Okaton – The South Dakota Ghost Town

Okaton, South Dakota.

Travelers on I-90 might find an interesting photo stop at exit 183, but don’t expect any traditional roadside services or even an open store. Okaton was born in 1906 during the time of railroad construction, the town subsisted until the railroad tracks went into disuse in 1980.

Relying on the Internet to tell me about this ghostly location showed me that yet again, what you see there isn’t necessarily what you get. For example, images on the Internet show this abandoned fuel station as having a “Westlake’s Ghost Town” sign above the awning. In the articles I reviewed, the population was listed as 36 in 2010, so in less than a decade, the ghost town facade has disappeared completely.

The Ghost Town Mall in the opening photo is also gone. It, like all of the property in the town, is private property. There are many “Posted – Keep Out” signs on the old buildings. The dilapidated elevator, below, is certainly no safe place to visit.

The old elevator was once used as a setting in a motion picture, but the movie was never released. Bringing this tourist stop near Murdo South Dakota to fruition was the brainchild of Robert and Evelyn Westlake. Being so close to I-90, their idea had some potential, but the couple eventually sold their interest in the properties and moved on.

Once I discovered that the only sights to see here are from the roads that run through the 5-block town, we didn’t even get out of the car, and I captured all of these photos from the public road rather than encroach on personal property.

An Internet search found a match to the building above in a photo published in 2006 referencing the house belonged to someone named “Crazy Bear”, and a further search referenced the obituary of a woman born in Belvedere, SD who lived in the Okaton area. Her nickname was “Crazybear”. A wild assumption on my part tells me that this was her house at some point in her life.

No doubt this building was decorated to be the town jail, given the mural of the marshal sitting at the door, along with the shadow of a prisoner looking through the bars of his cell window missing his freedom.

All of the images for this post were captured in 12000×9000 pixel images on my Samsun S20U and enhanced with Adobe Lightroom and Skylum’s Luminar 4. Of course, I always recommend clicking on an image to enlarge it for a better view.

You won’t find a rest stop or convenience store at Okaton, if that’s your goal, I recommend Murdo at Exit 192, some 9 miles (14 km) east. There you will also find Murdo’s Auto Museum, a worthy stop for admirers of classic cars, of historic farm equipment, and of pioneer villages. Public rest areas are available about 20 miles east near Belvedere, but I noticed as this is being written, the westbound rest area is temporarily closed.

Don’t mistake the above paragraph to mean I am discouraging you from stopping at Okaton. Still and all, you won’t waste much time looking around the former tourist attraction, and you may find the opportunity for some worthy photographs of an old railroad town that is now more of a ghost town than ever.

John Steiner

8 comments

  1. I’ve seen more than enough scary films to know that Okaton, South Dakota, is a place to visit strictly during daylight hours only..!

    You might have captured these from the car, John, but they’re still beautifully crafted shots.

  2. Interesting Post, John. I’d enjoy poking around that old place just for the fun of it. South Dakota must be full of Ghost Towns from long ago. Wonder what’s there at night? There are 1 or 2 Ghost Towns around here, but not much is left of them. Centrailia & Barnsville are 2 of them.

    • Both Dakotas have many railroad towns that are now ghosts haunting the abandoned railroad spurs that once serviced the local elevators.
      There is a blogger photographer from North Dakota who’s blog features abandoned places in our state. His site is called Ghosts of North Dakota. He’s been traveling the state for almost 20 years featuring those all-but-forgotten places.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Ghost towns are attractive, interesting to photograph. It’s even more fun when a few people still live there even though most of the houses are uninhabited. Then you get a clear sense of the passage of time that has transformed local life.

    • I must admit that I felt a bit like I was trespassing as we visited this town that was still populated. That’s why I decided to stay on the roads for all of my images. I was sure I wouldn’t be photographing anything that couldn’t be easily seen by just driving by.

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