Silk Culture.The culture of silk was first introduced into Kansas by Ernest V. Boissiere, a Frenchman, who came to the United States in 1851. In 1869 he bought a tract of nearly 4,000 acres of land near Williamsburg, Franklin county, where he began to raise silk-worms. He had noticed that the climate of Kansas was very similar to that of the silk producing section of France, where the business was prosperous, and he believed that silk culture could be made a profitable industry in Kansas. He planted 70 acres to Russian mulberry trees and induced several French families who understood the business to come to Kansas. In a short time more than 40 French people, some of them being expert in raising silk-worms and manufacturing silk, were located in Franklin county, the colony becoming known as Silkville. His first silk-worms were produced from California eggs, and in 1870 he began weaving silk ribbon, his looms having a capacity of 224 yards a day. The following year he began weaving silk cloth. In 1873 he imported eggs from Japan and in 1874 the cocoons showed a marked improvement. Those of 1875 were still better than the first generation bred from Japanese eggs, and by this time he had demonstrated that the silk produced in Kansas was of an excellent quality, surpassing much that was imported. He sold his product at high prices, but said: "There seems to be a good business in it for the commission man, but not for me." He exhibited his products at the Centennial exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 and was awarded a diploma, but the profits not coming up to his expectations, the enterprise was finally abandoned.
In the early '80s, the Russian Mennonites who settled in Marion, Harvey, Sedgwick and Reno counties, planted mulberries and achieved a certain success in raising silk-worms, many of them having been engaged in this occupation in southern Russia.
Gov. Martin, in his message to the legislature in 1887, said that the subject was "worthy of careful investigation," and suggested that the legislature appoint a committee "to ascertain such facts as are attainable and recommend such action as may be deemed necessary or advisable." As a result of the governor's suggestion, an act was passed on March 17, 1887, by which the sum of $13,000 was appropriated, "for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and conducting a silk station of Kansas." A board of three commissioners, consisting of J. S. Codding of Pottawatomie county, J. H. Morse of Marion county and Dr. Charles Williamson of Washington county, was appointed. The commissioners were to hold office for two years, and they were authorized to locate a silk station and provide for its equipment.
The towns which offered the best locations and desired the station, were Peabody, Hutchinson, Larned and McPherson. The commissioners decided on Larned, and appointed as superintendent, Prof. I. Horner of Emporia, a well known silk culturist, but he did not approve of the location and Peabody was selected. A contract was let for a $3,000 building, the necessary machinery and planting of trees. The act of 1889 provided for a resident commissioner at Peabody, who was "to purchase such equipment as might be necessary for the successful working of a silk station." A superintendent was to have charge of the station, procure and distribute silk-worm eggs, and in every way encourage the development of the industry. The sum of $10,000 was appropriated for the support of the institution, and subsequent appropriations were something like $7,500 each. The station occupied 10 acre of land, on which were raised mulberry trees and other varieties of plants used as food for silk-worms. The two-story building was equipped with boiler, engine and ten reels. From 4 to 10 men were employed throughout the year.
The primary work of the station was to raise silk-worm eggs for free distribution to such residents of Kansas as might desire to grow cocoons. From 50 to 150 ounces of eggs were produced each year. After the people who had obtained the eggs and raised the cocoons, which the station bought at the rate of $1 per pound, reeled and sold the commercial silk. This reeling, which is a very slow process, constituted the bulk of the work done at the station. The eggs were furnished in April and the work of hatching and raising the worms was done during the last of April and first of May. Many people in the state secured eggs from the station and sold the cocoons, but the station never paid, as the reelers had to be paid much higher wages in Kansas, than in foreign silk producing countries. Consequently, in 1897 the legislature passed an act repealing all laws for the encouragement of silk culture, and appointed the chairman of the board of county supervisors of Marion county, the secretary of state and state treasurer, a board to lease or sell the Peabody silk station. Before disposing of the station, the board was to "negotiate with the United States department of agriculture, with a view to establishing a national experiment station, for the purpose of continuing, perpetuating and disseminating the knowledge of sericulture," and if the department did take up the plan, the station was to be donated to the government. Nothing was done by the national government and the silk industry in Kansas came to an end.Pages 694-696 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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