Geographic Center of the United States, near Lebanon
Photo credit Erika Nelson
Photo credit Erika Nelson
Interior of chapel. Photo credit Larry Hornbaker
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Location: One mile north of Lebanon on U.S. 281, then one mile west on K-191.
|Geographic Center Marker, photo courtesy Erika Nelson|
Excerpts of nomination from Von Rothenberger with help from Phyllis Bell.
Just outside of Lebanon Kansas stands a pyramidal stone monument with a brass plaque inscribed with a bold declaration "The Geographic Center of the United States." The monument was ceremoniously installed at this site June 29, 1941 (before Alaska and Hawaii joined the union) by the locally run Hub Club.
According to their own calculations, the "actual" lower 48 center was one-quarter of a mile away, in the middle of a hog pen. But the farmer, Mr. Johnny L. Grieb, was reluctant to turn his farm into a tourist attraction, so the hilltop site was selected instead.
The Geographic Center of the United States (when you include Alaska and Hawaii) is seventeen miles west of Castle Rock, South Dakota. Many variables exist when calculating the center of a land mass as large as the United States, and selective criteria and methods can be used, from the selection of different map projections, to defining the periphery of the shape with varying degrees of accuracy. The Lebanon, Kansas "center," in fact, was determined by cutting the shape of the lower 48 states out of a cardboard sheet, and balancing it on a point. This determination of the "center of gravity" of the country was used by the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1898. This method, even at its best, is believed to be accurate only within ten or twenty miles.
Though the Geodetic Survey would later regret making any official declaration, this early endorsement was enough to enable Lebanon's Hub Club to claim its center as official, beating a few other competing communities for the title, which, it was assumed, could lead to considerable tourist revenue, and literally put the community on the map.
The state of Kansas pitched in to help the small agricultural town develop its new attraction by paving the one mile stretch of the highway to the monument. A few years later a motel was built overlooking the monument. But the tourists only trickled in to this remote place, near the Nebraska state line, and the motel closed in just a few years, and never opened again. The motel is now owned by a group from Texas that visits once a year during hunting season.
The park around the monument is still maintained by the Hub Club, and a little chapel, with six small pews, sits nearby along with a shelter house. Tourists still come from all over the United States and other parts of the world to this dedicated spot in the center of the 48 contiguous states.