Jump to Navigation

Billard Family Papers

KSHS Collection no. 3



The collection consists of 45 folders of letters, business records, legal papers, and diaries relating to the Billard family. The collection covers the years 1872-1879, 1886-1920, and 1922-1959. The correspondence in this collection is between family members, friends, and business acquaintances. The Billards were of French ancestry and, consequently, several letters in the collection are written in French. There are also a few letters written in German. Additional information on the Billard family may be found in the Library at the Kansas State Historical Society Research Center.

This collection was donated by the Robert T. Billard estate, Topeka, Kansas, on August 8, 1961. There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


The major correspondents in this collection are members of the Billard and Laurent families. Both families came to the United States from France in the mid 1850s and both were fleeing the tyranny of Emperor Napoleon III’s regime. The families were related by the marriage of J. B. Billard and Hermance P. Laurent. The Billard and Laurent families were close and the majority of the correspondence occurs when family members were separated. The main correspondents in this collection are Hermance P. Laurent Billard, J. B. Billard, Robert T. Billard, L. Philip Billard, Clarisse Laurent, and Maurice Laurent.

Hermance P. Laurent was born on November 16, 1850, in the city of Provina, Department de Siene et Marne, France. She was the daughter of Louis Pierre and Louise Clarisse Laurent. Louis Laurent was a postal official in France who was jailed by Emperor Napoleon III for distributing republican literature. Louis Laurent escaped from prison and fled, with his family, to the U. S. In 1859 the Laurent Family settled in Topeka and after a period of hardship opened a general store. Education was important to the family and in the early 1870s Hermance attended Vassar. On August 21, 1875, Hermance married J. B.

J. B. Billard’s father was also an exile from Napoleon III’s France. Gilbert Billard brought his family to the U. S. about the same time as the Laurent family arrived. As with the Laurent family, the Billard family also endured some hardship in Topeka before they were able to establish themselves. Julius Billard was a successful business man. He was founder and vice president of the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company, owner and operator of the Central Mill and Elevator, and a founder and director of the Shawnee State Bank. In addition he was a member of several fraternal organizations: the Topeka Lodge #204 of the Brotherhood of Elks, Topeka Lodge #1 of the International Order of Odd Fellows, Lodge #3 of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and Topeka Eirie #58 of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In addition, J. B. served as mayor of Topeka from 1910 to 1914. He also undertook an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1912.

The Billards were a prominent Topeka family. Many family members were involved in numerous business ventures. The family was well educated and well traveled.

J. B. and Hermance Billard had three sons. The oldest, named Reamer, was born December 1, 1880. Next came Robert Tutt who was born August 29, 1883. Their youngest, and most well known, son was L. Philip who was born April 27, 1891.

J. B. and Hermance Billard’s oldest son, Reamer, went to El Paso, Texas.

Robert T. Billard owned the Speedwell Auto Company and a parts store in Topeka, Kansas, in the early twentieth century. As a consequence, Robert was involved in the early days of automobile travel. Robert was later secretary and manager of the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company and also manager of the Central Mill and Elevator, both located in Topeka. On November 15, 1920, he married Leila Burgess. Leila was the composer of the World War I song, “Come and Be a Red Cross Nurse for Me.”

The youngest son, Philip, was also involved with the early days of automobile travel but was also well known in the Topeka area for his flying skills in the early days of aviation. When the U. S. entered World War I, Philip volunteered for service in the United States Army as a pilot. After training in Colorado, California, and New York, Philip was sent overseas and eventually was stationed in France. In France, Philip was assigned the dangerous duty of test pilot. On July 24, 1918, Philip Billard was killed when the aircraft he was testing crashed. In 1940 the Philip Billard Airport in Topeka, Kansas, was dedicated to his memory.

Another family member whose correspondence is found in the collection is Clarisse Laurent. Clarisse was Hermance’s younger sister. Born in New York City on September 16, 1857, Clarisse later studied music and art. In 1886 Clarisse and her parents, who were home sick for their native country, traveled to France. While in France, Clarisse studied art with Rondel and Le Fevre. Clarisse was a charter member of the Topeka Art Guild and had a studio in Oakland, California. She died in Topeka on December 14, 1940.

Another member of the Laurent family with correspondence in this collection is Maurice Laurent. Maurice was the nephew of Hermance and Clarisse.

Scope and Content

The Billard family papers are contained in four boxes in 45 folders and are arranged in chronological order. The collection spans the years 1872-1879, 1886-1920, and 1922-1959. The collection has two major sections.

The first major section consists of letters and responses with some personal business mixed in as well. The first section includes the political papers of J. B., centering on his unsuccessful 1912 bid for governor of Kansas. In addition, the first section contains the flight records of Philip Billard.

The second major section of the collection includes miscellaneous business papers, legal papers, the records of the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company (1952-1957), three small notebooks, two diaries (one by an unknown author in 1904, the other belonging to Philip Billard in 1918), certificates and commissions for Philip Billard, and Philip Billard’s personal papers sent home from France after his death in 1918.

