Williamsburg, in the southwest part of Franklin County, was established as a railroad town in 1868. William Schofield and James F. Dane platted the town, and Schofield promoted a railroad, the Kansas City, Burlington and Santa Fe, which ran down from Ottawa. The W.C. Fogles, who arrived in 1869, were important citizens, operating a general store and involving themselves in other local industries, such as coal mining. At one time the Williamsburg Coal Company had a capacity of 25-30 tons of high-grade coal a day which was marketed directly to consumers within a 20 to 50 mile radius.
There are several interesting homes and churches to view. In recent years, a barbecue restaurant, Guy and Mae's Tavern, has brought state and regional recognition to the community.
Southwest of Williamsburg stood Silkville, a silk ribbon producing commune founded by Ernest Valeton de Boissiere, a wealthly native of Bordeaux, France. Mulberry trees, planted to feed the silkworms, can still be seen.
Silkville in Early Days
[From an 1930's Ottawa Newspaper]
Recently an Associated Press item appeared in the daily papers that Silkville had been sold to a Kansas City man.
In the first place, few people know what Silkville is. From the name one would infer it is a town. it is not. It is a tract of land of 3,600 acres of land in one body near Williamsburg, in Franklin county.
It was bought by E. V. Boissiere, a Frenchman, the latter part of 1869 for the purpose of propogating silk worms.
Charles Sears, an American had charge of the place, and while a great many Frenchmen were brought to Silkville to work the place was always under Mr. Sear's management.
A sandstone fence four feet high, nicely laid up, was built around the entire place.
The buildings on the farm consisted of a large three-story stone dwelling house 40 by 80 feet, a three story cheese and butter factory, a very large one-story stone building in which the silk worms were kept and fed, and a similar building for a blacksmith shop and workroom, several large barns and sheds for stock.
The farm was well stocked with the finest bred cattle and horses, and the cheese industry was looked closely after and a very fine product was turned out.
Twenty acres of the choicest land were set out with mulberry trees for feed for the silk worms. Outside of this large vineyards and orchards were put out and farming of all kinds was engaged in.
To this day not a half-dozen people know why the silk industry failed, notwithstanding the quality of silk made there compared with the very best of Italy's product. The real reason and the only reason for the failure was on account of there not being a protective tariff on raw silk, and the high price of labor in this country could not compete with the low paid labor of Europe. This is the reason Mr. Boissiere gave me. The first cocoons were made in 1875.
Up to the third year very few outsiders were allowed on the place, and what went on in a measure was somewhat of a mystery to the people who lived near.
However during the early summer of 1874 Mr. Boissiere left his palatial home in France to come over, and see how Silkville was getting along. And it certainly had improved wonderfully, for there had been no lack of money to spend on the place and the trees of all kinds had made great growth and the crops looked fine and the Frenchman was highly pleased.
His grapes had made great growth and the year before had made a wonderful yield, and the amount of wine made for his use and barreled up was something great.
He pronounced the wine very fine and as it was in strawberry time and the vines were loaded with large red berries, he concluded it would be a good time to let the people visit the "Frenchman's American home," as he termed it.
So notices were printed in the Ottawa and Burlington papers that on a certain Sunday excursion trains would run to Silkville, and everybody was invited to come and see how silk was made.
Large crowds went from Ottawa, Williamsburg, Burlington, Waverly and all other places along the line, and at 11 o'clock on the morning of that day there was a great assemblage.
Wine was free. Everyone was urged to drink all they wanted. Children as well as grown people were asked to help themselves.
There were strawberries, ice cream and most anything one cared for. However, you had to pay for what you ate.
In those days prohibition did not cut as much figure as it does now and a great many indulged. About time for dinner most everyone commenced to feel pretty good. They would drink a glass or two of wine and then stroll through the grounds or visit the various buildings where the worms were being fed or something was going on.
After dinner was over in a very large room there was nothing but a fine upright piano and a few chairs. Soon an orchestra appeared and some good old dance music was being placed, and it was not long before that room was filled with many dancers.
Good old brothers and sisters who were leaders of church societies at home were enjoying the Virginia reel and there never was a dance in Kansas where the enthusiasm ran as high, and old men and ladies who had not danced before since they were young men and women laid aside their religion and spent a happy afternoon. They even forgot it was Sunday.
While the dance went on the waiters carefully looked after the guests and no one was allowed to go thirsty. In an adjoining room were others who did not care to dance, and some great talks were made by some of the gentlemen, and the old Frenchman was paid many fine compliments.
About 6 o'clock in the afternoon Boissiere appeared for the first time and he remarked in French, "this is a great crowd of healthy people, judging from the red faces." and they were sure red.
As the sun disappeared beyond the western hills the excursionists commenced to leave for their trains standing on the track about a half mile away, and it was some time before all were ready to go, but obliging trainmen patiently waited until all were on board and the first and only excursion party ever entertained by Boissiere returned home tired and worn out.
And Silkville, where hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to create a great industry will soon be cut up into small tracts and in a few years will be forgotten and known only in history. There is no question when Boissiere made his last visit to this country he came with the purpose of giving the property to an organization that would keep it together and his name be commemorated for all time to come. It is a shame it was not. It was an ideal place for a home and there are many who will never think but the Odd Fellows were defrauded out of it.
Boissiere realized within five years after he bought the land that the silk industry would not be made to pay, but there is no doubt he would have made the wine and cheese industries a success, but at that time the agitation of prohibition was high in Kansas and he saw it was bound to come and like the raising of silk the wine making was abandoned. Years before he gave the place to the Odd Fellows it was nothing but just a large farm.
L. C. Stine of Ottawa who was a great friend of Boissiere, and who got him to deed the place to the Odd Fellows, made a grand and noble fight for the order, but was finally defeated. It was after Boissiere's death that the litigation commenced and was in the courts for several years.
How Boissiere came to Kansas to engage in the silk industry was never known. Up to the time he deeded the place to the Odd Fellows he spent less than a year on the place, and at times their would be intervals of two and three years at a time when he never came near it.
Lem A. Woods.