Before you read on, look close at the photograph. Anything strange?
No, not the two boys or men sitting on top of the porch roof. Instead, look at the two young ladies in front holding brooms. What is your guess as to why?
Silkville was a commune on 3500 acres in Franklin county, Kansas. The site is 3 miles south of tiny Williamsburg, and 20 miles southwest of Ottawa, Kansas, the county seat.
Silkville was the brain child of a wealthy Frenchman from Bordeaux, Earnest Valeton de Boissiere and Charles Sears, president of the Fourierist North American Phalanx, a group promoting the idea of communal living. The project began in 1869 and ended in 1886, for economic reasons.
The year 1876 was the highlight for De Boissiere when his silk ribbons were awarded first prize over world-wide competition at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Back in Silkville, Kansas, de Boissiere and Sears built a three story, 60 room stone manor house two years earlier in 1874. Communal families shared meals in the dining room but lived in separate apartments. The house contained a library of 2,500 books, then the largest in Kansas. Curious locals from Ottawa, Kansas called the house the “Chateau” but de Boissiere preferred “phalanstery” a reference to the idea that his workers moved in close formation to achieve a common goal. Silkville benefited by being a flag stop on the Kansas City, Burlington and Santa Fe Railroad.
What about the brooms?
To make ends meet, Silkville diversified into the production of wine and cheese, as well as raising cattle. Making brooms became a cottage industry. The straw comes from broomcorn, a sorghum in the grass family. It grew exceptionally well in the Kansas. Thus, growing broomcorn and making brooms for local use and export was common.
That is Charles Sears, front left, next to the two young girls proudly showing their brooms.
History of Silkville by Janelle Richardson, Great, Great Granddaughter of Claude Clair, silk ribbon maker of Saint Etienne, France and Silkville.