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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Dakota: 1940

Dakota: 1940

October 1940. "North Dakota landscape. McHenry County." Medium-format negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Dynamic Sky

I'm from rural Nebraska, from a part of the state that is about as flat as this section of North Dakota appears to be. Now that I live in New York, I've spent years hearing (in response to discovering where I'm from) complaints about wretchedly "boring" car trips through the Great Plains from those accustomed to hills, trees, and buildings. I've always asserted that the Great Plains has a very stark beauty, and that you just have to look up to appreciate it. There is something very beautiful about feeling so dwarfed by the sky and being able to see an entire celestial drama played out on as much canvas as is earthly possible.

John Vachon got it too. A wonderful, wonderful photo.

Towner Church?

It looks more like a rural school house than a church. No steeple is visible in the original photo. The tall object which appears to be somewhat behind the white building is more than likely a possible windmill, other than part of the structure itself. Plus, by 1940, there certainly would have been many more houses near the church. The larger building farther back looks to be a barn with the top of the silo shining. A bit to the left appears to be a farmhouse and outbuildings. The photo was taken in McHenry county, but I don't think it shows the town of Towner.

And you can see

Your dog run away for three days.

North Dakota state tree

My father was born In North Dakota in the early 1930s. This wonderful picture reminds me of something he told me when I was a child. He would say jokingly that the state tree of North Dakota was the telephone pole.

Great photo, thanks Team Shorpy

I took a photo about 20 years ago in southern Illinois that in some ways resembles this.


What an amazing shot! The setting is just so peaceful. You can almost smell the air. I am so glad this picture is on here.

How flat is it?

So flat that on a clear day, they can see the Gulf of Mexico.

Paging Cary Grant

It looks like the setting for the crop duster scene in "North By Northwest."

I knew a guy in the Air Force from North Dakota. When he heard the average size farm in Missouri was 220 acres, he laughed and said, "In North Dakota, we call those gardens."

One lone cow

Just wonderful. I almost skipped viewing this full size. A wealth of small details leapt out when I did.

Dakota: 1940

This photo is another example of why John Vachon is the greatest photographer of the American landscape and streetscape, and of our country's vernacular architecture. He is an amazingly under-appreciated artist.

McHenry county isn't flat.

McHenry county isn't flat. Not compared to some other parts of the state. The Red River Valley is flat, this bit of land has a hint of undulation to it. You have to really look to see it, but it is there.

Vast, lonely, beautiful.

No one did this better than Vachon, especially when he used the larger camera. Eat your heart out, David Plowden. Better get inside!

On the level

North Dakota is where they take all of the "levels" for calibration.

How Flat?

So flat that this piece of river (SW of Towner) can't even flow downhill.

Storm comin'

Having been raised in the rolling hills and valleys of Connecticut where one was almost always either going uphill or downhill, moving out west came as quite a change of scenery. There is a spot less than a mile from my current home in Oklahoma where every direction in which one looks is tabletop flat and hill-less as far as the eye can see. You can see the weather coming that is still an hour or more away. Tornado chasers revel in observing the sky, taking twister photographs and seeing actual coming weather events in advance. This picture looks very much like the spot mentioned. Can't say I'm crazy about it but I just bloom where I'm planted and make the best of it and so far I've been lucky. Gets a little scary though during snow blizzards and crippling ice storms when the power goes out for ten days.

Not the Rockies, is it

Geez, and I thought Florida was flat.

Zion Lutheran in Towner

This looks like the Zion Lutheran Church in Towner, ND. It appears to be about the correct distance from the railroad.

View Larger Map

I never realized

just how flat "flat" could be.

And people wonder

why it was called "The Great Plains"! Another thousand-word gem.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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