The Koreshan Unity

TortoiseCamping at Koreshan State Park was an interesting stay, quite different than I had expected. Not only is it a nice campground on the Estero River, with Gopher Tortoises, but it is an historic site as well. The Koreshan Unity was a communal society established in 1894. Like many other communal societies, the Koreshanity’s were in search of utopia and wanted to live apart from all that was evil or objectionable.

Dr. Cyrus Teed, who renamed himself Koresh (Hebrew for Cyrus meaning shepherd), first formed the Koreshanitys in Chicago. In 1869 he had an “illumination” in which a woman, Mother God, gave him the knowledge of how the earth was formed, the New Jerusalem he was to create, and how this utopian group should be organized. Seventeen years later the Koreshan Unity was formed.

The Koreshan Unity was founded on the idea of communal living and property; the goal was everyone working for the good of all. There were two levels of membership. In one level they could live outside the settlement and maintain their family units. Those who joined the Religious Order were celibate and these members lived in the Unity Settlement and worked toward the New Jerusalem. The majority of this group was women, and eight of them were the leaders of the community after Dr. Teed. They believed they were returning to Christianity the way it was “supposed” to be. There was equity of the sexes, women were ordained, and everyone had a job and place to live.

The settlers were faced with a hot, humid, bug infested wilderness when they moved to Florida, but they persevered and built a thriving settlement with beautiful exotic gardens and modern conveniences not found outside the settlement. They were one of the first major groups to use Edison’s new invention, electricity, to make everyday chores easier. They believed in classic education for all with vocational training, and provided the only cultural activities and education in the surrounding Fort Myers community. The settlement had their own machine shop, cement factory, bakery, and the only general store and post office in the community. At the height their membership was over 200 with separate groups in California and Chicago.

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Dr. Teed’s vision showed him that the earth was really the center of a closed universe with the sun, moon, stars, and planets inside a shell 100 miles thick that traveled around the earth. This was called the Hollow Earth theory.


He had perfected a proof that he demonstrated around the country to explain his vision and to recruit new members. Dennis immediately determined that the proof doesn’t work!


The Koreshanity’s believed in the resurrection of the body and so when Dr. Teed died December 22, 1908 the members left his body outside in a washtub sure he would rise on Christmas Day. The health department demanded they bury the body after a week with no discernable resurrection. He was buried on the tip of Estero Island, but shortly after his burial a hurricane washed the coffin out to sea and his body was never recovered. Hmmmm…..

After Teed’s death the settlement began to lose members. The land was deeded to Florida in 1961 to become a state park with the remaining four members to live there until their deaths. Hedwig Michel, the last surviving member died in 1981 and is the only member buried on the property.

Very fascinating historical sites to visit if any of you are ever in the area. Surprisingly interesting good ideas side by side with mistaken beliefs. How often do we find this to be true?

Koreshan II

20130322-204259.jpg This afternoon (Friday), we retraced our route from Koreshan to Sue’s parents’ house in Port Charlotte after a nice laid-back week.

Monday Sue packed a picnic lunch for our canoe trip on the Estero River. It begins as a narrow creek at the park and widens to a good size river by the time it empties into Estero Bay 3.5 miles downstream. We hoped to make it all the way to the bay, we left about an hour before low tide so would have a favorable tidal current both ways. The weather gradually got cloudier and windier though so we found a little beach at the 2.5 mile mark to pull out for lunch, then headed for home. The rain started just as we returned the paddles and paid for the rental at the park office. I’m glad we avoided the hassle of bringing our kayaks on the car roof this winter, every park we’ve camped at has offered canoe and kayak rental for $5 per hour.

We read for the rest of the afternoon, Sue made dinner, then we made the best of a rainy evening by going to the movies. Argo was terrific, I see why it won Best Picture this year. Interesting, to watch a movie based on events (rescuing six Americans from the Canadian embassy during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979) that I remembered first hand.

