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Kauffman Museum to host July 13 program on silkworms in Kansas

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Kauffman Museum invites the public to the next Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program set for 2 p.m., July 13 at the museum. The program, "Reeling in the Past: Kansas Pioneers and Silk" will focus on silk production in Kansas in the 1870s, the silkworm’s life cycle and pioneer life in early Kansas. Leading the program will be Karen Kreider Yoder and the museum’s summer campers who have participated in the July 7-11 camp on the topic. The program is free and open to the public. All ages are welcome.

Kansas once promised to be the silk capital of the world, according to Yoder, who has raised silkworms for 15 years in California and Japan. She is a fifth grade teacher at Wildwood Elementary School, Piedmont, Calif.

In the late 1800s, the town of Peabody in central Kansas was a thriving silk producing town with 10-acre silk production site where mulberry trees grew and a silk station processed silk into thread.

At the time a New York silk firm, Belding Brothers, reported that the Peabody silk was "of a very superior quality."

Silk production began when Mennonites living in Russia during the late 1700s and early 1800s were encouraged to increase their arts, crafts and manufacturing trades and began raising silkworms for silk to trade. Silk production, well-suited to the region, became a lucrative cottage industry. The Mennonites produced the silk thread from the cocoon of the moth, and young girls spent many hours spinning the fine thread into yarn. The mulberry trees, on whose leaves the caterpillar of the silk moth fed, were planted on each Mennonite plot of land.

When Russian Mennonites settled in south central Kansas in the 1870s, they were delighted to find this region was also well-suited to silk production. Families raised the silkworms in their homes and took the cocoons to the Peabody Silk Station for processing.

The Peabody Silk Station’s state funding ended after a dozen years, and the Kansas silk experiment was over, but mulberry trees are still prospering, evidence of what could have been a thriving silk industry.

Kauffman Museum is located at 27th and North Main in North Newton. Call (316) 283-1612 for more information.

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