Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Place Begging for Trouble

The view east from the geographic center of the
48 contiguous states of the United States.
by Julie Tollefson

A monument at the end of a two-lane blacktop road. A tiny chapel—pulpit and 10 one-person pews—unlocked and unattended. A boarded-up and painted-over abandoned motel.

Sound like a place just begging for trouble?

Yeah, I thought so, too, when I arrived at the geographic center of the United States (minus Alaska and Hawaii), just north of Lebanon, Kansas, population 217*. Lebanon is not close to any of the big highways, and you won't likely find yourself there by accident. As a friend said, the whole place has a Twin Peaks-y vibe.

North of Lebanon and a little bit west, a collection of monuments and a well-maintained picnic area mark the center of the contiguous United States. More intriguing to me, on a small rise overlooking the monument sits the abandoned motel. Every inch, including the boards over the windows, is painted gunmetal gray.

Like every horror-story victim ever written, I followed a little-used path between two evergreens, their branches brushing my shoulders, to get a closer look. What I discovered...well, let's just say that the abandoned motel at the center of the United States will be making an appearance in my fiction. Soon.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the center. If you find yourself in north-central Kansas, be sure to stop and see it for yourself.

*As of 2011, though the little town has seen a steady decline in its population.

This plaque marks the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states of the United States.

The tiny chapel on the park grounds has just enough room inside
for a pulpit and single-person pews on each side of an aisle.

Follow the path to the creepy abandoned motel, if you dare.


  1. One of the more fascinating (well to me anyway) is tracking the population center of the US over time. Here’s a PDF from the US census bureau.

    ~ Jim

  2. Freaky, Julie! Strange situations and places spark the imagination. Glad you got pictures for your writing--now you won't have to revisit the place.

  3. Wow, what a find. It will be interesting to see how you use this in your writing!

  4. Great setting, Julie. Can't wait to read your fictional interpretation.

  5. Wouldn't you know, Jim, the Census Bureau is performing system maintenance right now. I'll check back later, because it does indeed sound fascinating.

  6. EB, Becky, and Margaret - We love to find out of the way and interesting places in our travels, and it sure does enrich my writing. A few years ago, we made a very quick trip to Oregon and back and to keep it interesting, plotted several stops a day from small-town tourist attractions and roadside monuments like "World's Largest Ball of Twine" in Cawker City, Kansas, to swimming and a picnic at Great Salt Lake. We had such a great time and every mile added fodder for my fiction.

  7. You never know what fascinating places your travels will take you.

    So, how did you find yourself there? That could be a part of your mystery--looking for a place to spend the night in a storm that was severe enough for you to break in for shelter. Go for it.

  8. Ha ha! Love it, Grace! We went there on purpose, which presents a whole different set of possibilities for fiction, doesn't it?

  9. Julie, there are so many places my sisters and I have discovered while traveling on camping trips. What I find even more fascinating are old cemeteries. There is one not too far from me on a hill with nothing but fields around it. I've pulled off the road and hiked up it to see stones dating back to the early 1800s Another one my grandfather found while hunting about three townships north of us in a woods. He showed it to us and although a lot of the stones were down, many were also dated to the early 1800s including one of a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War. For awhile vandals knocked down stones, but not the local historical society of that area is maintaining this historical cemetery. I find reading old epitaphs fascinating. One in a cemetery not too far away said "He died of a heart attack walking home from church." In another cemetery there were the graves of four very young boys. Three had the same name and the fourth was just baby. Obviously the parents didn't want to give the same name to the fourth child.

  10. Whoa, what a great setting. Especially intrigued by the chapel! Sort of an abandon hope all ye who enter here feel to that. Wonderful. Can't wait to read your take on it.

  11. Gloria - I love touring old cemeteries, too. We found one last summer in south-central Kansas that had a row of 7 or 8 plaques, all same last name, all just "baby." Heartbreaking.

  12. Kait - I wondered about the backstory for the chapel, but I haven't investigated it yet. Maybe I just prefer to make up my own story for it!