The first major section is organized chronologically. The majority of correspondence between family members occurs when some family member is away from home for an extended period of time. For example, during the period 1886-1890, Clarisse Laurent travels to France and the majority of correspondence for this time period is from or deals with Clarisse’s trip.

The 1872-1879 correspondence consists of letters written to Hermance Laurent from school acquaintances. Some of the letters were sent to Hermance while she was at Vassar and others were sent to her home in Topeka. The two major correspondents of this time were Samuel Booth of Chicago, Illinois, and Mary Gunn of Washington, Connecticut. These letters tell of various social happenings and discuss general topics such as weather or health. The historical importance of these letters would be in their insight into day to day living in the 1870s. A problem with this section is that many of the letters deal with unidentifiable people and have little to say of the Billard family or local events.

After a seven year gap, correspondence resumes when Hermance’s sister Clarisse and their parents take a trip to France. Clarisse spent the years 1886 to 1889 studying art in Paris under Rondel and Le Fevre. There are other correspondents during this time, but most of the letters are from Clarisse. The importance of Clarisse’s letters comes from the descriptions of travel, France, and her schooling. Some, or parts of, Clarisse’s letters are written in French.

The correspondence for the period 1891-1910 is of a general nature. Notably there are several letters worth mentioning. First, there is a series of letters received by various family members from Maurice Laurent, Hermance’s nephew. Maurice was in the United States Navy at the time and served aboard the U.S.S. Iowa and U.S.S. Washington. The dates of these letters are November 5 and 6, and December 7, 1906, and March 3, April 9, and May 4, 1907. These letters give insight into life in the Navy for that period. These letters are found in box #1 folder #6. A letter of interest is one written by Robert T. Billard to his brother Philip. Philip was on a cross country automobile trip at the time. The letter is dated September 11, 1910, and deals extensively with early automobile travel, costs of automobile parts, information on new models, and other automobile related topics. Robert Billard also gives an account of an automobile trip from Kansas City to New Mexico that was plagued by muddy roads. This letter may be found in box #1 folder #7.

The correspondence for the years 1911-1912 deals almost exclusively with the 1912 gubernatorial campaign of J. B. Much of the correspondence for this period is from supporters of Billard expressing their opinions on the issues of the day. Of these four letters are worth mentioning. First is a letter dated October 31, 1911, from C. T. Etzold of Independence, Kansas, expressing his distaste of woman’s suffrage and prohibition. The second letter of interest is dated November 3, 1911, and is from V. E. Preston of Wichita, Kansas. Mr. Preston writes an informative letter on why he feels prohibition does not work in Sedgwick County. Next is a letter to the editor of the Topeka Journal dated January 24, 1912, from W. F. Sekovec, who was county clerk of Ellsworth County at the time. The letter is anti-prohibition and full of support for J. B. The last letter of interest dated February 29, 1912, is from a B. G. Walker of Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Walker’s letter is an essay on the political climate in Kansas in 1912. These letters are of importance due to their evaluations of the political issues of 1912 and especially the issue of prohibition. These letters may be found in box #1 folder #8.

Many of these political letters are addressed to Billard’s campaign manager, Henry Albach. Albach was a German-American newspaperman from Lawrence, Kansas. Albach’s connections with German-American interests are evident in the many letters he received from the Deutsch-Amerikanerisher National Bund in Kansas City, Kansas. Many of these letters are in German.

The period of correspondence from 1913-1918 deals, primarily, with Philip Billard’s flying and military experiences. Philip Billard’s correspondence while flying around the country and while in France dominate this period, save one notable exception. In a letter dated March 22, 1913, and written to C. S. Gleed of Topeka, Kansas, Hermance’s brother, Louis C. Laurent, outlines the Laurent family history and gives an eyewitness account of the early days of Topeka. This letter is of interest to anyone studying the early days of Topeka, Kansas. This letter may be found in Box #2 folder #1.

Most of the letters written by Philip Billard prior to World War I were to his brother Robert and deal with Philip’s travels in his airplane, giving exhibitions at fairs and the like. In these letters Philip writes of the problems encountered by the early aviators, his flights, and other information of an aviation and travel nature. There are also flight records located in box #2 folder #1.

The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard (1917-1918) deals with his experiences in France with the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center where he was a test pilot. These letters to his father and brother are fairly detailed and may be checked against his wartime diary of 1918. The diary is located in box #4 folder #7.

The next period of time covered is 1919-1920 and most of the correspondence of this period is between Robert and his father J. B. During this period Robert Billard takes an extended trip to California and most of the correspondence pertains to this trip. Other letters are between Robert and his future wife, Leila Burgess. These letters are of a very general nature. One exception is a letter to Robert from Leila dated November 15, 1920.
This letter was written while Leila was on a trip to New York City and deals with the night life she encountered. This letter is detailed and may be found in box #3 folder #4.

The period of 1922-1930 is dominated by a trip to Europe by Robert and Leila, as well as the family taking possession of the remains of Philip Billard. Much of the correspondence for this time is between J. B. and the United States Army and the federal government concerning the procedures for claiming and reinterning the remains of Philip Billard. Also included in this period are postcards from Robert and Leila Billard’s trip to Europe, their hotel and restaurant bills from their European trip, as well as miscellaneous bills and legal papers pertaining to personal business. This period contains material of a very general nature. Some letters appearing in this portion are written in French.

