Montana’s center: It’s not where most folks think it is

Montana’s center: It’s not where most folks think it is

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Part 1 of 2

Sometimes long held beliefs are changed when new evidence comes along.

Like many other Montanans, we believed the geographic center of the state to be in the community of Lewistown — first, under someone’s kitchen sink; second, on property belonging to and next to the First Christian Church; third, next to the swimming pool at the Yogo Inn.

In lectures, we have proclaimed and believed the church location to be the spot. Recently, however, we heard otherwise and discussed the subject with the editorial staff of the Lewistown News Argus — the newspaper with a great mantra… “Covering Central Montana Like The Stars.” Turns out they had published a story on the mid point of Big Sky Country in December 2004. With their permission we have reprinted the article.

By JIM DULLENTY

News-Argus Staff Writer

“It is not near the swimming pool in Lewistown’s Yogo Inn. It is not under Mrs. Dockery’s kitchen sink. It is not somewhere near the First Christian Church in Lewistown. It is not, alas, anywhere the people of Lewistown long have thought it is.

No town can claim to be at the center of Montana if a state geographer is right about the location of that center. He places it closer to the little town of Moore west of Lewistown.

Gerry Daumiller, the state’s geographic information systems analyst in Helena, says the center of Montana is located in a dry cow pasture of the King Colony Ranch, a Hutterite colony two miles north of Highway 87, about four miles from Moore. That puts it about 9 miles west of Lewistown.

Some of Lewistown’s most respected elders dispute his conclusions. They hold the view that the center is at the Yogo Inn.

Others involved in Montana’s map-making process also are not as certain that it is at the point Daumiller says it is. But spokesmen for the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte and the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver say it is not far from Daumiller’s point.

Daumiller, who has been making maps of Montana on computers since 1988 and is considered one of the leading authorities on Montana locations, insists the exact center of Montana is on the King Colony Ranch and he says he is 99 percent certain that a spot he has designated as the precise center is the right place. At best, he says, he could be off about 50 to 100 feet.

“The center location that I provided,” Daumiller wrote, “is based on a map projection called the Montana State Plane Coordinate System that I believe gives the most accurate possible portrayal of the state’s shape on a flat map.”

He said he looked at other claims on the Internet, one of which would put the location 11 miles west of Lewistown. This appears to come from old work done by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Pete Modreski, a U.S.G.S. geologist in Denver, said his agency in 1983 published the center of Montana as 12 miles west of Lewistown. Since then, U.S.G.S. publications show it as 11 miles west of Lewistown but that conclusion is up to 20 years old and the agency has no new calculation.

“The odds are that the state’s calculations are more accurate than ours so I would go with what they say,” said Modreski. He added the U.S.G.S. has never reported the center is in Lewistown.

“All of this might come as a shock to many in Lewistown who grew up believing the center is in their town. And some in Lewistown, informed of the state’s position on the center of Montana flat out reject it. Don Pfau, who served on the Yogo Inn’s board of directors when artifacts were unearthed there in the mid 1980s showing the center at that location, says of this new information about the King Colony Ranch: “We don’t recognize it.”

“Pfau said the Yogo board and leading businessmen of Lewistown believed that the center is at the Yogo and have a signed document authenticating that location. That signed document, a surveyor’s stone and other materials are on display in the Yogo.

Part 2 of this column will appear next week.

Rick and Susie Graetz are from Helena and are authors, photographers and publishers. Their email is Thisismontana@aol.com

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