It opens with a wintery stretch of a rural two-lane blacktop, flowing through the gently rolling hills. A worn cowboy hat rides shotgun with a newspaper fluttering in the wind. This is the start of the Super Bowl Jeep commercial, featuring Bruce Springsteen, heard ‘round the world. But what is it about this quaint chapel located at the center of everything that drew all eyes on Kansas?
Lebanon, Kansas has embraced the title of ‘Geographic Center of the United States’ (at least the contiguous 48) and has again found itself in the center of U.S. pop culture. The always-open, little white chapel is not itself the ‘exact center’ but is found in the park where a monument marking that spot has been erected. While there’s some discrepancy about if the market itself IS the exact center (this marker was historically regarded as the true center before GPS and ever-changing shorelines came into the picture) but this location has been widely adopted as the ceremonial center of the 'lower 48'.
On any given day, you can find visitors from all over exploring this little park. A farmer down the road says that he makes a game out of spotting license plates from around the country as he works the ground a few miles away from the site. Sometimes he’ll see local folks driving by on a Sunday afternoon cruise, but other times he’ll see plates from New York, Alaska, California and so many more.
While this little white chapel is a local landmark, it’s not the original chapel at the location. The original was destroyed in 2008 when a speeding car missed the turn at the ‘T’ intersection, but, like true Kansans with hearts full of grit and grace, locals rebuilt the chapel to continue to serve as a place of reflection at the center of it all. Being at the ‘center of it all’ has molded this small little town of Lebanon and having ‘The Boss’ pay a visit will be the talk of the town for years to come. But, Bruce isn’t the only influential person that has visited the geographic center. Several high-ranking Lebanese officials have visited the location over the years in celebration of the small town that shares the same name.
The center has also come up in pop culture numerous times, from its function as a home base for the Winchester brothers in Supernatural, to when President Claire Underwood gave a speech in Lebanon during the sixth season of House of Cards.
In town you can find a renovated gas station that now serves as the community’s visitor center, a great place for a pit-stop. While there are currently no restaurants or lodging in Lebanon, near-by Smith Center is home to several restaurants, lodges and bed and breakfasts.
If you’re planning your own visit to the ‘Geographic Center’, there are other must-see destinations along the way! The chapel wasn’t the only featured footage in the commercial from Kansas. Eagle-eyed viewers can spot craggy bluffs seen along the road near Norton and other fleeting visuals from the roads in the area. One of the most popular roadside attractions in the area is the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, about a 30-minute drive away in Cawker City.
If you’re still in the mood for some fresh air, Glen Elder State Park, located near Cawker City, is also a great option. Long before the U.S. was founded, native people came to be healed within the sacred waters of Waconda Springs. While the springs are now in the Glen Elder Reservoir, the Waconda Springs Replica pays tribute to this ill-fated site. Geocache Glen Elder Kansas is home to tens of thousands of geocaches, and the area in and around Glen Elder State Park is ripe for high-tech treasure hunting. (Which, did you know that Kansas is also home to the world’s oldest active geocache?)
If looking for more road trips in the area, traveling a Kansas Byway may just be a fun addition for you. There are several byways in the area (although Lebanon itself is not along a byway). The closest one is Post Rock Scenic Byway. The landscape's unique beauty and challenges required pioneers to earn their space here. And the legacy of their creativity and resourcefulness lives on. Just look at the stone fence posts for which this route was named - as functional as the day they were erected. Pioneers solved their fencing problems on the largely treeless plains by quarrying and then shaping limestone slabs. Today, that same innovative spirit has given rise to many independently minded artists, farmers and ranchers in the region.
The Prairie Trail Scenic Byway is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Post Rock Scenic Byway. When you travel the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway, you follow in the steps of Native Americans, explorers and pioneers as they sought food, shelter, adventure and a better life.
And remember, as you load up your things as you take off on your adventure, “All are more than welcome to come meet here, in the middle.”