PONIATOWSKI — It’s not entirely uncommon when traveling Wisconsin roads to find a place billing itself as being located halfway between the equator and the North Pole.
But only Poniatowski in Marathon County has staked a claim to the title “The Center of the Northwestern World.”
The geographic point 45 degrees, 0 minutes North latitude and 90 degrees, 0 minutes West longitude can be found in the town of Poniatowski, a fact that prompted lifelong resident John Gesicki in 1963 to begin pushing for recognition of the 45x90 point and putting Poniatowski on the map, so to speak.
Thanks to Gesicki and the landowners, Mr. and Mrs. Ervin Wisnewski, who sold land to the county to create a park, in 1969 Marathon County erected a sign to mark the 45x90 point.
Only, there was a problem: The land the park was on didn’t include the land the point was on. The park and a sign about the spot were located 1,063 feet from the actual spot where the 45th latitude and 90th longitude intersect.
The actual point was in the Wisnewski family’s field.
Recently, with the increasing popularity and availability of GPS technology, visitors to the site were letting Marathon County officials know they weren’t happy.
So Marathon County got to work rectifying the problem, and in September 2017 opened a new park that included a walkway to the exact spot — now marked with a bronze marker — where 45 degrees North latitude and 90 degrees West longitude intersect.
“We used to get 500 people a year out to look at corn,” Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Richard Barrett said. “Now we get about 500 people a month. It’s just amazing.”
Lines of latitude form a series of horizontal stripes around the globe and are how a distance north or south of the equator is measured. The equator sits at 0 degrees, and the degrees increase to the north or south from there. The North Pole sits at 90 degrees North, and the South Pole at 90 degrees South.
Longitude is measured from the Prime Meridian, an imaginary line that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole through Greenwich, England. With the Prime Meridian as 0 degrees, measurements to the east run from 180 degrees and to the west to 180.
The point in Poniatowski is where the line of latitude at 45 degrees North, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, intersects with the line of longitude at 90 degrees West, halfway between prime meridian in Greenwich, England, and the International Date Line, intersect.
Beginning in 1963, Gesicki, who owned Gesicki’s Store and Tavern and Moonlight Gardens in Poniatowski, spent five years piecing together maps to pinpoint the spot that could be considered the exact center of the Northwest Hemisphere. He then petitioned the U.S. Geological Survey to mark the spot.
On July 15, 1968, the Wisnewskis sold the land at a cost of $1 to the county to create a park, and in 1969, Marathon County erected a marker to mark the 45x90 point. Gesicki’s Tavern was the original home of the Official 45x90 Club registration book, and Gesicki started the practice of offering the commemorative coin to visitors.
Only four of the 45x90 hemispheric points exist on Earth, and the point in Marathon County is the most accessible. Two points are located in oceans, with 45 South, 90 East falling in the Indian Ocean and 45 South, 90 West in the Pacific Ocean. The other point, 45 North, 90 East, is located in a mountainous region in China.
It’s this connection with China that had Marathon County officials working to get the park ready in time for the first International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival in September 2017. Marathon County produces about 90 percent of the ginseng exported from the U.S., and Barrett said there’s a Chinese belief that ginseng grows well in Marathon County because it is home to a 45x90 point.
To get the park ready for the 2017 International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival, Marathon County officials got together to develop plans for the new park and begin fundraising efforts. The process took nine months, from conception to the grand opening of the park, Barrett said.
The Wisnewskis’ granddaughter, Sherry, and her husband, Francis Schueller, who now farm the property, sold the county an easement to complete the park, Barrett said.
“It was her grandfather’s hope that we’d someday put a marker out there to mark the exact spot,” Barrett said. “We were able to fulfill the family’s wishes.”
Anyone who visits the 45x90 Geographical Marker site can stop at the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Center in Wausau, about 20 miles to the east, to sign the Official 45x90 Club Book and earn a commemorative coin, which was redesigned by artists to look like the marker, Barrett said.
“It’s a really heavy, nice coin,” he said. “It really feels like you get something for your effort. I’ve had to reorder them three times now. We’re going to go broke reordering these things.
“But it really is a good thing for this area.”