Friday, November 17, 2006

Smack Dab in the Middle

If you draw two lines—one running North-South, the other East-West—so that each divides the population in half, the point of intersection is known as the "median center," or put more plainly, Smack Dab in the Middle. Located in what East and West Coasters like to call Fly-Over Country, the precise location of Smack Dab has been shifting since the nation's early days when most folks lived east of the Mississippi River. For a long time it was located in Ohio, but since 1950 it has moved steadily southwest. As of the last Census in 2000, Smack Dab had relocated to Daviess County, Indiana.

Curious about the real Smack Dab, I googled Daviess County, Indiana. It might be the center of the U.S. in a very strict sense, but it seems it could hardly be further from the center of U.S. culture. This is Amish Country. Its Visitor's Bureau promotes a tour of an Amish Village and a visit to the Black Buggy Amish Restaurant and Bakery. You can shop at country stores and take home a handsewn quilt.

While this gives you a quite charming picture of the of nation's median center, if you are seeking more prosaic enlightenment, you will want to turn to the Census Bureau, a treasure trove (or impenetrable jungle, depending on your viewpoint) of information. There is a QuickFacts site, for example, where you get a U.S. map, ripe for the clicking. Click on Indiana and up pops an informative data table. If you need information on a more specific location within Indiana, there are buttons at the top of the page that allow you to select a specific city or county. The Daviess County data table doesn't tell you that it is “Amish Country,” but it does reveal that there are 30,466 inhabitants residing in 10,894 households. More than two-thirds own their homes and the county's median household income is $35,967. The table includes statistics for all of Indiana for comparison.

Or you could just turn to Wikipedia, where you would discover that in April 2006 Daviess County switched time-zone allegiance. But then, it does seem more fitting that the center of the U.S. population would set its clocks to Central Time rather than Eastern Time.

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