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Fortuna Air Force Station

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On this date in 1995, The Bismarck Tribune reported about the decay of the Fortuna Air Force Station. From 1951 to 1979 the station was an active radar station in the Air Defense Command that protected the United States from attack. The station was six miles from Canada and eight miles from Montana. The nearest town was Fortuna.

A 70 ton radar dish sat on top of a five-story tower. The facility monitored the sky for an attack from Russia. The station sat on 124 acres of land and had 118 buildings.

The 150 employees were a boon for Fortuna’s economy and school enrollment, pushing the town population to 216 people in 1970. Unfortunately for the town, the station closed in 1979. As of 2010 there were only 22 residents left.

The once mighty cold war defense station was left to the elements. The Bismarck Tribune reported that vandals tore through every building, rendering them worthless. In 1990 a one-million dollar clean up removed underground fuel tanks and asbestos. In 1995 the General Services Administration was ready to unload the property to anyone who would take it. Federal, state, and local governments had shown no interest. Deer and coyotes roamed the property. All that was left were the memories of the soldiers once stationed there. According to retired Tech. Sgt. Don Erstad, “The duty was pretty good as far as being a remote site like that…I worked with a lot of good people.” Ronald Dahl echoed this sentiment. “It was a good place to work. Everybody knew everybody.”

The station was eventually purchased, but nothing was done with the property. Divide County ended up acquiring the property in a tax foreclosure. There was an attempt to add the site to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, but the effort failed. The buildings were scrapped of anything valuable and torn down between 2013 and 2015. All that remains is the five-story radar tower. It no longer has the once-impressive radar dish, replaced now by antennas for cell phone reception.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


Author Unknown, “City of Fortuana,” Divide County. accessed July 2, 2021.

Dura, Jack. “Drought Stalls Reclamation of Cold War Base,” The Bismarck Tribune, November 15, 2017.

Larson, Troy. “A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station,” Ghosts of North Dakota. July 12, 2013. accessed July 2, 2021.

Salter, Peter, “A Bargain No One Will Buy: Ex-Radar Site Home to Coyotes, Weeds, Wind,” The Bismarck Tribune, August 13, 1995, pg. C1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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