The center of California is a city you’ve likely never heard of, Census says

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (NEXSTAR) – When you think of the heart of California, you may think of its political center, Sacramento. Or maybe you think of its biggest city, Los Angeles. Or maybe a central spot like Fresno. Surprisingly, the center of California’s population isn’t exactly close to any of these.

Since the first census in 1790, the US Census Bureau has been calculating the “center of population” in the country. This is a point where an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the US would balance perfectly if everyone were of identical weight. It is the average location of where people live in the US, according to the Census Bureau.

Data from the 2020 census found Hartville, Missouri, is the “heart” of America. Since 1980, Missouri towns have been the population centers but the first-ever center in 1790 was in Maryland, just east of Baltimore.

In addition to calculating the center of population for the US, the Census Bureau is also able to calculate the “heart” of each state, including California.

Based on the latest census, California’s center of population is located at 35°29’27.7″N 119°20’52.3″W. That lands in what appears to be a field near the intersection of West Los Angeles Avenue and Palm Avenue in Shafter, about 23 miles northwest of Bakersfield.

Shafter, located within Kern County, has a population of just over 20,000, according to Census data. In the 1930s, Shafter became a home for migrants from the central US when the Farm Security Administration built a camp in the town to house them. Those migrants had come to California looking for new opportunities, scholars explain.

You can see the “heart” of California on the interactive map below:

The first center of population in California was reported in 1880 at 37° 55′ 55″N 121° 27′ 42″W, which is about 10 miles west of Stockton near Holt. That was the farthest north California’s center of population has ever been. In the decades since, it has steadily traveled south along I-5.

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By 1930, the heart of California had reached Kern County, and it hasn’t left since. The furthest south the point has ever gone was in 1990 when it landed at 35° 26′ 35″N 119° 21′ 44″W.

Below is an interactive map showing where California’s centers of population have been since 1880.

Data released last year shows Democratic-heavy California will lose a Congressional seat for the first time in its history because its population grew at a slower rate compared to other states.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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