Tuesday we went to Starbucks at a nearby mall to use their wifi to download some Ted Talks. That wasn’t practical as their wifi was so slow, but we had some coffee and surfed the net for a while, then went next door to Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill for lunch. They had a nice outdoor setting with several veg options. Afterward we went home and got cleaned up to got to a 4:30 PM Yoga session at the Unitarian Church. I really liked this as the teacher went slow enough that I could almost keep up, no tricky contortionist poses either. We finished the day with dinner at the Paris Saigon Bistro, the place we found for lunch on Sunday. We even had the same table on the corner of the porch.

Wednesday afternoon we took the guided tour of the Koreshan Historic Site, which Sue is going to write about soon, then went back to the Unitarian Church for their vegetarian dinner and watched a ‘stretch your boundaries’ movie about motorcycling through the highest pass in the Himalayas.

Thursday we finally walked the nature trail along the river bank from the camp sites to the Koreshan Settlement area. Really a pretty trail with large groves of bamboo. Finally a picture:

We decided to stay here for an extra day but had to move to a new site so got the moving chores done, had lunch, then (finally!!) went to the beach at Lovers Key State Park, a 2.5 mile long barrier island. The park owns the whole island so it is very scenic, zero development and lots of birds, especially Ospreys. We often saw them delivering take-out seafood to the young back home in the nest.

It was a spectacular sunny, 75 degree, crystal clear day, so nice that we walked the whole beach both ways.

20130322-214839.jpg The north end of the island had several of these big dead trees right on the beach. The live big trees were all at least a couple of hundred feet further inland so a lot of the land must have eroded away in the last 10? or 20? years.

This morning we got packed up then went to the Happahatchie Center. We met a woman after church last Sunday, she and Sue got to discussing Eco-spiritual issues and traded email addresses. Later in the week she invited us to a picnic lunch and tour of the Happahatchie Center, which is virtually across the street from the state park.  The Center is a beautiful preserve that was once part of the Koreshan Settlement.  It is a an Eco-spiritual center and the board has been renovating the facilities and planning programming.  A very interesting visit and place.

Koreshan State Park

20130317-085431.jpg An hour’s drive south Friday afternoon took us from Sue’s parents house to Koreshan State Park in Estero, FL. We are about midway between Fort Myers and Naples, a couple of miles inland from the Gulf. Just another typical Florida state park with wide sandy camp sites carved out of the jungle with lots of privacy and shade. The Estero River, the north boundary of the park and really just a big creek, winds its way to Estero Bay and looks to be a great place to rent a canoe. It’s on our agenda for later in our six day stay here.

This is officially Koreshan State Park and Historic Site. The historic part is that this land was originally owned by the Koreshan Unity, a communal utopia formed in 1894 here in Estero, FL. Around 1910 there were 250 people living in the commune. Most of the original buildings remain or have been rebuilt to their original appearance. We plan to take the guided tour Monday and will no doubt have more info to post later. I bring it up now as its expansive village green is the site of an antique engine show this weekend.

The show was a mix of old hit-and-miss agricultural engines, some gas powered Maytag washing machines, a few old cars and a a handful of artisans selling their own jewelry, quilts, etc. Many of the old engines were running, making a chuff-chuff-chuff-pop sound. There is no throttle, only a governor that holds the exhaust valve open (chuff chuff chuff) until speed drops, the exhaust valve closes and the engine fires once (pop).

The really cool engine to see run was the 80 hp, two cylinder, two cycle diesel engine the commune installed in 1925 to generate electricity. The Koreshan volunteers gave a little history talk, fired up the engine, then turned it off and answered questions. It weighs 22,000 pounds and stands about 15′ tall. The red ring in the pic below is the 6′ diameter flywheel. It’s started with 175 psi air pressure applied to one cylinder while fuel is supplied to the other. The guy used a steel bar inserted in holes in the flywheel to move the starting cylinder to 10 degrees after top dead center, stood back, the other guy opened the air valve and it started right up.

Here’s a picture from the other end of the building showing the 380 volt, 3 phase alternator.

