'Silk Road' to Delafield was hardly smooth By MARGARET E. ZERWEKH
Originally published in the Lake Country Reporter Monday, May, 19th 2003
Lake Country roots.
Silk built roads across continents and spanned centuries, languages and cultures but on the frontier of territorial Wisconsin? Yes, indeed!
In 1800, Eastern merchants were calling for industrious farmers to produce silk to keep in thiscountry the millions of dollars that was going to foreign lands for silk products.
One who heard the message was Charles Delafield. (Some called him Dr. Delafield.) After all, the instruction manualssaid the process was simple. Start with silk eggs and hatch them. Feed the silk worms the leaves ofmulberry trees until they develop into cocoons. Then reel the silken threads of the chrysalis into spun silk.
Eggs originally came from China centuries ago carried by European monks who smuggled them out in hollow canes. Mulberry trees of many varieties were practically foolproof to grow, and, from 1804 on, waterpower was used for weaving, so the whole process looked straightforward.
Delafield and his wife, Louisa, immigrated to Aztalan at the same time Nelson P. Hawks wentthere, but by the time Hawks had gone back to Milwaukee, Delafield had moved to the village thateventually was named for him.
About 1837, he built a frame house on Section 19 on land of which the Pearmain family became the owners of record. Delafield claimed land in Sections 18, 20, 21 and 22, and also on Section 17, where the Bark River flowed out of Lake Nagawicka.
Louisa's uncles, the bishops of Pennsylvania and New York, along with her father, Paraclete Potter, also acquired land inthose sections.
Charles Delafield thus had land for raising mulberry trees and a mill site. According to thepublished Delafield family history, he planned to manufacture silk carpets in the mill he intended to build.
Unfortunately, Delafield died at age 27 on June 4, 1842, on a business trip in St. Louis. There is no indication that any other local villager intended going into silk production. However, it was tried elsewhere in the territory: Oshkosh, Southport (Kenosha), Manitowoc and Geneva. The 1840 federal census recorded onehalf pound of cocoons produced in Rock County in 1839-40.
Charles Delafield's acres were used to raise corn and wheat, and a seminary and a military academy were built on them, and his mill site was used to produce flour and lumber. Had he survived and accomplished his dream of silk production, I-94 could have become the Silk Road of the West.