Missouri Town of About 600 is Closest to Middle of Nation, Census Says

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that Hartville, Missouri, is the town closest to the middle of the nation.

Once every decade, following the census’ results on where people are currently living, the bureau announces what the new population center is. The Associated Press reported that the “heart of America” has been in Missouri since 1980.

“An aging population, ongoing economic difficulties, and the impact of the pandemic have worked to reduce the means and reason for Americans to move,” urban planner Alex Zakrewsky previously said to AP.

This also shows the largest southward shift in history, according to the Census Bureau’s Historical Center of Population data.

The Missouri Ozarks town of Hartville, in Wright County, is the closest to the population center, only about 15 miles away. According to the Census Bureau, the town has about 600 residents.

The town was settled in the 19th century, though much of it was destroyed then in the Battle of Hartville in 1863 during the American Civil War.

WSILTV reported that Hartville, the county seat, will be holding a ceremony next spring to commemorate it as the 2020 population center, including the unveiling of a survey monument.

Hartville Mayor Rob Tucker told Kansas City’s KSHB he was happy a town with such a big heart could be the “heart of America.”

According to WSILTV, finding the U.S. population center helps surveyors and demographers see the direction the population is moving in and how fast it is going.

The first calculation of the population center was published in 1790, when the center was in Kent County, Maryland. Since then, the center has been steadily moving westward.

One of the largest movements was in the 1850-1860 census, when events like the Gold Rush caused the center to move 103 miles.

Now, the trend appears to be moving southwest as well, a result of more Americans moving from the North to the Sun Belt.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

2020 Census, Census Bureau
The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that Hartville, Missouri, is the town closest to the middle of the nation. The census has calculated the mean center of the population of the United States every decade since 1790. Above, the U.S. Census Bureau’s chart of the population centers over the years.
U.S. Census Bureau via the AP

The U.S. population center, located after the 2010 census in Plato, Missouri, with a population of just 82 in the neighboring county, moved only 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from 2010 to 2020.

This marks the second-smallest shift in distance in U.S. history. It is also the slowest shift in the last 100 years, beating the 13-mile move in the 1910-1920 census.

To calculate the center of the U.S., the Census Bureau figures out which spot would be “the balance point” if the 50 states were located on an imaginary, flat surface with weights of identical size—each representing the location of one person—placed on it.

Plato, Missouri, 2020 Census
The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that Hartville, Missouri, is the town closest to the middle of the nation. The bureau said the center of the U.S. population has moved 11.8 miles away from the previous center, Plato, Missouri. Above, a car drives through Plato on March 24, 2011.
Charlie Riedel, File/AP Photo

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