Koreshan State Park in Nearby Estero is Full of History and Outdoor Fun

June 24th, 2016 by
Cyrus Teed
Koreshan State Park
Koreshan State Park

What better way to spend time in your new Jaguar than visiting some of the sites around Fort Myers! One fascinating local attraction in nearby Estero is the Koreshan State Historic Site, the former home of a late 19th century utopian community. 11 buildings remain on the site and today the Koreshan State Park is also home to a community of large gopher tortoises. This is a great place that brings together historical intrigue and natural wonder.

Koreshanity and Koreshan Unity

The Koreshanity religion was started by Cyrus Teed, a physician and alchemist, in the late 1870s. The religion mixed elements from a wide range of theology incorporating Jesus Christ, reincarnation, immortality, celibacy, and the Hollow Earth Theory (a belief that the universe resides underneath the Earth’s crust). While many of their beliefs may seem unusual to us today, some of their ideas were quite progressive for the time. Teed had a female co-leader with equal power and women had most of the control in their community.

Though originally from New York, Teed found a group of receptive followers in Chicago and started a commune there. After experiencing resistance from the locals, the Koreshans bought up a large tract of land in Estero, Florida they called Koreshan Unity. The community was quite successful with around 70 buildings at its height, including a theater, machine shop, and electric generator.

Like Chicago, the locals didn’t quite know what to make of the group, but the Koreshans were friends with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. When the two men were visiting their winter estates in Fort Myers, they would often hop over to Koreshan Unity for a Shakespeare play, and Edison helped install an electric generator for the group.

After Teed died in 1908, the community went into decline once their leader didn’t reappear reincarnated. Many drifted off, but the final remaining members welcomed the last Koreshan, Hedwig Michael, in 1940. A Jewish woman fleeing Nazi Germany, she found a home on the site. In order to preserve the legacy of Koreshanity, she gave the remaining land and buildings to the state under the condition that they be preserved. The state park opened in 1961 and Michael continued to live on the site until her death in 1981.

Koreshan Historical Building
Koreshan Orchestra
Koreshan machine shop

 

Koreshan machine shop
Gopher Tortoise
Kayaking on Estero River

What You Can Do at the Koreshan State Park

So what is there to do at the remnants of Koreshan Unity today? Surprisingly, quite a bit:

  • Tour the Historical Buildings: 11 buildings remain that have been carefully preserved, including a theater, residences, a machine shop, and the electric generator. Guided tours are available throughout the day and each building has volunteers posted to give you more information.
  • Special Events and Reenactments: The State Park has quite a few events each year intended to bring the history back to life, including costumed reenactments each December.
  • Gopher Tortoises: During your visit, you’ll likely see several large gopher tortoises walking around and digging their tunnels. Gopher tortoises can be hard to spot in the wild, but you can easily see them hanging out here.
  • Kayaking, Boating, and Fishing: The Koreshans bought the property largely because of the accessible Estero River that runs alongside it. Today you can fish, kayak, and enjoy a trip up and down the river.
  • Family and Wedding Photography: The old buildings and greenery make the Koreshan State Historic Site an excellent spot for engagement photos, pictures of kids, or any type of professional photography.

Getting There

The State Park is located at 3800 Corkscrew Road in Estero, Florida. The historic site is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day of the week, and the park is open until sunset—overnight camping is allowed.  There’s a $5 fee for each car, and guided tours cost $2 a person.

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