If someone told you that the entire universe existed inside a giant hollow sphere with the sun at the center and a centrifugal force holding us in place…and oh yeah — do you want to join my fledgling settlement in the hot, humid, bug-infested wilderness of Florida — would you fall for it? Ummm, yeah, me neither.
Apparently, there were enough people willing to go along with it that the founder of the Koreshan Unity, Dr. Cyrus Teed, was able to form a cult (oh sorry…utopian community) that grew to around 250 residents in the late 1800s.
Today, the former community is home to Koreshan State Park. Sprawling along the Estero River, the park offers a glimpse into the Koreshan way of life with restored buildings and remnants of lush gardens and exotic bamboo forests. It’s a stark and welcome contrast to the bustling six-lane road lined with endless box stores and cookie cutter developments that populate the area immediately outside the park.
A self-guided walking tour of the grounds and buildings tells the story of the how the Koreshan Unity began, along with personal stories of the members and what brought them to this former wilderness in an unfamiliar land.
The Koreshans were an industrious group who believed education and productivity were the keys to a happy and successful life. The members operated a bakery, sawmill, printing facility, and even a restaurant and hotel along the main road.
While there is no doubt that the Koreshans had some wacky beliefs, in certain aspects their community was incredibly forward thinking. Take, for example, the governing council called the Planetary Chamber which was comprised of seven women. The sisters of the Planetary Court, as they were called, lived in this three-story home where each person had a separate room that could be entered from the central hall or the outside wrap around porch. The sisters came from all different backgrounds and conducted the day-to-day business of the settlement.
In addition to communal living and their “hollow earth” principle, the Koreshans also believed in celibacy, which naturally limited a key form of community growth. In 1908, Teed died, and after leaving him in the bathtub awaiting reincarnation for nearly a week, the authorities forced his followers to bury him. This was the beginning of the end for the Koreshan Unity Settlement. Amazingly, it survived more than 50 years past his death, but with dwindling numbers and not much in the way of development. In the early ’60s with only a handful of members left, the land was deeded to the state of Florida. It makes you wonder what Dr. Teed would think of his “utopia” now turned into a living museum owned by the very same bureaucratic system that he tried so hard to create a separate world from. At least it got spared the fate of becoming a strip mall.
Aside from the historic community, Koreshan State Park has a campground, shaded picnic area, a few walking trails along the river, and a boat launch. The campground itself falls firmly in the mediocre range. The sites we on the small side with lots of deep sand and scrubby looking pine trees. I suspect that my so-so feeling was highly influenced by the unbearable heat that we suffered through for most of the week. With temperatures in the low 90s and the humidity up in the “I might go crazy” range, let’s just say that our A/C got a good work out.
One afternoon we cooled down with a short paddle in the Estero River. I hate to sound so negative, but I fear that all the kayaking we did in the Keys has forever spoiled us. A far cry from the turquoise waters we’ve become so accustomed to, the Estero was instead a murky brown river lined with houses and populated with speed boats that had us sticking close to shore in an effort not to get run down.
The river twists and turns all the way to the ocean, but it’s about 4.5 miles each way which is far too long for us to paddle in the late afternoon without risking coming home in the dark. It also simply wasn’t interesting enough to go more than a few miles in either direction.
By far the highlight of our week was spending time with fellow full-timers, Paul and Lorena. This dynamic duo is fairly new to RVing and after learning about them from some friends who they had recently met, we were excited to discover that we were due to arrive at Koreshan on the same day! After our initial meeting over an extended happy hour at our site, we quickly made plans to hang out again which led us to a brewery visit followed by sunset on the beach and an impromptu dinner at a beachside dive. Sadly, we are going in opposite directions as they headed to the Keys for a few days while we continued north. Hope to see you guys again!
Oh! I almost forgot the other best part of our stay at Koershan State Park. While searching for local farmers markets, I came across a nearby farm stand. Not only did they have a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies for sale, but they also had pick-your-own strawberries and sunflowers!
It was the very end of strawberry season, and with the heat moving in fast the berries were on their way out, but I still managed to find enough to fill a big bucket. This year marks our fifth year away from “real” winter and I still can’t get over the novelty of having access to fresh produce all year long.
Koreshan State Park is certainly an interesting place full of history. I’m not sure it was so interesting that I would make a return visit, but for a week-long stay in a convenient location with some kooky history thrown in it perfectly fit the bill.