In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya meet in a railroad crossing known as Prairie Depot. And in my newest release, The Secret Side of Jaya, she returns there in a magical sort of vein.
Yes, Prairie Depot is somewhere in the Midwest. But the region itself is hardly as homogeneous as many portray it.
- Defined: The region is generally comprised of 12 states – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. I question the inclusion of Missouri, which was a slave-holding state and thus Southern, but others try to add Oklahoma. Population 65 million.
- Breadbasket of the world: Wheat, corn, and oats are major crops, along with soybeans and sugar beets. Beef, dairy, and hog production are also huge. The fields run on for miles. And Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of cranberries.
- Major cities: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Des Moines, Omaha, Columbus, and Indianapolis head the list.
- Mall of America: The 400 stores, waterpark, and aquarium in Bloomington, Minnesota, are deemed one of the most popular tourist magnets in the country, drawing 35 million visitors a year.
- Heartland: The geographic center of North America is in Ruby, North Dakota.
- A taste for the oddball: Cawker City, Kansas, is home to the world’s biggest ball of twine. Ten feet in diameter.
- Linked by rail: The Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska, is the world’s largest railroad yard. It’s eight miles long and up to two miles wide, with 301 sets of rails.
- Horses and buggies: More Amish live in Ohio than in any other state. In 2015, there were 69,255. And Iowa has a significant number, too – about 7,000.
- Cowboy country: Much of what we consider cowboy-and-Indian out west actually took place in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. And sharpshooter Annie Oakley was raised by a Quaker family in Ohio.
- It’s not really homogenous: Each state is different, starting with the economy, religious mix, ethnic origins and culture, and amount of annual precipitation. Even the parts of a state can vary widely along these lines. Much of the eastern half of the region is heavily industrial, with steel and auto making at the fore, while other parts are intensively agricultural. There are further breakouts like the Great Lakes region or the Great Plains. And it’s not all flat, either.
What are your impressions of this part of the country?