What is the Exact Center of the USA?
The center of the USA has changed a lot over time thanks to new territories and states.
It also depends on who you ask and which study you believe is the most accurate. Plus, the U.S. is an irregular shape, and it’s wrapped around a sphere.
There isn’t exactly an easy way to figure out the center of the USA, but we’ll take a closer look at one study.
Let’s get started!
What Is the Exact Center of the Lower 48 States?
In 1918, a geographical study conducted by the National Ocean Survey (now called the Coast and Geodetic Survey) claimed that an area near Lebanon, Kansas, was the exact center of the USA.
They used the “center-of-gravity” method to make this determination.
Later, when Alaska became a state, they conducted a similar process. This time they found the geographic center of Alaska. Then they found the point in between the two centers (one center in Alaska, one center in Kansas). The new geographic center of the USA was in Butte County, South Dakota.
What Is the Geographic Center of the 50 States?
After Hawaii became the 50th state, the center of the USA shifted yet again. However, since Hawaii is so small a geographic area, the center of the USA only moved about six miles west-southwest.
It remains in Butte County, near the town of Belle Fourche.
How Was the Exact Center of the USA Determined?
Senior mathematician of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Oscar Adams, explains that there really isn’t an exact center to any state, country, or continent. Different investigations have produced different results over the years.
Since the U.S. isn’t a particular shape like a square or triangle, you can’t find an exact center. The U.S. is also spread out over a sphere, not a flat plane, further complicating the process.
In the early 1900s, during the first survey, they constructed a map of the U.S. on thin cardboard. Then they cut out the map along the boundaries. By using the center-of-gravity method, they located the center of the USA near Lebanon, Kansas. Basically, they balanced the map in the air to find the center of gravity.
Clearly, there are some flaws with this method. First, by using this balancing method, you assume that the thickness of the cardboard is the same throughout. Second, the cardboard is a flat plane and not a sphere.
Had they used a different method, the exact center of the USA would have been in a different location. Therefore, there are numerous “centers” of the U.S. depending on the methodology of the surveyors.
What Is There to Do in the Center of the USA?
If you consider Lebanon the center of the U.S., you can find a small stone pyramid marking the spot. A nearby chapel serves as a popular location for weddings. But the actual center sits on a farm about half a mile away. Of course, Lebanon has embraced this designation and offers various souvenirs in town.
If you consider Belle Fourche, South Dakota, the center of the U.S., you can visit the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument. Although the exact center is located on private property, Belle Fourche is the closest town.
If you want to drive out of Belle Fourche to visit the actual center of the U.S., you’ll have to go about 13 miles north on Highway 85 and then another 7.8 miles on Old Highway 85 before reaching a pasture. There you’ll see an American flag and another marker.
You’re welcome to venture into the pasture.
While We’re at It: What’s the Center of the World?
Again, it depends on who you ask. Jacques-Andre Istel built a town in Felicity, Calif., and dubbed it the “Center of the World.”
He even built a pyramid in the Sonoran Desert to mark the center. However, Istel agrees that any place in the world could be the center since Earth is a sphere.
Another location is Pichincha, Ecuador. Named after the equator, Ecuador really is in the middle of the world, at least between the northern and southern hemispheres. Pichincha Province sits on the equator at 0 degrees latitude.
Here you can visit the Monument to the Equator.
How to Plan a Road Trip to the Center of the USA
If you want to visit Lebanon, Kansas, to see the marker and stand in front of the chapel, try to incorporate other stops along the way. If you’re coming from the east, cities like Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis, and Kansas City are along the interstate.
If you’re coming from the west, you’ll pass Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Grand Junction, and Denver. A route from the south includes traveling through Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, and Wichita. If you’re traveling from North Dakota, Minnesota, or other states in the north, there won’t be as much to see along your way.
You won’t find many hotels around Lebanon, nor will you find many campgrounds. Your best bet will be to stay in Concordia (about an hour from Lebanon) or Philipsburg (about 45 minutes from Lebanon.) More than likely, you won’t spend very long in Lebanon, so there’s no need to remain in the town. An hour or so will be sufficient to see the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States.
Is It Worth Driving to Kansas to Be in the Center of the USA?
If you’re going to be in the area, it’s a cool photo spot. But if you’re not going to be near Lebanon, it’s probably not worth driving there just to take a picture. You could say the same for Belle Fourche. There just isn’t enough to do in these two locations to make it worth driving there.
However, if you happen to be passing through, a short detour off Highway 281 could be enjoyable. What do you think? Is it worth driving to Kansas to be in the center of the USA?
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I once lived at Scott AFB, IL which is next to Mascoutah IL, which in the 1970s was considered the population center of the USA. Here’s a listing of how it’s moved over the decades (thanks to the Census). It’s now `2010 Texas County, Missouri 2.9 miles from Plato`. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/dec/center-pop-text.html