totally abandoned. Although buildings were falling down, they have yet to be removed.

There is a remarkable assortment of barns, all different shapes and sizes, constructed with a variety of building materials. There are the elegant, stone dairy barns, the common red barns, the western style barns, and the small cowsheds along with silos and granaries. Morning and evening twilight through the silhouettes of these structures is awesome. Unfortunately we were on an extremely tight travel schedule and could not pause to photograph these decaying farmsteads.

It is my intent to return to the area next summer for a week or so of photographing the barns (probably both in the spring and in the fall). This culture will soon disappear as it has in the northern part of the state. I am going to drive up the I-29 corridor (but off the interstate) from Sioux Falls to Fargo and perhaps Grand Forks.

Both states have a generous number of state parks where it is possible to camp or park your trailer for a few dollars a night. I am looking for any LFers who would care to join me for this venture? I believe there is some great photography waiting to be created.

Joseph Kayne
14-Dec-2007, 18:39
I may be very interested, depending on my schedule.



14-Dec-2007, 20:48
do you have a specific time frame you were thinking about?


al olson
15-Dec-2007, 12:22
Thanks, Dacotah, for the heads up on the Dunseith area. I hadn't planned on going that far west out of the Valley this time, but if you would be free to show me about it would be worth the trip. My uncle's farm was in the Overly, Willow City, Omemee triangle, probably not too far from you.

You know what I am talking about in Bottineau and Ward Counties (I grew up in Minot). I assume that older farmers have left the land and leased it out (for retirement income) to the corporations who have consolidated the farms into huge tracts. (I believe that the state still bans corporations from owning farms.) Is it becoming like that in Rolette County as well?

Joseph and dpetersen:
My schedule is flexible. I am planning two trips, one in the late spring and one in the fall. If anyone wants to join me I would be happy to adjust my schedule. These kind of photo excursions are more enjoyable with like-minded company.

Jim MacKenzie
15-Dec-2007, 18:18
Please keep me posted; I might be interested depending on my schedule. I'm just a little over the Canadian border from northwestern North Dakota in Saskatchewan so I know well what the prairies are like. Abandoned agricultural buildings have been my favourite subject for many years.