I’m still in the nostalgia phase of writing and photographs. This week we’ll stop at another ghost town, Fayette, North Dakota located in western Dunn County near the northeast corner of Billings County. The photos that are a part of this post were taken in April a couple of years ago. My plan was to take some winter photos but with all the snow that is covering North Dakota this winter, snowshoes would be required!
What peaked my interest was that my wife, Donna, grew up near Fayette and that at one time their address was Fayette. So while I had recent photos, I didn’t have much historical information about the town. A Google search yielded a few very brief descriptions but did bring up the Dunn County Historical Society and Museum website. I sent off an email to the Historical Society and soon had a call from one of the directors, it’s an all volunteer board and the museum is closed for the winter. Since I was in the area, she arranged for me meet two directors with knowledge of Fayette, Kathy Trampe and Neil Thomas. A big shout out and thanks to them for their time and helping me learn about some of the history of Fayette.
First a little history. Fayette was founded in 1896 by Frank Little, originally from Maine. He came to North Dakota for his lung ailment on the advice of his doctor. Little arrived in North Dakota in 1880 and for a time worked on an oxen wagon train hauling supplies from Bismarck to the Standing Rock Agency in the Black Hills. Once fully recovered, he decided to homestead in western North Dakota at the leading edge of white settlement of the vast short grass prairie. Little and his wife Isabelle found the area around the future site of Fayette to have plenty of grass for grazing sheep and cattle, a spring for water and the rolling hills shelter for the livestock. As more homesteaders arrived, the need for regular mail delivery became apparent so a petition for a post office was drawn. When approved in 1898, Isabelle Little was appointed the postmistress, a job she held until age 80 in 1940 when she was forced to retire as a result of postal regulations. At first the post office was in the home of the Little’s and in 1900 Frank constructed a sod one story building on the homestead where the post office was located. In addition, this building was a prairie general store where most anything required by area farmers and ranchers could be ordered or purchased. As happens in many small communities, the store and post office became a gathering place for socializing and passing messages between community members. Fayette was named for the first name of his friend and business partner, Dr. Fayette Kendrick of Bismarck and later of St. Paul, Minnesota. By the way, Fayette is French for little fairy. The following are a few photos of photos from the Dunn County Museum that show early Fayette.
Upon the retirement of Isabelle, Anna Fisher was appointed postmistress and store keeper until 1955. Anna began working for the Littles at a young age and inherited the store and post office when the Little’s passed away. The Littles only child died at the age of twelve during a flu epidemic. The post office closed in 1956 or ’57. At the time, the Fayette post office was the oldest sod post office in the United State serving almost 60 years. Here’s a photo of a photo of people standing outside the sod post office (date unknown). Also note the sod roof. Sod was a common building material in the Northern Plains as there were few trees available and lumber or brick shipped in was reserved for the wealthy.
At one time, Fayette had an Inn where weary travelers from the north on their way to Dickinson that was to the south would stop for the night. It is also said that many young men and women came to Fayette to get married by a traveling preacher. After the wedding, the young couples would eat at the Inn and spend the night before heading back to their farms or ranches. An estimated fifty couples were married at Fayette. In addition to the Inn, Frank Little had a land office where he bought and sold farms and grazing land in the surrounding area.
Just north of Fayette, there was a country school (education up to the 8th grade) and St. Edwards Catholic Church. The church was opened for services in 1923 and the last mass was said in 1986. Prior to this church being build, services were held in people’s homes with priests sent by the Benedictine Abbey located in Richardton, North Dakota. Of note, the bell in the photo below was brass and weighed 1200 pounds. When the bell was rung, it could be heard for miles over the prairies, calling parishioners to services. The following are a few photos of photos of St. Edwards.
Now on to photos of the current state of affairs in Fayette. Not much left except the remnants of Anna Fisher’s house, the chicken coop, granary and a smokehouse. Here’s a photo taken when approaching present day Fayette. The corrals in the foreground are more recent additions to Fayette likely by the current owner.
The following are close up photos of Anna Fisher’s house.
Nearby is a small building believed to be a smokehouse.
I thought this building was a small house, however I learn from my visit to the Dunn County Museum that it was a chicken coop.
And a few other photos of found objects around Fayette.
Just below Fayette flows the Knife River that empties into the Missouri River at Stanton, North Dakota. The following is a photo of a bridge that allowed travelers to cross the river. It’s now on privately owned land.
So that’s Fayette. I hope you enjoyed the history and photos. Again, thanks to the folks at the Dunn County Historical Society and Museum for their assistance.
Until next week, travel safe.
Dauntless Dunn, A History of Dunn County North Dakota. Dunn County Historical Society. 1989.
North Dakota Place Names. Douglas A. Wick. Sweetgrass Communications. 1988.
Our Towns, North Dakota Communities-Our Story. Sweetgrass Communications. 1992.