For anyone traveling through northwestern South Dakota, there is always a photo opportunity waiting down a gravel road and through a gate, where there’s an American flag waving above a windswept farm in a place that feels like the heart of America.
About 30 minutes south and east is a second photo opportunity at the official Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche. The colorful history of the designation and this monument is a true piece of Americana.
Getting to the middle of things is never as easy as it seems, especially when it comes to the United States. The exact geographic center of our nation is a topic that has undergone tremendous scrutiny and deliberation throughout the last century. Agencies like the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) have devoted a surprising amount of resources to determine where this designation of centricity belongs.
Starting in 1918, people considered the small prairie town of Lebanon, Kansas, to be the undisputed center of the United States. Scientists with the NGS determined this location after conducting a comically simple experiment – they balanced a cardboard cutout of the U.S. on a pinpoint. Astonishingly, their balancing act later proved to be accurate within 20 miles.
However, with the additions of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959, the geographic center of the nation shifted hundreds of miles northwest to a farm outside Belle Fourche, South Dakota. That October, a few dozen people gathered on that remote plot of land to watch the raising of an American flag at the newfound heart of the nation.