Koreshan State Park, south of Fort Myers in Estero, is a wonderful place to camp, fish, picnic, take your dog for a walk, and even kayak to a famous Indian Mound in Estero Bay.
It is also the home to America’s weirdest ghost town for the park contains eleven buildings, constructed from 1882 to 1920, by an unusual sect known as Koreshan Unity. In fact its last four remaining members donated the beautiful village to the State of Florida in 1962.
Florida’s frontier wilderness was an ideal location for controversial and unorthodox groups of people like this communal group to settle and this was probably the largest and most unusual community in the South.
Koreshan Unity began in the 1870’s in New York when people became followers of DR. CYRUS REED TEED, who took the name Koresh (Hebrew for Cyrus). His new faith was called KORESHANITY and its most unique concept was that the entire universe existed within a giant, hallow sphere.
In 1894, “the Great Koresh” as critics proclaimed him, arrived in Estero, Florida, a tiny farming settlement south of Fort Myers. Here they built a strange communal colony where three groups of participants lived: the non-believers or PATRONS of EQUATION, who could marry, have kids, and join in civil activities.
The middle ground of people were the DEPARTMENT OF EQUITABLE ADMINISTRATION, people who could have sex but only to reproduce more members. The elite or CELEIBRATE or COMMUNAL, could not wed and practiced celibacy. Thus, there were houses with families and houses with only men or women.
Teed’s death in 1908 started the gradual decline of a community where the most avid followers couldn’t have children. In 1961 the last remaining members deeded the land with its unusual tropical gardens to the State of Florida.
The Koreshan group were active conservationists, planting gardens and practicing skillful farming. In 1906 they formed a Florida chapter of the Progressive Labor Party and tried to incorporate Estero, but their declining numbers and divisions within their ranks undermined their political efforts.
Walking around the Koreshan Unity community is a fascinating way to see how a utopian communal group survived in the wilderness. A shell path leads from the campground into the village where the PLANETARY COURT BUILDING (1903) housed the women of the Planetary Council who governed the colony. (Yes, female rulers.)
The two-story wooden house is the FOUNDERS HOME or MASTERS HOUSE (1896), built by Koresh and the site of most educational training.
The path on the right leads to the amazing ART HALL (1905), filled with the wonderful art work of Unity members. There are instruments from the community band. Most odd are the scientific objects designed to explain the Koreshan theory of the universe and the Cellular Cosmogony where the earth is a hallow sphere in which is the sun, moon, and stars.
There are many small cottages like the GUSTAVE DUMKOHLER COTTAGE (1900). The colony was headquartered in Chicago where most of the Florida group originated.
The self-sufficiency of the community is seen in the large BAKERY next to the VESTA NEWCOMB COTTAGE and MEMBERSHIP COTTAGE. The large MACHINE SHOP and the ELECTRIC GENERATOR BUILDING dating from a later period show the community did not want help from the outside world of non-believers.
When Koresh died, he was buried in a giant tomb (wiped out by storms since it was near the beach) said to have a stairway out since he said he would return. He never came back and without his recruiting the colony dwindled.
Very interesting. I am familiar with the Fort Myers/Naples area – much of my novel, “Samaritans,” is set there. But I had forgotten about this place and its unique history. Thanks for the refresher.
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