To trace the path of the centroid is to skim a great narrative spanning 220 years. That narrative is the nation’s history of growth, with each point along the way emerging as a sort of chapter: the rise of industrialism in the Northeast, the expansion of the western frontier, the waves of European, Latin American, and Asian immigration, the post–World War II population boom. In its migration, only twice has the center of population come to rest in an actual population center: Baltimore, Maryland (population center, 1800), and Covington, Kentucky (population center, 1880, and hometown of a fourth-grade-dropout named Haven Gillespie, who penned numerous classic American songs including “Drifting and Dreaming” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”). Over the years, the centroid has been found in places like Clarksburg, West Virginia, population center of 1840, where today the FBI operates its National Instant Criminal Background Check System to screen purchasers of firearms. Its path also passes through Portsmouth, Ohio, childhood home of Roy Rogers, which held the distinction in 1870. Portsmouth lost its NFL team to Detroit in 1933, its steel mills in the 1980s, and more than half its population of forty thousand between 1950 and 2000. And let us not forget Olney, Illinois, which held the honor in 1950.
more from Jeremy Miller at Orion Magazine here.