Silkville, Kansas

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I, lines 168 – 170.

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Ernest in his old age.

 

These lines might have been a fitting comment for Ernest Valeton de Boissière (1811 – 1894) a Frenchman who dreamed of establishing a utopian community in Kansas where everyone would share in the wealth. De Boissière was a disciple of Charles Fournier, a French utopian who believed that success in life was the product of cooperation and care. Fournier’s ideas spawned the creation of several utopian communities in the United States. Thus, did de Boissière dream of  the community of Silkville, Kansas where families would peacefully coexist and profit from the wealth of silk spun by the caterpillar of the silk moth.

The Life of Ernest Valeton de Boissière.

In 1868, De Boissière at the age of 58, bought 3500 acres of land in Franklin County, southeast of Ottawa and near present day Williamsburg. Thus, was Silkville born.Image

If you are driving the stretch of I-35 between Emporia and Kansas City, take the Williamsburg exit, find Old Highway 50 and travel east and south a few miles. The land is gently rolling farmland, good today for cattle and hay.

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At the corner of the highway stands a one room school used by the French families who emigrated to Kansas to live on and work the farm.

In 1870, 70 acres of white mulberry trees were planted and French silkworm eggs were imported from California. By 1874 a three story building was constructed to house the French families who came to work the farm.

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Two years later in 1876, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Silkville displayed its silk ribbons to an adoring public.

The Kansas Exhibit at the Centennial:

“featured “massive apples, tall corn shocks, varieties of timber, and other products,” including grains, grasses, minerals, and stuffed birds. No where in this exhibition, nor that shown by any other state or nation was there a display of hard red winter wheat under the name “Turkey” or its synonyms. Instead, the reputation of the Kansas display was based almost entirely on corn, on horticultural products arranged in interesting shapes, and, on almost the entire output of a new Franklin county specialty — silk culture.”

Kansas Historical Quarterly

In the years that followed, the farm switched to butter and cheese, as cheaper imports of Japanese and Chinese silk ribbons became available.

The families sent their children to school. It is the same one-room school that still stands guard over the highway that leads to Silkville.

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Silkville One-room School

The community of Silkville itself did not survive. Apparently, the human desire to be free and independent is stronger than the spirit of cooperation and caring.

By 1892, de Boissière, approaching the age of 82, decided to set his affairs in order. He desired that the farm be converted to an orphanage and donated the land to the organization of International Order of Odd Fellows. But even this hope of contiuing to aid the less fortunate faded. Financial problems caused the land to go into foreclosure, and lawyers, who are a little less visionary sold the land off.

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The dream may have ended but the idea of sharing and caring is universal.

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