PlainSky, Nebraskans: Ardmore, South Dakota

Ardmore, South Dakota

Ardmore, South Dakota

What!? What’s a shot of a South Dakota town doing in a project called “PlainSky, Nebraskans!?”

A legitimate question, that; let me explain.

Northwest Nebraska is dying. Actually, much of Nebraska is dying, as children enthusiastically flee the small towns in which they grew up, enamored with the lights and busyness of bigger cities like Lincoln, Omaha, Denver and others. Here, it’s called “The Brain Drain.”

Ardmore is a cautionary tale: Once, this town was large enough for a presidential whistle stop visit in the 1920s. It survived The Great Depression; world economic woes were bearable for Ardmore, but The Brain Drain wasn’t. In 1980, the population had dwindled to 16, and by 2004, to nothing.

“Okay, there are lots of ghost towns across the West. Why does this pertain to PlainSky?” one might ask.

Why? Ardmore is less than an hour’s drive from Crawford. Less than 15 minutes from Ray Semroska’s ranch and the Montrose church. Only about a mile from the Nebraska border.

And it’s dead.

The Great Plains of the past are endangered, and Ardmore is the future of this culture unless something changes.

“Oh,” one might say. “Ardmore. I get it.”


  1. This is an excellent photograph, but in this case your short essay about the future of the area is even stronger. We have many of these same issues on the Texas High Plains; our towns are dying, too, as young folks relocate to the big cities. The problems created by this out-migration cover all facets of rural life, from employment, to education, to transportation, to care of the elderly, to food security, and on and on. It gets worse every year, and is probably past the point of no return in nearly every case. As you probably noticed, I have a passion for photographing these fading towns, but the excitement I feel when finding relics to photograph is tempered – always – by what the these finds represent.

    My friend and collaborator at, Laurie Jameson, told me the other day that I am preserving history through my images, and I guess I am. It’s a meager bit of preservation, though, compared to how much is vanishing.

    Are you familiar with Frank and Deborah Popper’s Buffalo Commons scenario?

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