We visited Capa in July of 2015, near the end of a four day trip to explore some abandoned places in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. So many times, when visiting vacant, out-of-the-way places on the high plains, we find a regular, criss-cross grid of gravel roads, intersecting every mile or two, and we can easily drive right up to our desired places, but that was not the case in Capa.
The road we traveled to Capa began nine miles to the west, outside of Midland, and it rolled pleasantly through the South Dakota prairie without any major crossroads — it was our first clue that we were in for something special.
For much of the nine mile drive to Capa, we were alone. We passed one or two farmsteads, and a group of cowboys on horseback, but saw very little traffic. Just as we pulled into Capa to photograph the old stucco school, we realized there was a black pickup behind us, right on our bumper. We got out to take photos and waved at the people in the pickup, but they drove around us and proceeded down the road about fifty feet, where they stopped for some time while we took photos, then eventually drove away.
Capa has been the recipient of quite a bit of press as a near-ghost town with a single resident, Philip O’Connor, who lives in the same house (not shown) where both his parents and grandparents lived. He is reportedly a quite friendly gentleman and sometimes comes out to greet visitors and tell stories about the good old days, but unfortunately, we did not see him or his dog, Midnight, on the day we visited.
The sound of Capa is the distinct ambience of the plains. The sound of swishing prairie grass was interrupted only occasionally by the squawk of birds, or the creaking of a piece of tin, peeled-back from the roof of a vacant house and yet to be weighted-down with a rubber tire.
The former Catholic church in Capa has collapsed. According to this genealogy blog, it was last used in 1940. This is also a perfect example of why we photograph the places we do, and publish books like Churches of the High Plains, to create some kind of visual record, because time always wins.
As we wandered Capa, lost in photographic heaven, Terry was drawn to a building at the east end of town with peeling yellow siding and a sign that read “Capa 1907.” We later discovered it was once the Capa Hotel, built by Alexander Thorne. The hotel featured some highly-regarded hot mineral baths, with waters piped-in from an artesian well.
Capa even had a newspaper at one time. “The Capa Hustler” was published out of the hotel by a gentleman named Ary Byl (spelling corrected, see comments) who was also the postmaster.
When we had finished photographing Capa, we drove east, just to see what we would run across, and discovered two sets of bridges — the railroad bridges were still in pretty good shape, the auto bridges, not so much.
In the end, we were very happy to have made the trip to Capa, South Dakota and to photograph it in its final chapter, before the book closes on this beautiful place.
If you enjoyed this post, check out another place we visited with one lone resident — Monowi, Nebraska.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media