Commentary
5:00 am
Tue August 26, 2014

A Tiny Kansas Schoolhouse With A Big History

Ivanpah, in Greenwood County, is today little more than a schoolhouse. I recently gave a talk about it for the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Dating from 1879, the community owed its origins to a sheep rancher named A.H. Thompson and a newspaperman, Frank Presbrey. A few days before I was to give my talk, a random internet search uncovered a story that made my jaw drop.

Almon Harris Thompson was a geographer and brother-in-law to explorer John Wesley Powell. He served as the chief topographer and geographer for Powell’s second expedition down the Colorado River in 1871. Thompson created many of the first maps of the area, often using Paiute place names—like “Ivanpah,” which means “clear water.”

Thompson then came to Kansas to try his hand at sheep ranching. He owned the land where the Ivanpah post office sat. A few years later, he left for Washington, D.C., where he became a founder of the National Geographic Society.

That’s just half of the story. Frank Presbrey was briefly an editor with the Eureka Herald. His wife was Ivanpah’s first postmistress. Soon after, however, Presbrey went to work for the promotional departments of several railroads. Returning to the East Coast from where he came, he eventually founded a major advertising firm in New York City. A leader in early advertising circles, Presbrey authored books such as A Guide for Trans-Atlantic Travellers and the History and Development of Advertising. His work with the Boy Scouts resulted in a glowing obituary in Boy’s Life in 1936.

This small schoolhouse in the Flint Hills has connections to some major names in American history!