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On Google Maps, a Town Called Atlas Keeps Disappearing

There’s proof that Atlas, Illinois, exists, and that I was once there. But its namesake grows more appropriate as the town declines.
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Madison McVeigh/CityLab

I’ve been looking for Atlas, Illinois, my entire life. For years, my daily commute involved turning east at the four-way stoplight in the center of this unincorporated town in the western part of Pike County, about 100 miles from St. Louis. After Atlas came a series of rural hamlets without zip codes that held nothing but a rock shop, a trading post that sold beer and arrowheads, one of the last drive-in theaters in America, and finally my employer: a fruit stand with three shopping carts in New Hartford, right off of Highway 54.

Despite its name, Atlas was always tough to locate. Back when road maps were still handed out free in gas stations, Atlas was always my navigational landmark. I grew up in Pleasant Hill, seven miles south along the Great River Road; as a child, I learned how to find my hometown on a map by tracing a finger along the Mississippi River, the edge of the state, looking for Atlas.