Saturday, June 28, 2014

Silkville - the day they came to dance

The following story was printed in the Urbana Daily Courier, 24 September 1917. the article was printed after the Topeka Daily Capital reported the news of the sale of the Silkville property. This sale took place after a fire on April 29, 1916 partially destroyed the manor house. It was rebuilt to one-third of the original size.

Silkville, Kansas was the dream of Ernest de Boissiere, a Frenchman from Bordeaux who believed in a workers paradise based on the production of silk on his Kansas farm. In 1869, de Boissiere purchase 3,600 acres in Franklin county, south of Ottawa. He imported silkworms, planted mulberry trees, and constructed a three story home for the French workers and their families. By 1872, three silk looms at Silkville were capable of making 224 yards of ribbon a day.

Charles Sears seated at left, front row

Charles Sears, a former leader of the North America Fourier Phalanx, was made property manager. Fourier was a French philosopher who believed people would be better off living in communal societies rather than individual, private living. Fourier was a Frenchman who developed the idea of the phalanstère, a community of workers based in a single structure. In the phalanstère, private property existed, but activities such as eating and cooking were communal.

The one room school for Silkville on Old Highway 50.

Silkville school, de Boissiere in the doorway

Silkville school today

After several years, Sears had gotten silk production up and running. Cattle were brought in and milk and cheese were made. Orchards and vineyards were planted. In 1874, De Boissiere decided to come from his estate in Bordeaux to see how things were progressing. The Silkville community in its early years was secretive. To outsiders in Emporia and the small farm towns of Kansas, Fourier's ideas seemed strange. Their was talk of free love, abolition of marriage, and atheism. De Boissiere decided to open the doors of Silkville to the Kansas community and share what had been accomplished. A circular was printed, guests invited, and on the appointed Sunday the gates of Silkville were opened to all.

As the newspaper reported, "Wine was free." And everyone, children included, were invited to drink as much as they wanted. Kansas Baptists and Southern Methodists laid aside their religion for the day and all drank and danced to the music, "even forgetting it was Sunday."

Ernest de Boissiere is the small grey bearded man left of center

Dreams do not last, and de Boissiere's dream of a workers paradise in Kansas came to an end. Competition for silk, the availability of higher wages elsewhere, and the human desire to make one's own way in the world spelled the end of Silkville. In 1892, de Boissiere deeded the Silkville farm to the IOOF, and then returned to France where two years later he died.

The IOOF operated the farm as an orphanage, but after several years the project was abandoned. The property was then sold to private owners. Today all that remains of Silkville is the one room school that stands out on Old Highway 50.

a History of Silkville, by Janelle Richardson,Great-Great-Granddaughter of early settler, Claude Clair