Friday, December 16, 2011

Zenith, a dead town in Stafford County

Zenith flourished once, long years ago, but withered badly with the march of years. Now comes again new vigor and new life, springing from the petroleum inoculation. Stafford Courier, March 17, 1938

Here's a photo from Zenith's heydays - notice all the oil wells!   

ZENITH - Earl Hayes recalls a day when oil wells filled the horizon here. Back then, in the 1930s and 1940s, his little hometown of Zenith in Stafford County was spurting with the industry. The Stanolinds and Sinclairs even did business in town. There was a school, lumberyards and groceries. People moved to town and built homes. "They drew 20 million barrels of oil out of that field," the 96-year-old retired farmer said. More than 75 years have passed since Zenith's glory days, said Hayes, who now lives in Hutchinson. Trees voluntarily grow in masses across vacant lots, in between a sundry of old cars in the once bustling town just off Highway 50. Moreover, the elementary school has been empty of students for almost 50 years.
The old Zenith school.

The Zenith elevator still operates

Zenith was a cast-off. The name, which means "highest point attained," once was Sylvia, according to a story in the Stafford Courier from 1938. A man named Tom Anderson had a store there in 1874. There also was a post office called Zenith. "With the coming of the railroad, the name of Zenith was cast aside in favor of Sylvia," according to the paper. According to an account by Frances McComb Brownlee, who wrote a historical column for the Courier, the Zenith post office was moved to the town's present location around the year 1886. The town began to grow. There was a general store, blacksmith shop, cream station and lumberyard. The Farmers' Elevator was organized in 1905. A Sunday school was held in the lumberyard until a Presbyterian church was built in 1911. The bank and school district were organized in 1914. And, in 1914, Bert McComb and Bill Johnson, owners of the store, partnered together to sell Studebakers and Buicks. But, as with many a prairie town, life began to decline. The bank was sold in 1929. The auto dealership moved to Stafford. A high school closed in 1926, with high school students shipped to Stafford to receive an education. Then, one morning in 1937, "the cry of abundant oil hit the headlines of the daily papers," Brownlee wrote. The first well was discovered a half mile south of Zenith. It produced 800 barrels a day with great gas pressure. "Leasing was at a wild pace," Brownlee wrote. According to a 1938 story in the Stafford Courier, Zenith became one of the state's major oilfields.


  1. A friend is searching for a copy of a DVD made many years ago about Zenith, KS. It may have involved a Passion Play produced there. Do you know anything about it?

    1. You find information about the film - and I think view it at:
      See my comment below - didn't see that I could respond directly to you until I posted the comment below.

  2. Sorry - just saw your post! I do - try the Stafford County Museum. I borrowed a copy when I wrote the story. IT was on VHS, however.

  3. Sorry - just saw your post! I do - try the Stafford County Museum. I borrowed a copy when I wrote the story. IT was on VHS, however.

  4. The play was produced/directed by relatives of my neighbor when I was growing up. Kirsten Tretbar and Leesa Paulsen. you can find information about it at: I went to school with some of those in the movie and babysat for others. Film was made in 1999. The Paulsens in the film lived about a quarter of a mile from me, and one of the younger ones in the film bought my dad's farm. Film was made long after I left, but I know many of the people in the film. Film is well done, though I admit I am not impartial.

  5. They are going to make a come back. I have bought a building and land right off 50 and last rd heading out of zenith. I am opening a thrift store with antiques and a few new items such as dog food sugar flour can goods. Just a small variety. At my store I will have tables set around for ppl to visit .And play checkers.or domino coffee 10 cent cup. Wanting to bring back old time fun. It will be call candies country thrift store