Where’s the Midwest, anyway?

Jonathan Franzen takes a stab shot at it:

Indiana is a special case. Evansville is the South. Fort Wayne is still Rust Belt, Valparaiso is definitely Midwest. That’s actually an interesting way to approach it — to define where my boundaries of the Midwest run. I think it begins around Columbus, Ohio — Thurberville — and stretches west. Anything below I-70 is basically southern. And that’s true right across Missouri. My Midwest is bounded on the south by I-70. It stretches all the way to about an hour east of Denver and includes pretty much all of the Great Plains states north of I-70… You can take all of Kansas, some of Oklahoma, too. But not, for example, downstate Illinois. You start hearing the South in people’s voices. They don’t sound like Tom Brokaw anymore.

Inasmuch as I-70 runs through the northern half of Kansas, you can’t take any of Oklahoma, not even Midwest City, Oklahoma.

From the purely-historical standpoint, it makes more sense to me to put the boundary, not along I-70, but along US 40, the old National Road. Still, it’s hard for me to think of Terre Haute — even the south side of Terre Haute — as “basically southern.”

(From Blographia Literaria, via The Urbanophile.)


  1. Old Grouch »

    8 August 2009 · 2:14 pm

    Noting that between Indianapolis and Terre Haute US-40 runs north of I-70 (but I get your point)…

    I agree with you: For Indiana, 40/70 is too far north. IMO, US-50 (Cincinnati to St.Louis) is more accurate. (Is the “cutter” culture around Bedford “southern”?)

    Myself, I wouldn’t call any part of Indiana, excepting maybe the strip along the Ohio River, “south.” To me, southern IN culture remains more “midwest;” there’s a definite change in atmosphere when you cross the Ohio. (Although Louisville != Harrodsburg != Hazard, either.) The “Hoosier twang” (which is not southern, and which you’ll hear in Mitch Daniels’s voice when he’s distracted or on the hustings) is common from the river all the way north to the Fort Wayne-Lafayette axis.

    In Illinois, the line may be even farther south. Looking at the map, you can see it in the way the place names change around Du Quoin: To the south and west: Mitchellsville, Herod, Cave In Rock, Round Knob, Pinckneyville, Buncombe. North and eastward: Albion, Centralia, Belle Prairie City, West Liberty, Beckemeyer… Maybe I-64, from St. Louis to Evansville?

  2. CGHill »

    8 August 2009 · 2:29 pm

    A Twitter friend from Mississippi points out: “To people here, you’re not really in the South until you hit Memphis.” This suggests I-40, which does in fact go through Oklahoma City; on the other hand, it excludes the northern halves of Tennessee and North Carolina.

  3. Jeffro »

    8 August 2009 · 6:36 pm

    Some of the thickest southern accents in OK are north of Tulsa – and on into SE Kansas and SW Missouri as well.

    I was in TN a couple weeks ago eating at Loretta Lynn’s Rock A Billy Cafe at Hurricane Mills and “us Kansans” fit right in as far as accents went.

    I’d say there are “pockets” of the South scattered in what we probably agree is the Midwest, until you get further south and it’s pockets of the Midwest in the South. If that makes any sense at all.

RSS feed for comments on this post