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North Dakota SuperGraphic

X Marks the Spot

In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published an online report titled Elevations and Distances in the United States that listed the geographic center of the North American continent as being located at “6 miles west of Balta, Pierce County, North Dakota.”  The description used was taken from an earlier report published in 1930 by E. M. Douglas.  Douglas differed from the USGS in that he used Devils Lake as a point of reference rather than the town of Balta.  Balta was considered by the USGS as a more readable permanent location.

Based upon Douglas’ report, in January 1931, the Rugby claimed itself as “The Geographical Center of North America.”  The center is marked with a pyramid-shaped monument.  The monument is 21 feet high and 6 feet wide at its base, and sits atop a heart-shaped foundation.  The stone monument was completed in August 1932, by W.B. and E.B. Paterson, with the assistance from the local Boy Scouts, community volunteers and the local Lions Club, who donated the construction materials.

In 1971, the monument was moved to a slightly different location to make room for the widening of the local highway.  Today, the flags of Canada, Mexico and the United States fly at this site.   When visiting the monument, be on the lookout for the milepost sign showing the distances and direction toward the farthest points north, south, east and west on the continent.

As reported by the North Dakota Geological Survey (NDGS), the USGS does not recognize the geographic center of North America as exact an location since there really is no true scientific definition of a geographic center and no way of  being able calculate it. Both Douglas and the USGS define the geographic center of an area as “…that point on which the surface of the area would balance if it were a plane of uniform thickness.…  This point of balance is the area’s center of gravity.”   The USGS published coordinates for the geographic center of North America are based on this definition and, at best, this is still only an approximation. The approximate coordinates are given as 48 degrees 10' N latitude, 100 degrees 10' W longitude. To add more fuel to the fire, the calculation is complicated by many other dynamics such as the curvature of the earth, bodies of water and whether or not offshore islands should be included as part of “North America.” 

According to the USGS, Rugby is approximately 15 miles from the actual center of North America (six miles west of Balta); however, there is nothing that officially marks this location.  With that said, it remains just an approximation, and given the many thousands of miles between continents that are taken into consideration in determining this calculation, a 15-mile discrepancy is rather small in comparison.   

 

Today, Survey Bulletin Number 817 places the Rugby monument at:

48 degrees 21' 19" N

99 degrees 59' 57" W

As the greeting brochure for Rugby says, "Welcome to the Center of it All!"

Related images

Photo of monument
Geographical Center of North America monument.
directional sign
Directional sign indicating north/south.
directional sign
Directional sign indicating east/west.

Welcome to Rugby, North Dakota The Other Center to Consider