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Population Center of the USA, 1900, Elizabethtown, Indiana.
Old postcard of the 1900 Population Center. This monument may still be in a field somewhere in Indiana.

America, Get Centered!

In a land often tugged by divisive, opposing forces of left and right, up and down, America is surprisingly fond of its centers.

Geographical Center of North America, Rugby, ND.
You always know where you are in Rugby, North Dakota.

"Centers?" you say. "How can there be more than one?"

It's a matter of perspective. The United States is skewered with precisely positioned plaques, signs, and disks-in-the-ground marking focal points of population, states, cities, and the Lower 48 and the 50. Travelers are drawn to the Center of North America and the Center of the northern Western Hemisphere -- along with multiple Centers of the World and the Universe.

A center offers philosophical refuge that's attractive to the human psyche -- the ancient Greeks taught a cosmology of geocentrism, believing the sun revolved around the Earth. Yeesh, one quarter of Americans still believe this and are allowed to drive on the same roads as we heliocentrists. Most of us know better, but we can't live on the Sun just because it's the center -- so we make do.

Standing atop an earthly bulls-eye makes us part of a hub, a core, a nucleus evenly buffered in every direction, secure in the knowledge that out there is just as far away everywhere we turn. By mappable certainty it's a place free of extremes, and an ultimate fallback position when times grow turbulent and unbalanced edge-hordes are on the move.

Center of the World, Felicity, California.
God's arm points to the Official Center of the World in Felicity, California.

And yet... America's government surveyors, rigorous when it comes to boundaries, have shown scant interest in plotting official centers. This void has been filled by enterprising towns and individuals, who announce their centeredness on everything from obelisks to billboards to an X on a floor. For these mavericks, being at the center is a matter of pride, a point from which all else radiates to places that are comparatively tenuous and less important.

And centers endure as road trip waypoints or worthy detours. Would you go out of your way to see a perimeter? Of course you wouldn't.

Centers of America

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