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Everything You Need to Know About Koreshan State Park

Tiana Burgos
March 16, 2020

Certainly one of the most fascinating sites in all of Lee County, Florida, the Koreshan State Park, also known as the Koreshan State Historic Site, is an attraction that brings visitors from all over. It’s a pine Flatwoods that was home to the religious colony known as the Koreshan Unity, while it was still active. Since the dissolution of the group, the site passed into the state, who made it open as a state park for all to come and visit.

Managed and overseen by the Florida Department of Environment Protection, the Koreshan State Historic Site is a must-see for anyone who is visiting or camping near Estero for a number of reasons. From the fascinating history of the area to the gorgeous flora and fauna, to plenty of activities to keep you busy, it’s amongst the better state parks of Florida without a doubt.

Where is Koreshan State Park Located?

The Koreshan State Park is found in Lee County, Florida. It’s just south of the Estero River, and west of Estero Town. The park can be found by taking US Highway 41, then turning west at Corkscrew Road.  There, you will find a brown sign suspended between two brick pillars, pointing the direction to the Koreshan State History Site. The road there leads both north into the State Park itself, and also has an eastward turn that leads to the Volunteer Community of Koreshan State Park, which also has an office on Highway 41.

The neighboring town of Estero is a densely-populated suburban area between Naples to the South and Fort Myers to the north that was, for many years, a community held together by an economy of locally-produced citrus fruits. Nowadays, it’s best known for welcoming thousands of visitors every year, as well as the nearby Florida Gulf Coast University. Koreshan State Park is one of the nearby parks, with the Mound Key Archaeological State Park being another common destination for visitors.

Whether a stop on a road trip down Highway 41 or a greater part of your visit to Estero, Koreshan State Park offers 135 acres of lush woodland to visit, so it shouldn’t be too hard to spot it if you’re in the area.

What Can I Do at Koreshan State Park?

Aside from its rather unique history, the Koreshan State Historic Site is a state park just like any, meaning that it has a range of recreational activities for you nature lovers out there. Camping is very much welcomed, with over 60 campsites throughout the park, each of which offers electricity and water, a picnic table and a fire ring. This includes twelve tent-only sites and four paved ADA sites. Each site also offers a vegetation buffer, allowing you some privacy, while the nearby ranger station offers both firewood and ice to keep campers comfortable.

At the north end of the park, there’s a picnic area and a playground overlooking the Estero River. Pets are allowed at the sites, providing they are leashed. From there, you can explore the lush 135 acres, which includes a range of imported exotic plant series, such as the false monkey puzzle trees from Australia, African sausage trees, Japanese bamboo, and much more. You can also enjoy a tour of the 19th-century settlement buildings that can offer a closer look at Koreshan life.

Otherwise, here are some of the activities that Koreshan State Park has to offer:

  • Canoeing and kayaking: The Estero River is a popular site for all kinds of fun water-based activities. This tidal waterway, distinct for its brackish appearance, leads out to Estero Bay three miles west of the state park, and both canoes and kayaks can be rented there at the park.
  • Hiking: Enjoy the gorgeous surrounding nature with one of two trials, the hiking trail that explores along the Estero River and the running trail that heads through the pine Flatwoods and along the edge of the park.
  • Fishing: The State Park offers plenty of fishing spots along the river, which can offer mullet, snook, redfish, and more. In the high water months, freshwater bass can also be found, while Estero Bay to the east offers saltwater fishing. Make sure to get information on any fishing license requirements and regulations from the Florida Wildlife Commission.
  • See the wildlife: The state park is home to a wide range of fauna, including gopher tortoises, gray foxes, American alligators, bobcats, and North America river otters. Bird spotters can also catch a sight of swallow-tailed kites, bald eagles, northern bobwhites and red-shouldered hawks.

As well as the activities mentioned above, you can enjoy a picnic, go Geo-seeking, and enjoy a lot more at Koreshan State Park.

