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The Centers of All Things

looking for a stop on your next road trip? we've got you covered

Number 7 is going to grace us with an episode — thank God, because I’m starting to run out of material here.

Yeah, I doubt that could happen.

Oh, you’d be surprised. So what are we going to talk about here today?

We’re going to talk about the centers of it all. Mainly, of North America and various and parts of it.

Why is this a subject that interests you?

Growing up my family did a lot of road trips. Runs in the family. Drives in the family? And finding stuff along the way was always something we did because it was pretty much free, and military families? Not a lot of money.

Bet you’ve seen a lot of “Biggest Ball of Twines in Minnesota” and the like.

Don’t forget the biggest pecan!

Biggest pecan! Where’s that at?

Probably in the south. Maybe in Louisiana.

Okay, so you haven’t actually seen the world’s biggest pecan.

No, but I have a postcard somewhere of it.

We’ll have to look that up later. Look for that on Twitter, folks, the size of the world’s biggest pecan.

The title of “world’s biggest pecan” has gone back and forth between Seguin, TX and Brunswick, MO. Seguin is the current holder with a 16′ long, 8′ wide fiberglass pecan.

It’s a pretty-cool looking piece of fiberglass. The boll weevil one…

A fiberglass pecan?!? That’s not even good! Who wants to see a fiberglass pecan? If I want to see the world’s largest pecan it had better be a real pecan. An actual, functional pecan.

The Geographic Center of the United States

So we’re here today specifically to talk about the geographic centers of places. Now, is there any significance or importance to the geographic center of a country or state.

Bragging rights.

That’s it?

Tourist attractions make money, bring people in. Other than that, no real reason. I haven’t encountered any.

Okay. So let’s start with the important one: the geographic center of the United States. Now, that was originally Washington, DC, or close enough. I’m assuming it’s moved a little over the years.

Just a little bit. It depends on what states were added.

What are some of the places that have been the geographic center of the United States?

Columbus, KY.

Really. I’m assuming that was fairly early in America’s development.

That was about 1803.

Now, I have heard a legend that Columbus, when they discovered they were the geographic center, thought that they were going to be the new capital of the United States as a result.

Oh yeah, they were planning on making it in the same grid pattern as DC. It didn’t happen.

No. Too sad that it didn’t happen, because that’s a great story, isn’t it?

Oh, yeah. It’d be great if it happened. Oh well. But as states were added into the union, it started moving west.

I imagine it took a giant leap west when California was admitted.

It was somewhere in Kansas.

I imagine the geographic center was pretty stable once Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889 because then you have all four corners of the country pinned down and fixed. But I’ve read a lot of newspapers from the time and it really feels like every city in Kansas was kind of claiming to be the geographic center of the United States at some point or another, either as a way to boost tourism or economic development. Were they ever really able to nail it down any more concretely than “somewhere in Kansas?”

They ended up choosing a place called Junction City.

So what’s in Junction City?

Junction city has Fort Riley, which holds a memorial there. A memorial to a Commander Ogden, who died. He was the commander of Fort Riley. Just convenient that he died at the center of the United States.

Actually, that would be Major Edmund A. Odgen, who died of cholera during the construction of Fort Riley.

That doesn’t sound very official.

No, it’s not official at all. They just laid claim to it. It’s close enough.

Well, this is the United States so I’m sure at some point someone nailed down an official center of the United States.

I’d have to say it’s in Lebanon, KS.

Who determined that the center of the United States was in Lebanon, KS?

It was the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.

I’m sure there’s some gigantic impressive monument there.

Not in Lebanon, KS, no.

What do they actually have?

It’s like a tiny, tiny, tiny church and a stone plaque.

That sounds vaguely disappointing.

Yeah, it wasn’t too bad when I didn’t see it a couple of years ago when I was in Kansas.

Not sorry to have missed it, huh?

Correct.

