April 3, 2001, Tuesday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION
SECTION: NEWS, Pg. A1
LENGTH: 708 words
HEADLINE: TINY EDGAR SPRINGS, MO., FINDS ITSELF IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT;
TOWN OF 190 RESIDENTS IS U.S. POPULATION CENTERCENSUS 2000: WHO WE ARE;
PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES.
BYLINE: Jennifer LaFleur; And Dawn Fallik; Of The Post-Dispatch
DATELINE: EDGAR SPRINGS, MO.EDGAR SPRINGS, MISSOURI; POPULATION CENTER; POPULATION GROWTH; INCREASE; DEMOGRAPHICS; POPULATION COUNT RESULTS; POPULATION BOOM; CENSUS; 2000; CITIES MARIES; ROLLA; PULASKI; FORT; LEONARD WOOD; DENT COUNTY; SAINT JAMES; PHELPS COUNTY; MARK TWAIN NATIONAL FOREST; INTERSTATE; HIGHWAY; ROUTE; 63; 73; 68; 44 70; 55; METRO ST. LOUIS; MARYLAND; VIRGINIA; WEST VIRGINIA OHIO; KENTUCKY; INDIANA; ILLINOIS; CLAY COUNTY LOUISVILLE; CLINTON COUNTY; CENTRALIA; ST. CLAIR COUNTY MASCOUTAH; MISSOURI; JEFFERSON COUNTY; DESOTO; CRAWFORD COUNTY; STEELVILLE; PHELPS COUNTY; PENNSYLVANIA
Welcome to the population hub of the nation.
A place without stop signs. A place where no one is on the ballot for today's mayoral election -- locals are hoping for a write-in candidate -- and the dead outnumber the living. The local cemetery has more than 300 graves, at least a hundred more than the town's 2000 census count of 190 residents.
"This town has really gone to pot," said Billie Keaton, 74, a local resident.
Actually, it began as a whiskey still, according to "Edgar Springs, Its History and Its People." The town was first known as Edgar Prairie. Locals lined up to visit a still built by a Mr. Edgar, saying they were going to Edgar's Spring, thus the name.
On Monday, the Census Bureau named the community 20 miles south of Rolla the center of the U.S. population, based on census data. Locals heard the news in the morning at the town's only restaurant, Hot Lips, named for the owner's CB handle from her truck-driving days.
To understand what the center of population is, imagine a flat map of the United States with everyone at his or her own home. The center, also called the mean center, would be the place where the map would balance.
In 1790, the center point was 23 miles east of Baltimore. The point has steadily moved west since then. Since 1950, it has been in Illinois or Missouri.
In 1990 the point was near Steelville, Mo., which used the publicity to its advantage, creating center of population Christmas tree ornaments, adding the distinction to Interstate 44 billboards and creating a pink granite monument in the city's park.
"The schools even picked up on it in their classes," said Police Chief Mike Guess.
One Edgar Springs resident hopes the new title won't go to the town's head.
"It's kind of a rural town, and I hope it stays small and rural," said Deloris McBride. "I don't want to see it get big."
One person excited about the 34.7-mile shift southwest was the man who calculated the center of population, Fred Broone, chief of standards for the Census Bureau.
"It is significant because it shows continual movement to the West and South," Broone said.
A few hours after Broone made the announcement in Washington, he called congratulations on the town's new status to former state representative and Edgar Springs resident Jerry McBride Sr.
McBride told Broone, "You created a good bit of excitement by pointing your numbers near our house." He said he had spent the day with a phone in each hand answering reporters' calls.
Gerald Dunham, 65, who works at the water board office the first week of the month, semi-seriously wondered if the town might benefit from its new population popularity.
"Don't you think that the government would be able to give us the money for a well and a tower?" Dunham asked.
It may not get a new well and water tower, but Broone says the town will get a plaque on the exact center spot, which is 2.8 miles from the city's main thoroughfare, down Highway FF where the pavement ends and the mud begins.
McBride, who used to mow the cemetery lawn as a boy, said the town's population peak had passed. It once had a couple of banks and at least two groceries, but now residents drive 20 miles north to Rolla or 16 miles south to Licking for more than small purchases. The little stuff they can pick up at J.K.'s, the tiny market that remains.
The only time the population swells is in August, when former residents return to celebrate Prairie Days. Last year they served more than 600 barbecue dinners, Dunham said. This year they certainly have something to talk about.
"It's kind of shocking," said Viola Johnson, 33, the owner of Hot Lips. "Edgar Springs has always been a little town with nothing. Now this happens."
As Edgar Springs gets over its shock, Steelville residents must wrestle with relinquishing the title.
"We realize the whole world revolved around us," joked L.T. Dobkins, 62, of Steelville.
Some residents were sad that they never knew they had cause to celebrate.
"Yeah, I think it's like awesome that we were the center," said Nicole
Brooks, 18, a waitress at the Home Town Cafe who learned of town's status even
as it was losing it. "I never knew, and I've lived here all my life."