I recently took a road trip to Arena, the nearest photogenic “ghost town” near Bismarck, to spend some time with one of my favorite subjects: the abandoned St. John’s Lutheran church, one of only a few structures still standing
As you can see, the old church isn’t looking so good these days. The cinder block foundation has collapsed on both the east and west sides of the building, and the building itself is beginning to collapse as a result.
One thing I try to do when I photograph a place like this is to avoid tampering with it, damaging it, or (in most cases) entering it. Someone else didn’t show the same restraint, tearing off one of the wooden covers over a window toward the front of the church.
Here’s the west wall of the foundation. Not only have the cinder blocks caved in, but so has a lot of the dirt along the foundation wall itself.
Ditto on the east side. This was actually the first side to cave in, although a portion of it is intact.
Peeking under the church, one can assess the damage. Nothing is holding this church from folding in half except a few pillars downstairs…
…and the concrete around the base of those has crumbled as well. Craters around the bottoms of these pillars illustrate how, with the cinder block walls absent, they bear the entire weight of the structure.
A few supplies remain: the screens from the windows and an old stove sit in the corner next to the steps leading downstairs. I got all these basement photos by lying on my stomach next to the collapsed wall; as I mentioned before, i didn’t want to enter the building. In fact, while it’s gone now, there was a No Trespassing sign on the front of the church long ago.
Entry to the basement is barred by collapse as well.
Since someone else tore off the window covering, I decided to see what was inside the church. I put my camera on a monopod with a remote and a flash, stood outside the window, and poked it inside with a wide angle lens. Here’s what my camera saw.
The outhouse is also collapsed. Too bad, because I really had to pee by the time I was wrapping up here. Thankfully a friend lives nearby, and I was able to stop at their place right after leaving “town”.
At some point this steeple’s coming down. It’s sad to see the inevitable happen to this little church. I’ve photographed it on cloudy days, sunny days, starry nights, and with the faint glow of the Northern Lights behind it. It’s such a picturesque little church, in such a scenic location, and so accessible to sentimental photography hobbyists like me. I guess all I can do is make an occasional trip to Arena and capture as many photos of this little church as time takes its toll.