Centroid Towns - A photo documentary about the moving center of the US
May 31, 2020 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Centroid Towns is an anthology documentary project using photography, oral history interviews, and local archive research to study the twenty-five cities that have been the mean center of population of the United States. This symbolic center is calculated every ten years to accompany the U.S. Census, first located in 1790 near Chestertown, Maryland, and moving steadily westward, currently residing near Plato, Missouri. The project puts a face to statistical data, chronicling these towns and their inhabitants to illuminate the ongoing social and political transformation of America.

A centroid is the geometric center of a flat region -- the point where you could balance the region on the tip of a pin. If the flat region is not uniform in density (i.e. heaver at some points), the centroid moves accordingly. If we imagine the US population as equal points of mass on a flat map, then the centroid would represent the center of population.

About the project: Centroid Towns is an anthology documentary project creating a portrait of the towns tagged by this coordinate over the years. My project uses this idea of the “symbolic center” of the country as a fulcrum to examine the challenges facing the United States.

The twenty-five towns are Chestertown MD, Ellicott City MD, Waterford VA, Wardensville WV, Cabins WV, Buckhannon WV, Burning Springs WV, Beaver OH, Hillsboro OH, Hebron KY, Westport IN, Elizabethtown IN, Bloomington IN, Spencer IN, Linton IN, Carlisle IN, Dundas IL, Ingraham IL (method of computation shift), Shattuc IL, Mascoutah IL, De Soto MO, Steelville MO, Edgar Springs MO, Plato MO, and Hartville MO (projected).

I have photographed in all twenty-five project cities and am currently working on long-term fieldwork in six of them, with additional fieldwork under development. The chapters of the project completed to date examine the environmental impact of overdevelopment, historical legacies of colonial settlers, the changing face of industrial manufacturing, the evolution of American Christianity, economic pressures created by corporations on small business, and civic engagement in small towns.

Interview with artist Nate Larson about the Centroid Towns project.

Artist's webpage of other works.

Map of the moving center of population, 1790-2010.

US Census explanation of centroid towns.

Visit the Centroids (26 hours by car)

Dynamic graph (GeoGebra) showing what a centroid is. [Move points around and/or make them "heavier", see the centroid move.]

Find the center of population of your state.

Where is the geometric center of Texas?
posted by klausman (3 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this is really fascinating. There's a LOT here - I can't wait to really spend time with all the images.

Thank you for sharing this with us, klausman!
posted by kristi at 12:46 PM on May 31

Spent a lot more time in these mid-MO towns than a Scottish bloke living in Canada might be expected to. They have something: none of the words pride, resilience, sense of place are quite right. All of those terms trivialize and other places that are called home by everyone who lives there.

(although — I'm sorry — did the shoe factory in De Soto go into … receivership? I'll get me coat …)
posted by scruss at 1:10 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

This was really quite interesting, thank you for sharing!

I've been to the more-or-less geographical center of North America in Rugby, North Dakota. So it's fascinating to learn about geometric centers.

They do look exactly how I expect fading small US towns to look, down to the series on Dollar Generals and uh, public speaking. Still, the Census centroid stuff is fascinating.
posted by librarylis at 10:45 AM on June 3

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