In the late 19th Century, Dr. Cyrus Teed founded a communal society called The Koreshan Unity in New York. He later moved to Chicago where he expanded his following. The society was based on the ideas of communal living, reincarnation, and eternal life and on a universe which occurred inside of the hollow Earth. In 1894, Teed led his followers to Estero, Florida where they began building their “New Jerusalem” Utopian commune. Those who joined him were promised security, order and a sense of achievement in return for all of their worldly possessions. On this new site they fought hard to clear the land through heat and humidity and mosquitoes for many years. They planted crops and fruit trees to help feed themselves. They built a “Planetary Court”, where the seven women who made up the governing body lived, a bakery, a store, a school, an art hall, two machine shops and several private homes and cabins. It certainly wasn’t an easy life, but they were all in it together, and that sense of community meant something to them. During the first decade of the 20th century, their commune included over 250 members.
In October, 1906, Dr. Teed and several of his followers got into a fight in Fort Myers, and he was severely beaten. He never recovered from his injuries and died that December. His followers expected him to rise from the dead, and placed him in a bathtub to await his resurrection. They must have been both surprised and disappointed when he did not come back to life, but rather started to decompose. After a week, the county coroner stepped in and forced them to bury him. In 1910, a hurricane swept his coffin out to sea, and it was never recovered. After his death, the Koreshan Unity started a long, steady decline.
By 1961, there were only a few Koreshans left in Estero, and they decided to deed the property to the state of Florida. The Koreshan State Historic Site was opened in 1967 to tell their story. The last Koreshan, Hedwig Michel, lived on the commune until she died in 1981.
Today, the park is open to visitors. It is an interesting place to visit and learn about the Koreshans, and you can visit several buildings which remain intact around the property. There is also a nice trail through the woods which takes about 20-30 minutes to walk. I’m always interested in learning about these groups of people who set out to live a different way. While in some ways I think they were incredibly naive, in others I respect their faith and determination. If you are ever in the Estero area, which is about half way between Naples and Fort Myers, this is definitely worth a detour. Enjoy these photos from Koreshan State Park.