GRANO - The state's smallest incorporated city received a big boost earlier this week. The city auditor's German shorthair had 11 puppies, tripling Grano's population.
"I had another dog that had four pups a few days before that. So, if you count the cats and dogs, Grano has definitely grown," said Jan Hartle, laughing.
Hartle serves as Grano's auditor/treasurer. Her husband, Rick, holds one of two seats on the city council. The Hartle's next door neighbor, Jim Gehringer, is the mayor. Gerhringer's wife, JoAnn, is the other council member. The two couples comprise the entire population living on the south side of Grano Street.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • This is the only business in Grano, which has the honor of being North Dakota’s smallest city.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Too small for a standard roadside sign, Grano is introduced to visitors by sharing the same post as the speed limit.
A fifth resident lives in a mobile home on the north side and operates Shooter's Bar, Grano's only business. No one else resides within Grano's city limits, giving Grano the honors as the state's least populated city.
Grano Street is actually County Road 26, a paved road that leads west from U.S. Highway 83 to the south edge of Lansford, through Grano and across Lake Darling. The crossing is known as "Grano Crossing." In summer or winter, the number of fisherman in the area of the crossing far outnumber the residents of Grano.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Renville County community had a population of seven. At that time so did the McHenry County town of Bergen. Now though, in the midst of a population plunge of sorts, North Dakota's tiniest town honor clearly belongs to Grano. Bergen has recently experienced a unexpected population surge, at least by very small town standards.
"Another family moved in last year and also a gal from Minot," said Wayne Bergstad, a long-time resident of Bergen. "I'd say we've got about 15 people now. We keep incorporated in order to keep street lights."
When asked if Bergen residents think much about losing out to Grano for North Dakota's smallest town, Bergstad said, "No, no, but we're not real anxious to have more people move in."
Small town living suits Bergstad just fine, a lifestyle that is appealing at Grano, too. The Hartles moved to Grano from Lansford in 1994 after both retired from the U.S. Air Force. For them, Grano has been a good fit.
"We always liked it in the country and wanted to live there sometime," said Jan Hartle. "It's nice and quiet out here."
The quiet changes somewhat during the summer. Grano has a ball diamond across the road from the Hartles. It is there that two softball teams from nearby Lansford come to play.
"Every Wednesday night," said Jan Hartle. "They bring their mowers and cut the grass and then play."
The ball diamond is quiet most of the year. So, too, is a small park, a few picnic tables and shade trees located north of Shooter's Bar. If you don't fish at nearby Lake Darling or hunt the surrounding fields, there's little to do at Grano other than enjoy the quiet.
City politics don't amount to much either. Even meetings are rare.
"We're small, so there's not a lot we have to discuss," said Jan Hartle. "We meet every two or three months. A couple of years ago we had lightning hit a tree and had to deal with that."
Grano's population in 1920 was recorded at 112. Back then the town is said to have boasted two hotels, two stores, a post office, school, church and grain elevator. By 1970, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded just four residents at Grano.
Today, little evidence remains of old Grano. Even the elevator is gone. How long the tiny community will remain an incorporated city remains unknown. The future of Grano is closely tied to the five who still live there.
"Probably as long as we decide to keep it that way. It's not an inconvenience or anything," said Hartle. "There isn't any ordinances as far as the city goes."
In the meantime Grano clings to its status as the state's smallest town. Grano living is good, for people and puppies.