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The debate over the geographic center of North America


The grass of the North Dakota prairies may sound like a greeting, but even the geese are flying right above. North Dakota is not only one of the least visited states, it is also one of the last on the tourist list.

And yet poor and neglected North Dakota may be the center of our world.

Since 1931, a stone monument in Rugby, North Dakota – population: approximately 2,700 – has marked the area that some say is the geographic center of our North American continent.

“It’s really fun to say, ‘I’m from North Dakota,’ and people say, ‘Oh, great.’ But if you can say, “I live in the Geographic Center of North America”, that’s pretty cool! “Cathy Jelsing said.” That says something! “

The debate over the geographic center of North America
Cathy Jelsing with correspondent Lee Cowan at the monument to the designated geographic center of North America, in Rugby, ND

CBS News


Jelsing was the director of Rugby’s Geographic Center Historical Society. Part of his job was to direct lost tourists to what is now the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant, where they could bask in the magnificent meaning that is The Middle.

Correspondent Lee Cowan asked Jelsing, “I don’t know what the Center looks like?”

“I think it’s on your mind,” she replied. “You feel centered in the center.”

So how was it determined that it was continental bull’s eye? Around 1930, a US Geological Survey employee simply took a cutout of the map of North America and balanced it on top of a pin. Not the most sophisticated method, perhaps, but for decades few objected to it.

The debate over the geographic center of North America
A balancing act.

CBS News


Rugby adopted the designation. It gave this little point of the meadow a real meaning.

“You have to understand that here in North Dakota we don’t have much,” said Clay Jenkinson, a humanities researcher from North Dakota. “We don’t have Carnegie Hall. We don’t have the Statue of Liberty. So that counted for rugby. It’s their Grand Canyon. It’s their Teton Mountains. That’s right! It’s true! it!

“That’s why you live here,” he says. “You don’t live here for the boutique theater or the food. You live here because there is this meadow.”

The debate over the geographic center of North America
Rugby, ND, also hosts the annual Miss Geographic Center contest.

CBS News


Jenkinson never questioned the Rugby title, until he learned of the existence of Hanson’s Bar and its owner, who claimed that the center of the continent was in fact about a hundred miles to the south, in the town of Robinson (population: around 38).

“I was offended,” Jenkinson said. “I was thinking, Who is this moron? Why play with the only pathetic pretension of this small town of cosmic fame?

Bill Bender meant no harm; it was a simple trivial question that he and a few friends were questioning.

Cowan asked Bender, “Did you ever think this was going to cause such a stir?”

“Yeah, I think we did,” he replied, admitting that their calculations required “a lot of trial and error.”

One night, armed with a globe, string, and more than a few beers, they argued that the center of the continent was – perhaps not by accident – right under the bar itself.

The debate over the geographic center of North America
A bar owner in Robinson, ND, put a globe and a rope to the test.

CBS News


Bender said, “For me, what we did late at night …”

“With string and a few beers?” Cowan asked.

“Yeah, that sounds a lot more scientific than a kid cutting a cutout and balancing it!”

He checked to see if Rugby had registered a trademark of their valuable phrase “Geographic Center” – and it turned out that they had, or thought they had. “They let it expire,” Bender said. “So just that night I typed it up and recorded it all and paid the three hundred dollars it was.”

“And boom, did you own it? “

“Yeah. At that point it was recorded at Hanson’s Bar,” he said.

The debate over the geographic center of North America
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has said so.

CBS News


Cathy Jelsing said, “It wasn’t very good what they did. If we lost the geographic center, what would we be? We would just be another city in the middle of nowhere.”

News of the midpoint collapse quickly circulated and Peter Rogerson, a professor in the geography department at the University of Buffalo, decided he would give it a chance.

Cowan asked, “So was that really just pure curiosity on your part?”

“Absolutely,” he replied.

Rogerson took latitudes and longitudes from all over North America and plugged those continental coordinates into a special algorithm he designed to find the center.

“You have to take into account that the surface of the Earth is curved, and you have to find that point of equilibrium appropriately,” Rogerson said.

The program went through all the numbers and kicked out a spot. It was in North Dakota again, but this time the center – believe it or not – was near a town called Center.

Center, North Dakota. You can’t make it up!

“When I plotted it on this map, you can imagine my surprise,” Rogerson said. “I couldn’t really believe this had happened.”

Dave Berger and Rick Schmidt, both born and raised in Center (which incidentally got its name because it is the center of the county), decided to celebrate its newfound fame like all the other towns.

“I guess we could probably say you couldn’t have found a more ideal site for this,” Schmidt said.

“It’s unique, especially being on a hill – you know, the view?” said Berger. As you can see, you can see forever.

“I called the coal mine and said, ‘I want a nice rock.’ And there are no pretty rocks in North Dakota! And then the lady from the coal mine called me two weeks later and said, “I found you a rock.” “Thirty thousand pounds of permanence.

The debate over the geographic center of North America
Some visitors to the rock marking center, ND’s new claim to fame.

CBS News


Schmidt said: “We’re pretty sure this is going to be in the archives; it will be the permanent site.”

Cowan said, “If not, is someone going to have to move a really heavy rock?”

“Yeah, we don’t do that!”

As for Hanson’s Bar? Well, Bill Bender stepped back and returned the trademark to the geographic center – to Rugby, although he still won’t remove the sticker on the floor.

The debate over the geographic center of North America
Hanson’s Bar, in Robinson, ND

CBS News


Cowan asked, “So was that some kind of surrender?”

“Yeah, it’s a surrender, it was definitely a surrender,” Bender said.

Through it all, rugby has never missed a beat. Sales of T-shirts and shot glasses continued as if nothing had happened.

“It caused a lot of stress for people, but it turned out to be a good thing – you are here! Jelsing laughs.

Cowan asked Clay Jenkinson, “What do you think this controversy says about North Dakota?”

“Having said that we are a losing state!” he has answered. “I mean, it’s in the same area as the biggest ball of string in the world, which is what we’re talking about here. This is something of no consequence, really, that has a level of absurdity right in the middle. of it. And if that helps North Dakota, even in a small way, I’m all for it! “

His advice: run after crosses while you can. Continents roam, after all!

So, why not stroll here on your own and take in what one of the less visited states has to offer.


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Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Publisher: David Bhagat.

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