Once in a while, Hector and I happen upon a place with an unusual history or people or both. This is one of those times. When looking for a place to stay in the Fort Myers area, we found an RV campground in the Koreshan State Historic Site, a state park in nearby Estero. Since we have a preference for state or county parks over commercial RV campgrounds, we reserved a campsite there. We had no idea what the “historic site” was all about, but the park is right on the beautiful Estero River where we were able to enjoy more great kayaking.
After we arrived, we started to hear bits and pieces about the Koreshans. “Throughout its history, Florida has welcomed pioneers of all kinds. Cyrus Reed Teed was probably the most unusual, bringing followers to Estero in 1894 to build New Jerusalem for his new faith, Koreshanity. The colony, known as the Koreshan Unity, believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere. The colony began fading after Teed´s death in 1908, and in 1961 the last four members deeded the land to the state.”
One morning, while walking on one of the trails with Angel, we came upon some enormous bamboo stands, which didn’t look like any other parts of the forest. As we continued our walk we discovered the Victorian Gardens of the Koreshan Settlement. This was part of the historic site, where we learned the rest of the story.
“The Koreshan Unity was one of several communal societies in the United States at the turn of the century. Before 1800, the Shakers built a number of thriving communities based on celibacy and community property. In the mid-nineteenth century Joseph Smith led the Mormons toward Utah and others created alternative social and ideological organizations that set them apart from normal society. The common thread of these organizations was the search for the ideal, members sought to remove themselves from all that was evil or objectionable. The Koreshan Unity was founded upon the ideas of communal living and property, the belief in Dr. Teed’s religious and scientific theories, and the communistic goal of everyone working for the good of all. It was to be Utopia, a life without crime, tobacco, or drugs.”
We visited the remaining buildings of the settlement including the large machine shop, the small machine shop, the electric generator building, the planetary court and the art hall. Other buildings included a general store, printing shop, and bakery.
At its peak, the community consisted of 260 individuals and had 67 buildings. The governing council of the Koreshan Unity, the Planetary Chamber, consisted of seven women. The community was run very much like a corporation, with Dr. Teed as “CEO”, and the seven women as “Vice-Presidents” of various “departments”.
“The Koreshans developed gardens for purely aesthetic purposes, as a place for nourishing the spirit rather than the body. Exotic trees and plants played significant roles in the garden plans of the community. Dr. Teed corresponded with other horticulturists, exchanging seeds and plants, and he was instrumental in the development of the gardens. The gardens are described in the 1902 settlement plans as planted with many fruit and nut trees and other kinds of plants which allude to biblical descriptions of Eden.”
In fact, the bamboo on the trail that brought us here came about as an exchange with Thomas Edison, who lived in Fort Myers at the time and was experimenting with using bamboo as a possible filament for his lightbulbs. This was yet another of the pioneers that spent time in Florida, and one of the reasons why this is such an interesting state.