We Traveled To The Literal Middle Of America And This Is What It Looks Like
our journey to smith county, kansas
photographed by Beth Garrabrant
In 1918, the United States Geological Survey determined that the dead center of America was a patch of farmland two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas. It was six years after New Mexico and Arizona joined the Union and long before Alaska and Hawaii ever made the cut. For centuries, this area has been host to bizarre characters, dangerous interlopers, prehistoric creatures, and even a few ghosts if legend serves. Maybe it’s that any small town in the U.S., if put under a microscope, would seem a little strange. As such, being from the middle is a distinction locals generally shrug off. But after everything that’s happened here, they’re just being modest.
About two miles outside of Lebanon (pronounced locally as “leb-nen”) stands a monument, completed in 1941. The marker consists of a broad, stone-based flagpole, a plaque, two flags (U.S. and Kansas), and a little white chapel—all commemorating Middle America, quite literally.
“I used to have a hunting dog, so I would drive up there all the time,” says Denise Marcum, the town’s librarian. “It’s nice,” she says, “people go up there to find peace.” Maybe it’s the chapel, or the dead-end road they paved to service the monument, or the loud winds that push the sunflowers surrounding the grounds into one another, but the site feels significant in a way that the world’s largest ball of twine—just 27 miles southwest in Cawker City—doesn’t.