20130318-084408.jpg By the way, the engine produces 80 hp at 150 rpm, that means 2800 lb-ft of torque!

One last old engine picture: this is the shop building next door to the power house. It has a 3 hp hit-and-miss gasoline engine (dimly visible beneath the window) powering the line shaft system. Henry Ford Museum has some exhibits like this but I got to see this one actually operate! It was surprisingly quiet for all the spinning belts and shafts. There is a clutch up on the main line shaft for each machine drive belt so individual machines could be turned on and off.


In the artisan section Sue had a nice chat with a local Mexican woman who was selling her cookbook, Mexican Food Made Easy, explaining how to make authentic Mexican meals from ingredients available in US supermarkets. Bonita Springs, the next town south of here, has a large Hispanic community and she told us about a Mexican grocery store and a great “real” Mexican restaurant Tortilleria La Rancherita. Both places really reminded us of being on Isla Mujeres, they were exactly like the places we visited there, including no English signs or food labels. Sue got some rice and black beans at the grocery and we got take out veg burritos to bring home for dinner.

Sunday morning we attended services at the the Unitarian Church of Ft Myers. Unfortunately, it must have been the start of pledge week as the sermon was about generosity delivered by a guest speaker from the UU headquarters. The church has extensive grounds with a nature trail and a meditation labyrinth which we walked afterwards. I have to share this picture of a young man and his friend we met on the trail.

20130318-090953.jpg He said the iguana (named Benson??) was very tame and would come when called. He really was a cool looking animal once I got past the creepy lizard issue.

We asked a couple of local churchgoers to recommend a good veg spot for lunch. The Mad Fresh Urban Deli (Mad is not a typo) sounded good but was closed. Right next door was the Saigon Paris Bistro, a great pan-Asian restaurant. Once again proving you often get something better than you ask for. We also got to a watch a car get repossessed. The people (sitting at the table next to us) went out and ‘talked’ to the wrecker driver but in the end he drove away with their Lexus in tow.

We returned to the campground mid-afternoon and just loafed until dinner time. Sue made a traditional Irish meal of boiled potatoes and vegetable, sans corned beef of course.

It’s nice with daylight savings time, now that it doesn’t get dark here until eight o’clock, we can eat outdoors and enjoy the gloaming. After dishes we sat around a camp fire for awhile then called it a day, actually a pretty darn nice day!

Daytona Beach

20130313-222443.jpgIt’s been awhile (13 days to be exact) since I last updated this blog. Nothing has happened that seemed noteworthy enough to get right on the computer and share. The weather has been cool and windy so not much beach time, and Daytona Beach is more of a typical Florida tourist city with lots of high rise condo buildings along a relatively narrow beach and none of the “old city” charm of St Augustine.

We arrived at Tomoka State Park Friday afternoon after an easy hour’s drive south on I95. The park is actually in Ormond Beach about 5 miles north of Daytona. It’s a peninsula defined by the Tomoka and Halifax Rivers and would have been a great places to rent a canoe had the weather cooperated.

Saturday we drove through Daytona and checked out the beach but it was too cold and windy to walk. It was interesting to see the cars driving on the beach. You have to pay five bucks to drive on the sand and from Daytona you can drive about four miles south, staying in lanes marked out with traffic cones and a 10 mph speed limit. I guess it would be nice to not have to carry all your beach picnic stuff from a parking lot somewhere but the presence of the cars spoiled the ‘out in nature’ feel of the beach.

We did find a good veg restaurant for lunch, the Dancing Avocado Kitchen. This was on a nice shopping street, Beach St, on the mainland side of the Halifax River.

Sunday we attended the Unitarian Universalist Curch in Ormond Beach. Like many churches, the minister invites visitors to stand and introduce themselves. I wasn’t going to say anything, but the lady next to us announced herself from Sterling Heights, MI, so I introduced Sue and I as her neighbors from Marine City. At the end of the sermon the minister was reminiscing about his first post as a Catholic priest in Sterling Heights and noted he was a graduate of Holy Cross in M.C. What are the odds?

