An entire ghost town today, Arena North Dakota, is located in Burleigh County, about 35 miles northeast of Bismarck. The town was founded in 1906 by the Patterson Land Company of Minnesota, which had bought more than one million acres of railroad land between Bismarck and Jamestown in 1905.
A rural post office was established on January 23, 1906, with Harry A. Mutchler as the first postmaster. Mr. Mutchler named the town Arena because it was surrounded by hills and centered in a natural basin. A short time after the post office was established, Mutchler became a promoter for the Patterson Land Company.
In 1910, the Northern Pacific Railroad built the Pingree-Wilton line, which came through the settlement of Arena. At various times the town boasted a one-room schoolhouse, a train depot, St. John’s Lutheran Church, twin grain elevators, two general stores, a hardware store, five creameries, a butcher shop, a pool hall, a bank, a sale barn, and livery, telephone pay station, and several residences. The town also had its baseball team, which frequently played against neighboring community teams like Wing, North Dakota.
In its early days, half of the town’s people were German immigrants or their descendants, with a few Jewish merchants, and the rest were “American.” The settlement was primarily agricultural, with corn and livestock as the primary source of the economy, though other crops, including hay, grain, wheat, oats, and flax, were also grown. Many Arena residents became known for their experimental farming techniques and employing new or the latest equipment in their agriculture.
Just about four miles south of Arena was a community of Mennonites from Marion, South Dakota, who established themselves there in 1904.
In 1920, Arena’s population peaked at 150 people. In 1925, Arena’s wooden school building was purchased and moved south to the Mennonite Community to be used as a church. Perhaps, it was then that the large Arena two-story brick school building was built on the hill.
By 1930, like the rest of the nation, tiny Arena was suffering due to the Great Depression. During that decade, it suffered even more with the Dustbowl. As the farmers left the area, the businesses were forced to close. By 1935 and its population fell to just 35 residents.
The school was closed in 1961, and students were then bussed to nearby Wing, North Dakota. Sitting vacant, it became a hazard and was razed in the 1990s.
Arena’s post office closed its doors forever on 23, 1996.
Today, only the former St. John’s Lutheran Church, the grain elevators, an old wooden building, and a few houses remain as testaments to the former town. The small yellow house was the last inhabited structure.
Some names of residents were Leno, Rice, Wetzel, Barkman, Eide, Deehr, Boelter, Wutzke, and others.
The St. John’s Cemetery is located .7 mile northeast of Arena on 392nd St. NE. The Mennonite Zion Cemetery is located 3.8 miles south of Arena on 392nd Street NE.