The correspondence of the period 1931-1959 is of a general nature and has no dominating theme or event. Included in this period are papers pertaining to the last will and testement of J. B., a copy of a speech given by Senator Arthur Capper at the presentation of Philip Billard’s aircraft to the Kansas State Historical Society on July 24, 1938, and a program from the dedication of the Philip Billard Municipal Airport, June 23, 1940, in Topeka, Kansas. Other correspondence of this time includes the Billard family’s attempt to keep the Sardou Bridge from being built on their land and legal papers pertaining to this and other matters. This last section of correspondence covers a long period of time with few letters from family members.

The second major section of the Billard family papers deals with business, property, and legal concerns. Along with this is a Billard-Laurent family history and Billard family birth and marriage certificates. Some of the birth and marriage certificates are written in French.

Included in this section is the wartime diary of Philip Billard. This diary has been microfilmed and is available on manuscript microfilm roll number 0205. Philip Billard’s wartime diary has short but detailed accounts of his experiences in the First World War. This diary helps clarify things such as his location in France and other things of a military nature such as the types of aircraft he was flying, about which he was not allowed to write home by the wartime censors. Also in this group is a short diary for the year 1904. The author of this diary is unknown and the entries are short and not very detailed.

Also in this section we find the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company financial records for the years 1952-1957. These records are a fairly complete accounting of monthly profits, losses, monthly sales, resources, liabilities, and expenses. Along with this are the personal records of Philip Billard as well as certificates relating to his flying abilities and commissions as a First Lieutenant in the Kansas National Guard and the United States Army. Included in this section are personal papers of Philip Billard, such as addresses, expense notebooks, identification cards, and snapshots. Some of these papers are written in French.

Jim Petersen
Washburn University
Intern, Spring, 1987

Contents List

Section One– Correspondence

Box 1

Folder 1 Letters to Hermance Laurent-Billard from college acquaintances, 1872-1879
Folder 2 Letters from Clarisse Laurent to Billard family members from her trip to Paris – February-June, 1886
Folder 3 Letters from Clarisse Laurent in Paris—July-October, 1886
Folder 4 Letters from Clarisse Laurent in Paris—November, 1886-1880.
Folder 5 General correspondence—1891-1903
Folder 6 Letters from Maurice Laurent while in the Navy—1904-1907
Folder 7 General correspondence—1908-1910
Folder 8 The political correspondence of J. B. Billard while Mayor of Topeka and concerning his bid for governor—1911-May, 1912
Folder 9 J. B. Billard’s political correspondence—June, 1912
Folder 10 J. B. Billard’s political correspondence—July 1-15, 1912
Folder 11 J. B. Billard’s political correspondence---July 16-23, 1912
Folder 12 J. B. Billard’s political correspondence—July 24-31, 1912
Folder 13 J. B. Billard’s political correspondence and general correspondence—August-December, 1912

Box 2

Folder 1 General correspondence, 1913-1916
Folder 2 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard—1917
Folder 3 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard—January- March, 1918
Folder 4 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard—April, 1918
Folder 5 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard—May, 1918
Folder 6 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard—June, 1918
Folder 7 The wartime correspondence of Philip Billard, a detailed report from the American Red Cross concerning Philip Billard’s death, and general correspondence—July-December, 1918
Folder 8 General correspondence—1919

Box 3

Folder 1 Robert Billard’s correspondence from his trip to California— January-April, 1920
Folder 2 Robert Billard’s California correspondence—May-July, 1920
Folder 3 Robert Billard’s California correspondence—August-July, 1920
Folder 4 Robert Billard’s California correspondence, Leila Burgess’s letters from trip to New York City—November-December, 1920
Folder 5 Robert and Leila Billard’s European trip, general correspondence—1922-1930
Folder 6 General correspondence and undated letters, 1931-1959

Section Two– Business and Legal Papers

Folder 7 Abstract of Title to various Shawnee County properties
Folder 8 Billard and Laurent family history
Folder 9 Billard family birth and marriage certificates
Folder 10 Deeds
Folder 11 Land Patent assigned to Gilbert Billard
Folder 12 Miscellaneous legal papers
Folder 13 Mortgages
Folder 14 Copy of a speech given by J. B. Billard against prohibition
Folder 15 Stock Certificates

Box 4

Folder 1 The Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company by-laws
Folder 2 Miscellaneous Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company records
Folder 3 Monthly financial statements for the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company—February, 1952-December, 1953
Folder 4 Monthly financial statements for the Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company—February, 1954-December, 1957
Folder 5 Mutual Ice and Cold Storage Company list of stockholders
Folder 6 The personal papers of Philip Billard—1918
Folder 7 Notebooks and diary of Philip Billard
Folder 8 First Lieutenant commissions of Philip Billard
Folder 9 Aero Club of America Certificate for Philip Billard