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.

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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!

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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?

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