The Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States

Day 5-2 Travel as I Have Envisioned it Could Be

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Less than an hour after lunch we saw directions to the Center of the United States (See blog Day 5-2)

While planning our revised route across the middle of the country to get to Utah from Indiana, we selected US Rt 36. Although, not an Interstate, it is straight, direct, and, in Missouri, a four-lane highway. We anticipated dropping south to Interstate 70 once into Kansas, but Rt 36 had very little traffic, and we decided to continue on it.

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A Stone Monument and plaque document the Center of the 48 contiguous United States.

Looking at Rt 36 on the map, I noticed a note indicating the “geographic center” of the United States near Lebanon, Kansas. It registered merely as a curiosity at the time. However, as we traveled along the highway, approaching Kansas Rt 181 to Lebanon, I saw a marker indicating a turn to the “Center of the United States” only a few miles ahead. We made and instant decision to divert to the “center of the country.” From Rt 36, we turned north on Kansas Rt 181 and traveled about six miles to Rt 191and turned left. The marker is at the top of a rise at the end of this road.

The center of the contiguous 48 states is marked by a stone monument and a small park. This point, is in fact about one-half mile from the precise location—which is on privately owned property and currently under cultivation.


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This plaque on the monument details the location of the center point.

This is not an elaborate landmark. There is the marker with a brass plaque, benches, shade trees with a small chapel and picnic grounds. Still, it was well worth the diversion to be close to very center of the United States (well the lower 48).

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Another view of the monument.

So how was this point determined to be the center of the 48 states? Initially, in 1918, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey used a cardboard cut-out of the United States and estimated the center by balancing the cutout on a pin. Later, using more precise survey methods, it was determined that the center was actually within 20 miles of the point on the cardboard model. Geographically, the position is located at 39°50′N, 98°35′W, in Kansas.

Of course, no one position remains precisely correct due to changing shorelines and other factors, but this point is recognized as the historical center of the “Lower 48.”

It is distinct from the geographic center of the United States, which reflects the 1959 additions of the states of Alaska and Hawaii, that is located at a point northeast of Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

It is one example of serendipity we have experienced along Rt 36 and throughout the trip.

Previous: Day 5 The Route 36 Experience (Continued)

Next: Day 5-3 Atwood



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