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July 23, 2002
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Achieving a Centered State

After the U.S. Center of Population was set in Edgar Springs, Mo., Dave Doyle, senior geodesist with the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), realized that the NGS had Center of Population data for all 50 states, as well as the nation as a whole. Seeing this as an opportunity to draw attention to surveyors and the importance of their work, he suggested that each state survey association commemorate its population center by setting a monument and staging a dedication ceremony. He envisioned the ceremonies as not only commemorating the Blue Booking of each state’s Center of Population, but also as showcasing improvements in GPS technology, the adaptation of that technology by surveyors, and the ability to develop cooperative initiatives between the private sector, federal, state and local surveying and mapping professionals. According to Doyle, 29 states have expressed interest in the project so far, and nine states have actually set Center of Population markers: Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin and most recently, Colorado, Virginia and Texas.



Sue Hardy of the U.S. Census Bureau's Charlotte office speaks at the Virginia Center of Population ceremony.

Virginia

On a cool, breezy May afternoon ceremony in Goochland County, a special 10-inch brass geodetic control monument was dedicated to mark the Center of Population for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Virginia Association of Surveyors (VAS) in cooperation with the NGS, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the U.S. Census Bureau and Goochland County sponsored the event.

Now there is a bright blue sign informing visitors that “The center of population is the point where an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of Virginia would balance if all its 7,028,515 residents (based on the 2000 census) were of equal weight.” The actual computed location of the population center lies 1.9 grid miles to the northwest of this monument at 37E45'01" north latitude and 77E50'09" west longitude and falls in a swamp. The groups decided against setting the monument in the swampy woods, though. “We didn’t want to have to give everyone a pair of boots,” joked David Holland, a Virginia surveyor and master of ceremonies at the public dedication.

Preparations were made, including designing and ordering a 10" diameter, 3/4" thick, 25 lb. brass geodetic marker from Berntsen International, Madison, Wis., and imbedding it into the poured concrete monument per the exacting instructions from the NGS for High Accuracy Reference Network (HARN) stations. Then, a series of GPS sessions were performed in order to achieve the positional accuracy of 1-2 centimeters required for the Virginia Center of Population monument to be Blue Booked and included in the National Spatial Reference System. Finally, the historical 4'x2' roadside sign was printed and erected behind the Center of Population monument.

About 20 Virginia politicians and dignitaries, 20 to 30 local citizens, another 20 to 30 surveyors from around the state, the local news media, a television crew from Richmond and the Sheriff’s patrol for directing traffic all gathered alongside the two-lane U.S. 250 highway across from the Hickory Notch Grill, four miles west of rural Oilville, Va., to officially recognize the Virginia Center of Population. Oilville is a growing community, its population is up 19.1 percent since 1990, but it’s still small town Virginia, complete with a local feed store and a grill that sells barbecue.

Ironically, the Virginia Center of Population is located in a county that was formed in 1727 and was the first county created after the original eight shires of the Virginia Colony. The road it is located beside is the same roadbed known as Three-Chopt road in the 1700s and 1800s, and was traveled by Thomas Jefferson to and from his home at Monticello in Albemarle County, Va. If one had an H.G. Wells time machine set up over the Virginia Center of Population monument, one could track the development of the United States from its early beginnings to its present day status as the most highly developed, technologically advanced country in the world, and they could thank the American surveyor for his extraordinarily large contribution to that success. As ACSM’s Curt Sumner said at the ceremony, “When we look at Mt. Rushmore, we see three surveyors and some other guy.”



A crowd gathers around the Texas Center of Population marker before the ceremony starts. The Holland, Texas, Beautification Committee did the landscaping around the slab and granite piece for free.

Texas

It isn’t every day that a town of about 1,100 residents gets attention for its population. Thanks to the 2000 Census and the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors (TSPS), Holland, Texas, now has that distinction. Located deep in Bell County, the small community staked its claim as the Population Center of the state at a ceremony this May. The precise Center of Population is located near the aptly named Center Lake Cemetery on Durwood Moon’s property, which includes more than 1,000 acres about four miles north of Holland.

The Center of Population marker was set on the First National Bank property in downtown Holland. The town, 50 miles south of Waco, Texas, at the intersection of State Highway 95 and Farm Road 2268, was chosen as the site for the marker because it is the closest town to the precise Center of Population location. The marker, made by Berntsen International, was set in a monument on the bank property where it will receive more traffic and attention. The Holland, Texas, Beautification Committee did the landscaping around the slab and granite piece for free.

TSPS Executive Director Anne Glasgow kicked off the dedication ceremony by introducing TSPS members on hand for the event. Holland Mayor Frank Horak was one of many local and county dignitaries on hand at the ceremony, along with more than 150 other attendees. TSPS officers and members offered attendees a brief education on surveying and the population center monumentation process.



Colorado

Colorado was the most recent state to dedicate its center of population at the time of this printing. Its Center of Population ceremony was the culmination of the efforts of four groups: the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado Inc. (PLSC), Jefferson County Open Space, the NGS and Jefferson County itself, where the actual point hits on private ground, high on the south side of Sampson Mountain at an elevation of about 8,300'.

Sampson Mountain is notorious as being the roaming ground of Alferd Packer, Colorado’s alleged cannibal, who lived in Critchell, at that time a four-building burg at the base of the mountain, and worked at ranches in the area after his parole from prison in 1901. At his trial, the judge reportedly spat at him about his aborted prospecting trip into Hinsdale County in late 1876, “There were seven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County and you et five of them!”

Because of the remoteness of the site at Sampson Mountain, and to protect the privacy of the landowner, Deer Creek Canyon Park was chosen for the actual setting of the monument. The point chosen is a little over four miles northeast of the actual Center of Population point on the mountain and lies just off the main parking lot of the park.

The dedication of the point took place May 31, 2002. The monument itself is a 10" brass disk from Berntsen International emblazoned with the logos of the supporting groups. It is set in a 10' x 10' concrete pad with engraved granite slabs marking the four compass directions. There is also a permanent stand mounted at the monument for explanatory material about the monument and the Center of Population.

Speakers at the event included Richard Sheehan, Commissioner of Jefferson County; Wayne Hatcher of the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce; Bill McComber of the PLSC; and Richard Cohen, U.S. Department of Commerce and NGS advisor to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). They covered such topics as the impact of Jefferson County being at the Center of Population; the importance of an accurate census, the westward and southerly movement of the national Center of Population and the importance of the point to land surveyors. GPS data will be gathered on the monument for its inclusion in the National Spatial Reference System.

As part of the dedication, many surveying instruments were displayed at a shelter near the monument. These ranged from an 1836 compass to the most modern GPS equipment. The attendees of the ceremony were able to appreciate the difference in measuring capabilities then and now, and walked away with a sense of awe at the accuracy achieved by those whose footsteps we continue to follow.



New Mexico

New Mexico Professional Surveyors (NMPS) will be joining the states that have already set their monuments this fall. Plans have been made to set the New Mexico point in September or October of this year. Based on data from the 2000 Census, the center of population of New Mexico falls just south of Manzano (due east of Belen). Dr. Steve Frank, PS has scouted the site and is working with the NGS to locate the monument once it is set. Preliminary plans include a picnic and seminar at an undisclosed State Park near the Point.

See our February 2002 issue for more on state Center of Population events.

Associate Editor Emily Vass compiles “The Latest News.” If you have a timely, newsworthy item, contact her at 248/244-6465 or E-mail vasse@bnp.com.

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