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Koreshan State Park History

Koreshan State Park was founded as the official religious site of the new faith, Koreshanity, established by Cyrus Reed Teed. Teed came with a gathering of followers behind him, over 200 that had come from Chicago and been welcomed to Florida. Under the guidance of Teed, or Master Koresh as he was known to his community, the followers acquired 320 acres of land from land-owner Gustave Damkohler. It was on this land, they thought to build their New Jerusalem, a city that would serve as the home of the Koreshans for generations to come.

Nine years after having acquired the land, the Koreshans had cleared it, imported a wide range of exotic plants that are still found in the park and gardens today, and developed the buildings and infrastructure larger enough to support their 200 people. Throughout the early 20th century, their land expanded by a further 7500 acres, and they had over 70 buildings and more than a dozen businesses all run by the community.

The Koreshan Unity and their community began to see a downward trend when Teed died in 1908. Many initially stayed, believing in their founder’s reincarnation, but membership continually declined after it became clear that wouldn’t happen. Five members remained at the site in 1956, and in 1961, these five members donated 305 acres to the State of Florida to preserve the center of their community as a historic site. This includes the many buildings they erected, their gardens, the conversation land at the mouth of the Estero River, and much of Mound Key. The last of the rewarding members, who lived in the settlement, passed in 1982.

Koreshan State Events

As a rather important place in the local history of the Estero River, and a curiosity to locals and visitors alike, Koreshan State Park is also home to a range of events throughout the year. It’s always recommended to learn more from the team managing the park or at the Florida State Parks website since these events often change from month to month. 

The Guided Historic Settlement Tour is the most frequently held event in the State Park. Run by the friends of Koreshan, with a $5 ticket, these are guided walking tours that take visitors throughout the 19th century religious Koreshan Unity Settlement in the middle of the state park, including a closer look at the buildings and gardens with plenty of information about the history of the settlement, and information on daily life there. 

There is a range of varying events and activities held throughout the year, which can include some of the following:

  • Photography classes and sessions helping budding photographers get to grips with their equipment and technique by exploring some of the gorgeous natural habitats and architecture that are throughout the park, making good use of the exotic flora as well as the native pine woodlands.
  • Cooking classes that include classes teaching you how to cook with a Dutch Oven, as well as making use of recipes from the Koreshan community that has been passed down and preserved by the local volunteers.
  • Camper coffee sessions that see registered campers and park volunteers hang out at the campground bathhouse for coffee, pastries, and a friendly chat. Perfect for those who feel like a little socializing during their stay.
  • Local arts, craft, and antique shows such as the Antique Engine, Quilt, and Craft Show are annual exhibitions that show both vintage and modern creations, as the State Park is a common venue for the local creative arts and crafts communities.
  • Guided Nature Trail hikes lead by Park volunteers, give a closer look at some of the gorgeous settings found in the woods, as well as a talk on the history of the park, the Estero River, and more information about the flora and fauna you might see on your way.
  • The Music Series is an ongoing series of performances from local and visiting musicians from January to March, taking place in the community’s Art Hall.
  • Seasonal events, such as the special public tours during Women’s History Month that involve hearing Koreshan women talk about their time at the Settlement. There are also events for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and during many other periods of the year.

As a well-known site in the community, the Koreshan State Park and settlement within that park both regularly serve as the venue for broader events, as well. Be sure to check ahead when planning your trip to get an idea of what events and activities you might be able to catch during your visit.

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Who Was Cyrus Teed?

Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed, better known as Master Koresh to his followers, was the religious leader and proclaimed messiah of the Koreshan Unity, as well as the founder of Koreshanity, a set of both religious and scientific ideas. Teed originally studied medicine and opened his own medical practice in Utica as an eclectic physician with an interest in unconventional practices such as alchemy.

One experiment, which saw Teed badly shocked and knocked out by dangerous levels of electricity, led to what he would call his revelation. During his unconsciousness, Teed told that he was visited by a divine spirit that told him that he was the messiah. From there, he began his mission to “redeem humanity” through a combination of his scientific knowledge and his identity as a messianic figure. Following a name change to Koresh, he wrote a set of ideas, including a Hollow Earth theory that stated both the Earth and sky were inside the inner surface of a large cosmic sphere.

