The new population center of the United States is a town I’m sure you’ve never heard of before, though I have. It’s Plato, Mo., a town 22 winding miles southwest of Fort Leonard Wood. The population is 109, up from 74 in 2000.
As you approach Plato from the east on Missouri 32, you pass a road on the right called Groves Drive. My great grandmother was a Groves. The next street on the right is called Kimrey Drive. My great grandfather was a Kimrey. They both lived and died in Plato. I’m probably exaggerating if I say I’m related to all 109 residents of Plato, but I’m related to a sizable percentage of the people who live there, and perhaps an even more sizable percentage of the people buried in the cemetery there.
My great grandparents lived in a small, 4-room house on Kimrey Drive. They raised 13 kids in that tiny house. Some of them, including my grandmother, left for Kansas City in the years during and following World War II. Work was more plentiful in Kansas City, after all. My grandmother wasn’t Molly the Riveter, building airplanes. She worked at Pratt & Whitney, building the engines that went on the airplanes.
But some of her brothers and sisters did stay. And that’s why I say I’m probably related to a sizable number of Plato’s residents.
I’ve been to Plato probably a half-dozen times, always for family reunions. And all I can say is Plato is either your dream place to live, or it isn’t. You’ve got your rolling Ozark hills and lots of vegetation, so it’s beautiful almost all the time, with the possible exception of during the winter when there’s no snow and everything’s just bare and cold. And it’s off to itself, so it’s very peaceful. So if peace and tranquility and nature rank 1-3 on your list of priorities, it’s your kind of place. As for amenities, it has a cafe, a bank, a primary school, and a high school. That’s one of each. And two churches, Baptist and Christian (Disciples of Christ). And not much else. So if amenities rank high on your list of priorities, it’s probably not your kind of place.
My direct ancestor, Alfred Kimrey, came to Plato in 1859, a year after the village got its name. It wouldn’t be incorporated for another 15 years. So while my ancestors weren’t the very first to be there–someone else had to be there to name it a year before Alfred arrived with his young family–they were certainly among the first. He and countless numbers of his descendents are buried in Stark Cemetery in Plato, and some of his direct descendents still live in Plato today.
And that probably has something to do with why there’s a Kimrey Drive in Plato, Mo., the 2010 population center of the United States.