Hartville is the county seat of Wright County. It’s been identified as the United States’ center of population based on the 2020 Census. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

HARTVILLE – Hartville, about 1 hour east of Springfield, is officially the heart of the United States. 

The designation — based on the distribution of population found during the 2020 U.S. Census — will be celebrated on Sept. 21 at a ceremony in the Wright County seat featuring local leaders as well as federal government officials.

“I think those that are aware of the historical importance are excited about Hartville being the ‘hart’ of the U.S.,” says Jessica Vandergrift, a social studies teacher at Hartville High School who is helping organize the event. “In American history, it is one of the things we talked about last year during our Westward Expansion unit. Many of the kids were unaware that Hartville had been named the center. For many of them, it will be a neat way to experience history in the present day.”  

The ceremony, scheduled for 4:30 p.m., will take place at Hartville City Park. It’s open to the public and free to attend. Originally set for April 2022, it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What will happen at the event?

Its lineup includes a mix of local and federal government representatives. Hartville City Councilman Melvin Moon will welcome guests to the event, which also includes Posting of the Colors by the Hartville VFW post, singing of the National Anthem, musical presentations from the Hartville High School Choir — including “Hart of the Land,” a piece composed and arranged by local musician Teresa Dixon — and remarks from officials from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Geodetic Survey.  

“It’s special to see your town highlighted in a positive way, especially when it’s a historical, noteworthy event,” says Cheryl Brown, Hartville’s high school choir director, who recently switched to teaching music from history.

“I taught about the center of population and geography in my history classes all those years,” she says. “It’s neat for me to see that designation bestowed on our little map dot and to get to be part of the ceremony as well. And it gives me and other teachers [a chance] to explain again what the center of population is, how and why they track it, why this sort of information is useful, and so on.”

Brown is preparing students to sing at the event, but will also perform herself as part of a trio with Dixon and Aaron McDaris — the latter currently a member of the famed bluegrass group Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. 

At the conclusion of the event, a plaque and monument unveiling will also permanently preserve the designation in Hartville’s history.

“The marker is placed in each city that becomes the ‘center of population,’” says Vandergrift, who notes it’s installed on a rose granite slab. “Members of the National Geodetic Survey use it as a pinpoint location to help map the nation. It is a permanent marker that will help recognize shifts and changes in population over time. 

“The local paper recently did an article with an image of the marker, but most of the population hasn’t seen it in person yet.”  

In addition to the formalities, there are a number of celebratory moments set for the day. Food and snowcones will be available for purchase. The Hartville Lions Club will also sell commemorative T-shirts that feature the winning design of a contest to mark the moment.

“I would also like to extend my thanks to all of those that have helped organize this event,” says Vandergrift. “We are so very fortunate to live in Hartville, where our community comes together and makes events like these a success. As our local basketball coach Brett Reed likes to say, ‘It’s a great day to be an Eagle.’”

How was Hartville chosen? 

The center of the United States population is determined every ten years with the completion of the previous census survey, and illustrates population shifts over the decades from westward expansion to southern migration, notes information on the Census Bureau’s website. 

“The movement of the center of population helps tell the story of our nation’s history,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau, on its website. “It helps visualize population shifts every 10 years and where people live in our diverse nation, and Hartville is understandably proud to be noted. The city has a rich history, and the honor of being named the center of the U.S. population is yet another chapter in its long history.”

The website also notes that Missouri has contained the country’s “center” for the past five decades. In 2010, the population center was determined to be near Plato in Texas County; in 2000, near Edgar Springs in Phelps County; in 1990, near Steelville in Phelps County; and in 1980, near DeSoto in Jefferson County.

Prior to that, the population centers were pinpointed in Illinois (1970-1950), Indiana (1940-1890), Ohio (1880-1860), West Virginia (1850-1820), Virginia (1810) and Maryland (1800-1790).

“I’m excited that it’s Hartville because I think we are representative of the country as a whole. Big cities attract so much of the attention,” says Brown. “But small towns and rural areas comprise a huge part of our country. We make up the fabric of what our country really is. 

“Hartville is probably a very average slice of what life is like for millions of Americans. We have a beautiful little town with many hard-working, kind, wonderful people. I’m proud that we get to shine a light on a lifestyle that many people in our country may never have experienced before. It really is a special place to live.”

Hartville’s “center” celebration will take place on Sept. 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the Hartville City Park. For more information about the designation, click here for info from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: kaitlyn@ozarksalive.com More by Kaitlyn McConnell More by Kaitlyn McConnell