A tiny Missouri town is now the center of America: US Census

The population center of the United States is near a tiny town in rural Missouri with just 613 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The calculation of a population center, released every 10 years after the decennial census is taken, identifies the average point where Americans live. If every person in the United States weighed exactly the same amount, the population center would be the point at which a flat, rigid map of the country would balance.

This decade, the Census Bureau identified that location as about 15 miles outside of Hartville, Mo., a small town on the Gasconade River in rural Wright County. It is so small that the city government does not operate its own website.

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“It’s a great feeling to live in Hartville,” Mayor Rob Tucker said in a statement released by the Census Bureau. “It has always been a town with a big heart and is now the heart of America.”

The Census Bureau has been identifying a center of population since its first decennial survey, in 1790. Back then, the U.S. population was centered just west of Baltimore.

As the nation itself expanded westward, and the population has grown to fit the country’s borders, the population center has moved steadily west — and, in the last century, increasingly south, too. By 1820, the population center was in Hardy County, W.Va.; by 1920, it sat in western Indiana.

Since 1980, the population center has been in Missouri, where it started near St. Louis before moving farther into rural areas. 

“The movement of the center of population helps tell the story of this century’s migration South and West,” said Ron Jarmin, the Census Bureau’s acting director.

The population center shifted less over the last decade than at any time in the last century, the Census Bureau said.  However, it shifted farther to the south than it ever has before — a reflection, in part, of fast-growing Sun Belt states and more stagnant population growth in northern Rust Belt and Northeastern states.

The population center measurement helps demographers chart the movement and growth of the American population over time. Every decade, when a new center is identified, surveyors at the National Geodetic Survey, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, celebrate the location with an honorary monument.

Hartville is slated to get its monument in the spring, the Census Bureau said.