After church we drove about 20 miles south to check out New Smyrna Beach. Not much there but we did find a nice neighborhood Mexican restaurant for lunch.

Monday we went to yoga at a studio on Beach Street then hung out at the coffee shop next door for the rest of the morning. Yoga was fun but hard as the teacher went way too fast for me. We went back to the campground for lunch, then went for a bike ride around the park and on a paved path through the woods.

Tuesday was forecast to be the nicest day of the week so we had lunch outdoors at Ormond Beach then went for a long walk on the beach. On the way home we stopped at Bulow Creek State Park to see the Fairchild Oak, a live oak said to be more than 400 years old.

There is a short loop trail and the southern end of a six mile trail at the grove with the big oak tree. We did the short loop and walked a bit on the six mile trail. Time ran out but we realized we wanted to see more of this beautiful woods with a mixture on moss draped oaks, pines and palm trees.

Wednesday we went back to the oak grove and walked for three hours in the woods. A photo really can’t convey the beauty,

20130313-213719.jpg but it was a magical place. We even saw a wild boar family cross the trail, mom, pop, and six boarlets.

Thursday we went to another part of Bulow Creek where there are ruins of a 19th century sugar mill.

20130313-214202.jpgThis was a big operation with 200 slaves tending 1000 acres of sugar cane. It was destroyed in the Second Seminole War in 1836 and never rebuilt. We toured the ruins, had a picnic lunch, then walked the six mile trail from the north end. We got another glimpse of wild boars and heard lots of oinking and squealing off in the underbrush.

Friday we rode our bikes around a bit then got packed up and departed for Dave and Linda’s house in Port St Lucie, about three hours further south on I95.

D&L are friends from our Philadelphia years and it’s always great to get back together. Saturday we went to the Ft Pierce farmers market and craft show, then a nice lunch right on the beach at the Driftwood Inn in Vero Beach.

20130313-220159.jpg After lunch we stopped at the Endless Summer Winery on the way back to D&L’s condo. Tasting was fun as they had about a dozen different wines to try. They were all based on the Muscadine grape which grows well in the Florida climate. It’s sweet and grapey tasting but some were blends with dryer varieties that were quite good.

Sunday morning we went to D&L’s Methodist church for the rock and roll service. They had a good band in place of the choir who were entertaining; the service was quite informal but seemed just as ‘religious’ as a more conventional church. Sunday evening we competed in a trivia contest organized by their homeowners association. There were about 150 people grouped into teams of eight. We started strong but faded badly in the second half. Who knew San Diego was a bigger Navy base than Norfolk or that the Supreme Court decided Miranda vs. Arizona before Roe vs. Wade? It was a fun evening nevertheless.

Monday was a three hour drive across the state to Sue’s parents’ house. Linda recommended we stop for lunch at Mary Margaret’s Tea House in Arcadia. We were seated by a guy in a top hat and tails and served cucumber sandwiches and hibiscus tea. It was better than it sounds.

When we tried to unpack at Sue’s parents house we found the trailer door lock wouldn’t unlock. We finally broke in after a couple of hours with a guy at the Snoozy factory on the phone giving advice. Turned out a screw fell out of the internal mechanism, easy to fix once I was inside. We didn’t break anything and now I know how to get in with just a screwdriver and a nail. Not much of a silver lining in a sizable grey cloud, but it’s something.

The rest of the week will be puttering around on the trailer and visiting with Earl and Greta then off to Koreshan State Park in Fort Myers Friday.

St Augustine Tourist

20130301-174701.jpg On the little map to the left the large green area is Anastasia State Park and the red dot is downtown St Augustine. We’ve spent the last 3 1/2 days being typical tourists here trying out new restaurants and seeing the sights. No drama, no excitement so this will be another first we did this, then we did that post. Sorry.