Well, I imagine it was only there for a while because obviously in 1959 we admit both Alaska and Hawaii to the Union. So where did wind end up after that?

Belle Fourche, SD.

Nice.

In 2008, the lovely community of Belle Fourche put up a newer marker to mark the center of the United States. And it was a compass rose. It looks similar to the one that’s located in Four Corners. It’s one you can actually stand on, walk on, lay on. So you can actually lay on the center of the United States. That sounds pretty cool.

Have you been?

No! Because I didn’t even know about this. I failed.

Well, we will have to take a road trip once this is all over.

Oh, you know it.

The Geographic Centre of Canada

Now, I have actually done a little research on this topic. Would you like to know where the geographic center of Canada is?

That would be fascinating.

It is in the middle of nowhere, unexpectedly. It’s in Yathkyed Lake, Nunavut. I’s so remote I’m pretty sure they don’t even have a little historical marker there.

Do they even have roads there?

Probably not. I don’t want to sound like I’m down on the good people of Nunavut because I know they have roads, but yeah, boy, this is remote.

I don’t know if I want to go there.

El Centro Geográfico de México

Wanna know about the geographic center of Mexico?

They have a geographic center of Mexico?

They have four competing cities, each of whom claims to be the geographic center of Mexico. Depending on who you ask, the geographic center is either in Tequisquiapan, Guanajato, Zacatecas, or Aguascalientes. And if you ask the Mexican government, they literally don’t care where it is.

I mean, why would they?

As we’ve established, it is an entirely meaningless landmark.

The Geographic Center of North America

Let’s go for the big one, the grand-daddy of them all, the geographic center of North America. Now, it’s not a country. It’s not going to have borders or edges that shift over time. So I imagine that one’s fairly stable and fairly well-known.

Where is the geographic center of the North American continent?

In 1904, they said Pierre, SD.

Fascinating. How did they figure that one out?

Well, any five-year-old could tell you, they drew a big X.

What, like they just took a map and drew a big cross on it and said, “That’s close enough to Pierre?”

Oh, yeah. Why not.

Wow. That’s exciting. And what did Pierre do to commemorate this momentous (if specious) designation?

In 1923 they built a monument in the middle of the road.

That does not sound very safe.

Well, in 1928 they did move it to Snake Butte.

That seems a little out of the way. Now, I’ve done a fair amount of road-tripping myself and I’ve never heard of Pierre being the geographic center of our continent before. So what happened there?

In 1931 they U.S. Geological Survey decided, “You know what? We’re gonna find a new one. Let’s try a new method of discerning where the center of North America is.”

So, what were the fabulous scientific techniques they used in 1931 to determine the geographical center.

[Sigh] They cut a cardboard out in the shape of North America and they balanced it on a pin.

That, once again, does not seem very scientific at all.

Well, this was the ’30s.

I guess there’s some argument to be made here that if you can get it to balance, the weight is distributed evenly, but that’s not generally how I think of the geographic center being defined.

It worked. It’s pretty darn close to where the actual center is.

Okay. So they take a cardboard cut-out of North America, balance it on a pin, and where does that tell you the geographic center is?

Balta, ND!

I have never heard of Balta, ND.

I’ve never heard of Balta, ND and I’ve been to North Dakota.

Is there anything in Balta?

I don’t think so.

Why is that?

Because Rugby, ND grabbed the claim as being the center of North America.

Were they just the largest city in the nearest area?

Oh yeah. It had access to a major road, which is Route 2, also known as the Empire Builder. And they were like, “Yeah, it’s here, not that other city.

U.S. Route 2 is actually “The Highline.” Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” line follows roughly the same path.

I imagine Pierre was not happy about that.

Who would be? [Giggles] Pierre already had all the fun being the capital of South Dakota. But it wasn’t the center of North America.

Well, sorry, Pierre. You had your moment in the sun. It’s over now, get over it.

