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 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. But the townspeople of North Fork proudly state that a few miles from the center of town is the true “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!