It started raining again Monday night and continued sporadically until lunch time Tuesday so after a lazy morning we drove into downtown St Augustine to have a look around and find a nice (indoors, warm, veg food) place for lunch. We had decided we would visit the Lightner Museum if it kept raining. This is right in the middle of downtown in what was once a huge old Spanish Renaissance hotel built in 1887. We thought lunch first, and had a delightful meal in the former swimming pool of the hotel, the Cafe Alcazar. At the time this was the world’s largest indoor pool. Why nineteenth century robber barons would want an indoor pool in sunny Florida is beyond me but there you go.

20130301-180309.jpg The grey floor is sloped down to the deep end where all the tables are. The table area had a flat floor, the water was 12′ deep there when it was a pool.

It finally stopped raining so we skipped the museum and strolled around town, visited a couple of old churches, did some window shopping and found the most wonderful handmade Popsicle store. I got avocado/coconut and Sue had strawberry/basil. Both were yummy and those are all fruits and vegetables, right?

By late afternoon the sun came out so we went for a walk on the beach. There were still big waves from Monday’s stormy weather and lots (dozens) of surfers in wet suits enjoying the waves. No surfers but a picture of the huge, deserted, endless beach.

Wednesday started out slow, a little Internet surfing and a bike ride around the park and a little detour down to the beach. We had been told about a couple of excellent veg friendly restaurants so drove back to St A (only a couple of miles from the park) to try the The Floridian which advertised all the foodie buzz words: omnivore, herbivore, locavore. The facade was not too grand but the food was great.

20130301-182309.jpg Fun fact: The Floridian is right across the street from a Methodist Church and Florida (at least this county) forbids alcohol sales within 150′ of a church so they have a small bar room just past the 150′ mark. If you want a drink you have to get it in the bar and carry it yourself back to the table. When you check out you get a separate tab for the alcohol. Now that’s following the letter of the law!

After lunch we toured Castillo de San Marcos, a fort the Spaniards built in 1672 to defend the approach to St A on the Matanzas River.

20130301-183237.jpg The fort is the grey building to the right, the red roofs are the start of the downtown area. Here’s another picture from the top gun level:

St A is the oldest (continuously occupied by Europeans) city in the United States. Ponce de Leon landed here in 1513 looking for the fountain of youth and another Spaniard started a settlement here in 1565.

This plaza
is thought to be the oldest public square in America. That white monument was built because of an order that all Spanish cities celebrate Spain’s move to a constitutional government in 1813. In 1814 the the Spanish king returned to power and ordered all those spiffy new monuments destroyed but the people in St A never got around to it. It’s the only surviving monument from the 1813 order left in the world.

St A and all of Florida were part of Spain until 1763 when Spain gave Florida to Britain in exchange for Cuba. Spain got Florida back in 1783 because they were on the winning side (with us) in our war of independence against England. Florida finally became part of the US in 1821 and was granted statehood in 1845. Class dismissed.

Here’s a couple more photos of downtown. This is the main building of Flagler college, a collection of beautifully landscaped Spanish Renaissance buildings


The cathedral of St Augustine, built in 1793, is just across the square.


Thursday morning we toured the St Augustine Lighthouse and grounds.


It’s 165′ high, 219 steps to the top. Here’s a picture looking up the tower from the ground level

20130301-205647.jpgand here’s a panorama photo from the top

The lighthouse volunteer organization includes a group of wooden boat builders who work on the grounds three mornings a week.

20130301-211115.jpgThey had been working on this carvel planked (the most difficult type of traditional construction) 14′ ship’s boat for two years and still have a ways to go.

After spending a couple of hours at the lighthouse we continued into town to try the other veg friendly restaurant recommended to us, Casa Maya, specializing in Mayan food from Mexico. Here’s the requisite shot of Sue at the table, in this case on the second floor balcony.

Friday morning we got packed up and parked the car+Snoozy at the lighthouse then walked the rest of the way into town to have another great lunch at the Floridian. Walked back mid-afternoon and drove an hour south to Tomoka Stare Park in Daytona Beach where your humble correspondent is finishing this post then hitting the sack.