Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back to Silkville

Over the years I have made many trips to Silkville, Kansas. Silkville was the dream of Frenchman Ernest Valeton de Boissière, who arrived from his native Bordeaux in 1869. He purchased 3,500 acres of land in southwest Franklin County. It is located about two miles south of Williamsburg, southwest of Ottawa on Old Highway 50. His dream was an utopian community sustained by the making of silk.

Silkville one room school

De Boissière planted mulberry trees, imported silkworms, built a 60-room building to house the original 40 French immigrants and then some. He a established a winery, purchased cattle, made butter, and built an ice house, so that his community could be totally self-sufficient. He even built a one-room school house for the children of the community. At the time, Silkville’s library was the largest library in Kansas. Boissiere's little community won various awards for its silk, including prizes at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 and the Paris Exposition in 1886.

By 1892, the dream was over. Silk was produced more cheaply elsewhere, and the members of the community found greater opportunities on their own. The property was donated to the Odd Fellows and then later sold when the fraternal organization could not afford the upkeep. In 1916, a fire destroyed the three story house.

Today, all that remains is the one room school house that stands silently with its back to Old Highway 50.

It is November 2013. The school has stood for more than one hundred years, but it is beginning to show its age.

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