When the center isn’t really the center

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

Depending on whom you ask, the geographic center of the United States could be one of four different places, all in various midwestern states.

Kansas is home to at least two points of interest, both of which can lay a valid claim to being the geographic center of the lower 48 states.

For the sake of this week’s postcard, however, we’ll center our discussion on the Ogden Monument on the Fort Riley post near Junction City, Kansas.

The original monument was erected by a group of surveyors and engineers who were commissioned to establish a geographical center of the contiguous United States.

The monument commemorates the service of Major E. A. Ogden, who came to Fort Riley in 1855 and supervised the construction of some of the original buildings on the post.

Ogden, who was sent to the frontier outpost as part of the Army’s Quartermaster Department, was a well-seasoned veteran by the time he was sent to the then-fledgling outpost on the Kansas River.

Born in Oswego, New York, in February 1811, Ogden dreamed of a military career even in his youth.

He was appointed to the U.S Military Academy in 1827 and was commissioned as an infantry officer upon his graduation.

Serving at remote frontier posts over the next 20-odd years, Ogden saw combat during the Seminole War and the Canadian border disturbances in the late 1830s.

After the Mexican War, he transferred to the Quartermaster Department. During a cholera epidemic that swept the encampment in the summer of 1855, Ogden, along with 60 other civilians and soldiers, died from the disease.

The monument shown here stands near the Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley.

Another monument, roughly 60 miles to the north of the Ogden Monument, was originally erected in 1918 near Lebanon, Kansas, and also lays claim to being the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

This claim, verified by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, was made by balancing a cardboard cutout of the “lower 48” on a pin atop a pole.

The balancing point (on the cardboard) was determined to be in a farmer’s field near Lebanon. Not wanting tourists tramping through his crops, the farmer requested the marker be moved roughly one-half mile to the west, where it now exists in a small park, complete with a chapel for those wishing to take their wedding vows in the center of the United States.

For the record, the geographic center of the 50 United States is located at a point near Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and is marked by a round brass marker embedded in a small piece of concrete off U.S. Highway 85.

It is, for the most part, invisible from the road.

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