This is Mondak, Montana, a true ghost town in Roosevelt County straddling the Montana/North Dakota border, two and a half miles west of Buford, North Dakota, and ten miles north of Fairview, Montana. It was a smoky day in July 2014 when we took these pics on a trip that had already taken us to Trotters, North Dakota and Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel the day before. It was our first visit to Mondak, and we found three structures remained standing, including the former Mondak jail. We revisited Mondak in 2017, too, when skies weren’t quite so hazy.
Mondak has an incredible history as a rough and tumble outpost designed to serve liquor to thirsty North Dakotans after their state became one of the first to go dry.
Mondak was founded in 1903 by businessmen intent on making money in the bootlegging and saloon trade. There were eventually seven saloons in Mondak, as well as a bank, two hotels, and three general stores. According to one account, it also had a notoriously dangerous red light district.
The liquor laws intended to keep North Dakota dry were woefully inadequate in Mondak, though. It was illegal to sell alcohol in North Dakota, but it wasn’t illegal to drink it. So, according to a story in a 1965 issue of Montana Magazine of Western History, a local partnership built a saloon right on the state line in which customers could walk to the Montana side of the bar, get a drink, then move back down to the corner booth and drink it in North Dakota.
We visited Mondak on a summer weekend in July of 2014 when smoke from forest fires (in Canada, Washington, or Oregon, depending on who you ask) was thick in the air, spoiling the beautiful skies we so often seek. These photos were shot just after six in the morning, moments after sunrise.
In this graphic based on a Google Earth aerial view, we see substantial ruins in Mondak and the unique geographic layout of the town. Note the close proximity of the state line to some of the ruins. The jail and the other two remaining structures appear in the upper left.
Something tells me that morning patch of warm sun on the wall was a welcome relief for any prisoner who had to spend the night in this cell in the winter.
At the rear of the structure is the large room shown above, presumably desk space where the town’s lawmen could kick back in a chair and put up their boots after bringing in a drunkard from who knows where — there were too many to count. Mondak was known to have a considerably higher-than-average crime rate.
Mondak thrived for almost two decades, but was devastated by a number of factors, including a fire in 1916, the end of prohibition, which really started the decline in earnest, then another fire which destroyed many of the by-then-vacant structures in 1928.
Below, a shot through the front window of the red building, above.
We’re not quite sure what this was. If someone can enlighten us, please do. Terry speculated this might have been a vault. Below, looking into one of the chambers.
On the back was the single door shown above.
Today, there are nearly a dozen foundations and empty basements still visible around the site, slowly decaying and filling with sediment, year by year, as nature reclaims Mondak.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media