Summer in Haynes
On the coldest night of the year, it is comfort to sift through mementos of summer. At hand I have the photographs and field notes from warm days spent in southwestern North Dakota, retracing the auto tour laid out across the region by the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Here we are in the sun-bathed city park of Haynes—and did I mention it is summer?
Information in the tour guide about the town of Haynes is sparse: “HAYNES . . . was named for George B. Haynes, general passenger agent of the Milwaukee R.R. when it constructed its main line in 1907.” This at least intimates Haynes was a railroad town, one of those towns strung like beads on the tracks of the Milwaukee. It does not mention that Haynes was a turning point on the old Yellowstone Highway, the forerunner of Highway 12.
Big open-range cattle outfits had occupied the territory in the 1880s, followed by smaller family operators in the 1890s. One of these, Mont Monroe, situated himself on Hidden Creek, at the future site of Haynes, in 1899, followed by Joe Mischel, who settled just west of him in 1901.
A few years later—just ahead, with, and in the wake of the railroad—homesteaders filled in the country, and the town of Haynes, originally called Gadsen, developed as a service town, with grain elevators on the south side of the tracks and Main Street stretching north. For a time it was a boom town, with three lumberyards and two newspapers.
The high water mark of the boom is the impressive brick-stucco school built at the north end of Main. It rose courtesy of a bond issue passed in 1917 by the optimistic voters, who saw a grand future in their town. As late as 1955 they passed another bond issue to build a gymnasium. Enrollment peaked three years later at 122. The high school closed in 1963, the grade school a decade later. A school reunion in 1973, however, registered 650 attendees, including people from both coasts.
The school today stands abandoned, a monument on its way to becoming a ruin, although the gymnasium alongside is kept up for storage of RVs and machinery.
The tour guide says nothing of all this, nor of the industrial establishment that built upon the original economic base of agriculture at Haynes. This was coal mining. In the 1930s, the tipple and loading facilities on the east side of town had to have been prominent, serving the producing mines situated in the hills to the northeast. Slag heaps and pilings remain today.
My field notes record gloomy impressions of Haynes–residences and businesses abandoned, mobile homes plunked down here and there–but also certain signs of life indicating that Haynes is not quite a ghost town after all. Such as Mayor Sarah Chadwick, personally mowing the city park, keeping things neat around the new generation of trees she herself planted.
In the middle of the park stands a remarkable monument, a bandstand built of petrified wood. A dated concrete block mortared into the petrified wood indicates a 1934 construction date. This picturesque semicircle, five feet high with taller turrets at each end, was piped for gas. My mind’s eye looks over the shoulder of a musician playing a concert from a score yellow-lit by gaslights.
And over in the northeast corner stands a yellow-painted pillar of sandstone, a beacon of some kind. That’s another story for another day.