On my most recent return to Watford City from Fargo, I took a dip south from I-94 to photograph one or two rural churches I didn't get to on a blitz of Grant County in October 2015.
What I thought would be 20 or 25 miles out of the way totaled 85 miles and two hours at four rural churches within 15 miles of each other, as the crow flies. Here's what was on the road:
UCC Neuberg Church: This was stop number one, south of Exit 97 on I-94 along a generally straight dirt road that dipped into the Heart River Valley. Some white-tailed deer were frolicking in the river as I drove over the bridge. A small school stands about a mile north of the church, long shuttered and neglected.
Neuburg Church appears to be closed. No pastor or service times were listed on its sign out front and the church was locked. The heat and drought conditions somewhat intensified the utter remoteness of the area, with no towns close by and long roads reaching to the horizon.
Evangelisch Lutheraner Dreieinigkeit Gemeinde: This church is about a 15-mile drive from Neuburg Church. It was built from 1902-05 and was inducted into the National Register For Historical Places in September 2009.
It too appears perpetually closed. Its sanctuary is simple and like those of other prairie churches. Like Neuburg Church, a small cemetery stands nearby with the graves of those early worshipers who made this church a reality.
Hope Evangelical Church: This house of worship stands just five miles down the road from Evangelisch Lutheraner Dreieinigkeit Gemeinde. It is a Preservation North Dakota project dating from 2003. The church itself was constructed between 1897 and 1904. A tiny, grassy cemetery sits at the dirt intersection below the church, which is on a slight hill.
This church is also closed down and locked but some artifacts do adorn the interior. Some maps and a State Highway 49 sign call this "Stone Church." Two hitching posts for horses still stand near this simple church.
Ebenezer United Church of Christ: This church's steeple is visible from miles away and is less than two miles from Hope Evangelical Church. I can't quite explain this close cluster of rural churches here, though I'm sure there's a reason. Old Leipzig was the closest community, founded in 1896 and comprised largely of German settlers. Ebenezer UCC was organized in 1898, with the current church (still active) built in 1925.
Old Leipzig fell to New Leipzig when the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee railroads bypassed the town circa 1910. About 200 people called Old Leipzig by 1909. Its post office closed in 1915. Today a commemorative plaque in tall grass marks the old townsite, where a shuttered town hall and, of course, Ebenezer UCC still stand close by. New Leipzig is about nine miles south of its predecessor.