Yeah, there were lots of sniping between Pierre, Rugby, Balta. The actual one I’ve been to was in Rugby, because it’s right on the road.

What kind of memorial do they have in Rugby?

They have a stone obelisk thing, it’s about 15′ high. It was built by some boy scouts.

Do you have a photo or something I can look at?

Oh yeah, I have it posted on my Instagram, and I’m pretty sure you can share it with everyone.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bziqf9xgBXv/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

I am looking at it right now, and it looks like it’s a support pillar for Mike Brady’s home. It’s not very attractive.

Well, there are flowers around it, dont’ forget! And it does have a railing up those three steps.

Right, I’m just saying, if someone built this in my back yard I would say, “Why?” It’s not pretty.

Well, there is a restaurant in the parking lot, too!

You are really, really making the hard sell for Rugby, ND here.

There’s really not much in Rugby, ND, truth be told. It’s a nice little town to drive through, to say you’ve been there. Beautiful. Well, a couple things about Rugby that it does have going for it, is that they really leaned in to it. They were – are? – the center of North America. Their chamber of commerce website, they had a Miss Center of North Dakota. Excuse me, North America. Yeah. What year was that one, do you recall?

I believe they were holding them at least as late as the mid-1970s, because I’ve seen some newspaper photos of Miss Geographic Center 1969 and she is smokin’.

They actually still have them. Congratulations to Miss Geographic Center 2020, Courtney Hagen.

What is she smoking?

Probably Camels. But I probably can’t say that. We might lose our clean tag. I don’t know of that counts as “drug use.”

Rugby has competition.

Oh, really?

Yeah, there’s a place called Robinson, ND that in 2016, they decided they were closer to the center of North America and Rugby? They kind of let the trademark lapse, and they took it over.

I think I’ve heard this story. If I remember correctly, Bill Bender, the owner of Hansen’s Bar in Robinson was drinking with his buddies and they got out an atlas and figured out that Rugby wasn’t on the geographic center, and Robinson was just as close to the geographic center as Rugby, so I believe there’s an actual marker in the bar proclaiming the bar the geographic center of North America.

That sounds more valid than an X.

Sounds just as valid as an X. My understanding was that the good people of Rugby weren’t too happy about that. Lawsuits were threatened.

But you know what? They don’t have a leg to stand on anymore in Rugby.

And why is that?

Well… [Sighs] There’s a new center of North America. And it’s in Center, North Dakota.

That seems surprisingly apropos.

Not for why you think! It got it’s name because it’s the center of the county. Noth the state, not North America.

So it’s just a freaky coincidence.

A crazy coincidence.

And looking here on-line as we’re talking, I can see that this was determined by actual scientific methods by Peter Rogerson, an actual professor of geography at SUNY Buffalo, and not by say, a bunch of Navy guys holding pieces of of cardboard on a pin.

Or a bunch of drunk guys in a bar in Robinson, ND.

I know that I definitely trust a professor of geography way more than I trust someone just taking a Mercator projection and drawing a big X on it with a felt-tipped pen.

Mercator projections are absolutely accurate. What are you talking about?

Are the people of Center, have they made any hay out of their new designation as the center of our glorious continent?

No. There’s nothing there.

Do you think there will be?

Maybe if this episode gets traction!

Our knowledge was a little out of date. As of 2018 Center actually does have a monument proclaiming itself “The Scientific Center of North America.” That should put those cardboard-balancers in Rugby and Robinson in their place.

Okay. Well, there you have it folks. The center of North America is in Center, North Dakota.

Geographic Center of North America monument in Rugby, ND

Errata

(All corrections from the errata have been incorporated into this article, but not into the published audio.)

Connections

The US Government used geodetics to determine where the exact geographic center of the country. Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed and his Koreshan Unity used geodetics to prove that we lived in the center of the hollow earth. We discussed the strange hollow earth beliefs of the Koreshans in Series 4’s “We Live Inside.”

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