The ideas, including ideas of alchemy, reincarnation, immortality, celibacy, communism, and more, caught on with many in New York, who became the Koreshan Unity before moving to Chicago and, eventually, Florida. There, Teed helped found the bakery, general store, concrete works, power plant, the local newspaper, and World College of Life that the community was centered around.

Attempting to break up an altercation between several of the Koreshans in Fort Meyer, Teed was severely beaten by a man named Marshal Sanchez, receiving the wounds that would lead to his death. For five days, the Koreshan faithful held vigil over Teed’s body, believing in his resurrection and ascension to heaven, as he had predicted in his book “The Immortal Manhood.” When this did not happen, the county health officer stepped in to order his burial.

Who Were the Koreshan Unity?

The Koreshan Unity was the utopian community founded by Teed, many of whom had first joined Teed in New York. They helped establish the commune in Chicago and Florida, as well as a more short-lived community in San Francisco. The Unity worked on three membership levels, as follows:

  • The Patrons of Equation, non-believers who worked for the Unity, and were still allowed to marry members and take part in the more secular parts of the community life.
  • The Department of Equitable Administration, believers who were allowed to marry and were allowed sexual relationships, but only for the purposes of reproduction.
  • The Pre-Emininted Unity, the leadership who were celibate, did not marry and oversaw the Communal aspects of the community.

The Koreshan Unity followed many of the principals set by Cyrus Teed (or Father Koresh, as they called him), which included communism, celibacy, his model of the universe, and a belief that women were equal to men, which was just as radical a belief as any of the others at the time. This led to the great popularity of the Koreshan Unity amongst women. In fact, 75% of the members were women. Following Teed’s death, membership began to gradually dwindle, until the three surviving members left the settlement and surrounding land in Florida to the State.

The last remaining follower of the Unity, Hedwig Michel, joined in 1940, long after Teed’s death. Fleeing from Nazi persecution, she heard about the equality preached by the Koreshan and joined the community. It was she and two remaining members who decided to cede the grounds to Florida to form a state park in 1961. Following her death, what remains of the Koreshan Unity are two cemeteries just outside the State Park grounds.

Koreshan State Park Famers Market

Amongst the locals, Koreshan State Park is just as well known for its Farmers Market as anything else. A very highly ranked Farmers Market, it’s open all year round, every Sunday of every week from 8 am to 1 pm, weather permitting. There, a range of local vendors come together to sell all kinds of produce, while visitors and locals alike enjoy a bite at the picnic tables that are close to the community settlement of the state park.

Some of the products that can be found at the Farmers Market include vegetables, freshly-caught seafood, coffee, teas, fresh-baked bread, Florida key lime pie, cupcakes, pottery, orchids, honey, candles, jewelry, and more. There are over a dozen vendors from the local community, an evolving roster that is supported directly by visitors to Koreshan State Park.

The Koreshan State Park Farmers Market is run in part by the Friends of Koreshan as a community event that brings attention not only to the many local producers in the area but also the State Park as a venue and spot to visit, so it’s well worth taking the time to support it.

Royal Shell Can Help You Plan a Memorable Estero Vacation

A trip to the Koreshan State Park can be one of the highlights of any stay in Estero. Just across US Highway 41 from the town itself, it’s but a short trip away from one of the most fascinating historical sites that the county has to offer, as well as a natural park that’s sprawling with gorgeous natural beauty just on the edge of the Estero River. 

Royal Shell is more than glad to help you enjoy Estero and the Koreshan State Park with one of our vacation rentals in the area. We have a wide range of properties of different shapes and sizes to suit your needs, whether you’re a solo traveler of a family aiming to find someplace well-kept and comfortable during your Estero trip. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or you want to book your rental as soon as possible to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the fun.

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