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The Tale of Rival, North Dakota, Which Never Had a Chance

The now-abandoned town was supposed to be rivals with Lignite, N.D., but it failed.

Rival, ND. (Photo: Ghosts of North Dakota/Troy Larson)

Far into the sparsely peopled lands of North Dakota, less than ten miles from the Canadian border, there is a place called Rival. Founded in the first years of the 20th century, Rival is the only town in all of the United States with that name—if you can call Rival a town at all. It was started with the intention of going up against nearby Lignite, but it never fulfilled its destiny. Today, the only thing that stands there is an abandoned grain elevator.

Troy Larson, who co-founded the site Ghosts of North Dakota, first heard about Rival when a local correspondent sent in a picture of its grain elevator, tall and lonely. It would soon be torn down, she thought, and it seemed worth it to have at least one picture of the only building left standing. A few months later, Larson visited himself. He’s been to a lot of ghost towns, but this was the only one he’d ever been to where the sole structure remaining was a tower used to store and convey grain. 

“It’s just a grain elevator in the middle of nowhere,” he says. Once, train tracks ran by here, though, and standing there in the tall grass, he could see the straight line where the railroad used to be. There was rubble and bricks still lying about, and inside the elevator what looked a coffee pot and a device that you might use to pan for gold. “There’s no gold around here, so I don’t know what it was,” Larson says.

Rival, ND. (Photo: Ghosts of North Dakota/Troy Larson)

When the Rival post office opened in 1907, this spot was on the Soo Line railroad—a nickname for  the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad. (Sault is pronounced “soo” in this part of the country.) Nearby, the Great Northern Railroad, which went all the way from St. Paul to Seattle, ran through Lignite. “Railroad competition was fierce,” says Larson. “People were always putting up grain elevators and post offices every eight miles along the track, trying to make their fortune. That’s the idea behind Rival, but Lignite won that fight. It wasn’t even a battle.”

It’s not entirely clear who founded or named Rival, but Larson believes it was probably Chester Teisinger, who was listed as the postmaster. Often these towns were founded by local farmers or businessmen, who would set up a post office in their house and try to get in on the railroad rush. In this case, it just didn’t work.  

Lignite isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis—as of the 2010 census, 155 people lived there. But it’s still kicking. Rival was left a ghost town, with one metal-roofed grain elevator, which is still standing—for now.