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Geographical Center of North America.

Geographical Center of North America

Field review by the editors.

Rugby, North Dakota

In 1931 an employee at the U.S. Geodetic Survey Office -- bored, perhaps, or attempting to justify his employment during the Great Depression -- placed a cardboard cutout of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico on a pencil point. The spot where it evenly balanced was determined to be in Pierce County, North Dakota, roughly 16 miles southwest of the nearest large town, which was Rugby. It could be said, broadly speaking, that it was the center of North America.

The U.S. Geodetic Survey Office had never done anything like this before and, as subsequent events unfolded, it would never do anything like it ever again.

Rugby was delighted. It changed its town seal to an outline of North America with a big dot on Rugby. And in August 1932 the local Boy Scout troop built a 21-foot-tall fieldstone monument next to the biggest crossroads in town, hung with a sign that read, "Geographical Center of North America." Other than a slight shift in position in 1971 to accommodate the widening of US Highway 2, the monument and its sign have stayed the same ever since. Rugby isn't too particular about where, exactly, the center lies -- as long as it's somewhere in Rugby.

Roadside America's view of the Center in 1985.
Roadside America's view of the Center in 1985. Gas: $1.19/gal.

America's government mappers have, over the years, protested that they haven't, in fact, officially established any geographical center anywhere -- but it's a futile gesture and Rugby is having none of it. The town runs a "Miss Geographical Center" pageant every year. It sells a not insignificant quantity of Geographical Center of North America t-shirts and coffee mugs. Some of the monument's postcards even cite a page number in a Department of the Interior Geological Survey Bulletin where, according to the postcard, the center was "definitely established."

Rugby has grown up around its monument. This is good for Rugby, but makes the monument surprisingly easy to miss. It now stands in a parking lot of a fitness center and a Mexican restaurant, and 21 feet tall doesn't seem tall enough. Flags of Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. flap in the North Dakota breeze from poles that are higher than the Geographical Center of North America monument. But its lack of continental-scale grandeur doesn't dissuade a steady stream of center-minded tourists from driving into town, sitting in the bench beneath the monument sign, and posing for photos. The center, after all, has to be somewhere, and since Rugby has made the effort, it might as well be here.

Geographical Center of North America

US Hwy. 2, Rugby, ND
Southeast corner, intersection of of US 2 and ND 3.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Prairie Village Museum: World's Tallest SalesmanPrairie Village Museum: World's Tallest Salesman, Rugby, ND - < 1 mi.
Niewoehner Bell TowerNiewoehner Bell Tower, Rugby, ND - < 1 mi.
Lone Bank VaultLone Bank Vault, Silva, ND - 13 mi.
In the region:
Dale and Martha Hawk Museum, Wolford, ND - 22 mi.

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