The Center of California

A family trip to the "Center of California" found this mark placed by the North Fork Chamber of Commerce and the School of Geomatics Engineering and Land Surveying at California State University, Fresno.

From the North Fork Chamber of Commerce website Historical Page:

Once upon a time... during the gold rush era, North Fork, California was known for its logging. But as time marched on, the town became legendary as the "exact center of California.

North Fork did not become an overnight sensation, however. In 1972 the Madera Board of Supervisors, after hearing a rumor the Center of California was close to Madera, decided to locate the Center. Their grand plan consisted of building a monument to which visitors from far-away places could travel and admire.

But the city of Madera was disappointed after the survey was completed and the Center was found to be close to North Fork, some 40 miles east of Madera. A metal stake was placed in the ground, but, unfortunately, the only visitors to the spot were local townspeople. Soon, the Center was forgotten and the stake was inadvertently destroyed.

Through the years, North Fork townspeople would ask each other, "where is the Center?" But the passage of time has a way of dulling the memory. Soon, no one could remember.

In 1994 the North Fork History Group decided to do something positive about the Center. A County Sheriff Search & Rescue Officer brought his Magellan Global Positioning unit to the estimated area, however the equipment was not sophisticated enough to calculate the exact spot. Then the U.S. Forest Service arrived with their GPS equipment which uses mapping satellites to determine ground locations. They actually calculated to within a meter of the final calculations. Someone suggested contacting the Fresno State University Engineering & Surveying Department as they should have the most modern equipment available. CSUF was definitely interested in helping re-establish the site.

In May 1994, the work began. Old blaze marks were uncovered. CSUF students went back to Cal State Fresno to enter all the information into their computers while North Fork's townspeople anxiously waited ... and waited. There had been an equipment failure. More data was required. The waiting game continued as students graduated and summer vacation dispersed those involved.

Unexpectedly, Huell Howser of the PBS series, California's Gold appeared on the scene contacting residents of North Fork ... "why were there 3 different sites claiming to be THE Center of California?" Huell said he would like to come to North Fork in May 1995 to do a TV story about the "real" Center. The people of North Fork knew it was time for ACTION!

Another call to CSU Fresno brought new results! A graduating student, Leonard Gabrielson, materialized to complete the crucial computer calculations as his senior thesis. Huell called to confirm the taping date. The townspeople panicked! They were still awaiting the final word from Gabrielson as to the exact point. Fortunately, the very night before Huell arrived, the townspeople were called by CSUF with good news: the Center had been re-established by Gabrielson. Using their most recent technology he was able to pinpoint the "exact" Center. Everyone else involved, including the U.S. Geological Survey, verified the calculations. The show could go on! Huell & crew arrived and townspeople, as well as members from the various organizations involved in the search, were interviewed.

And so, the story was taped and everyone lived happily ever after...

Except, the other areas claiming to be the Center of California! One was at South Avenue 11 and Highway 99, a pine tree and palm tree, denoted equal distance of north and south on Highway 99. Bob Thomason of CalTrans, whose major efforts saved the trees from destruction, stated the person who originally planted the trees was unknown even though a thorough search had been made.

Another site was claimed by the town of O'Neals (12 miles south of North Fork). People there tell of old-timers who remember seeing a marker saying "Center of California" in a field ... but none could remember where.

For some, the mystery lives on. For the townspeople of North Fork, they proudly state that a few miles from the center of town, is the "exact center" of California.

A NOTE OF INTEREST A point was made by USGS's Alan Mikuni, that back in 1930 when technology was not as advanced as the present, someone had determined the Center by taking a cut-out of California and placing a point on the cut-out where it would maintain a balance. Amazingly, this point turned out to be very close to the re-established current Center!

The official Station stamped "CAL CENTER, 1996".

The station setting in a compass rose.

Quick GPSr coordinates.

Plaque stating the exact calculated coordinates.

The setting and plaque as seen from the west.

The setting and plaque as seen from the south.

The setting and plaque as seen from the south.

Looking up to the mark from the northerly staircase.

Looking up to the mark from the southerly staircase.


U.S. Bureau of Public Roads Benchmark

Latitude: 37°22.786' N
Longitude: 119°23.740' W

Elevation: 4549'

I found this mark along the Sierra Scenic Byway. It was indentified as a U.S.Bureau of Public Roads mark, stamped with a date of "1952". Additional stamping included a project station of "636+01.52", a benchmark elevation of "4597.35", and "21.13", possibly a mile mark.

I had never seen a mark placed by the U.S.Bureau of Public Roads, let alone heard of them. A quick internet search found the following:
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) was created on October 15, 1966, however it has several predecessor organizations and a complicated history. The first predecessor was the Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) founded on in 1893. In 1905 that organization's name was changed to the Office of Public Roads (OPR), and it became a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The name was changed to Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) in 1915. In 1939 the name was changed to Public Roads Administration (PRA) and it was shifted to the Federal Works Agency (FWA). With the abolition of the FWA in 1949, its name was changed back to BPR and it was shifted to the Department of Commerce. In 1967 the BPR was transferred to the newly created FHWA, and was one of three original bureaus along with the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety and the National Highway Safety Bureau (now known as NHTSA).

Benchmark detail.

Benchmark coordinates.

Benchmark setting.

The view southerly, down the road.

View of the mark and its setting under the sign from the south.

The view northerly, up the road.