Estero-San Carlos Park: Koreshan Connection … just who were the Koreshans?
For $3.25 per vehicle, park visitors gain access to one of Florida’s most unusual cultural resources, The Koreshan Unity Settlement. The Florida Park Service continues to preserve the remains of this century-old utopian society by restoring buildings, maintaining gardens and interpreting the history of the Koreshan Unity.
The Koreshans were a religious group that settled in Estero in 1894. The head of this group was Dr. Cyrus Teed, an inspirational leader who recruited members of the group by offering food, water, shelter, education and religion in exchange for hard work and shared beliefs. Teed later changed his name to “Koresh” which roughly translates from “Cyrus” or “Shepherd” in Hebrew. Koresh taught several beliefs to his members. The most peculiar of them was The Cellular Cosmogony, the belief that the world is a concave sphere and all life resides on the inside of it. The sun, moon, stars and planets were considered to be a large ball of gas that had a light side and a dark side. As the gas rotated in the center, it caused day and night.
Another belief practiced by the Koreshans was communal ownership of property. As people joined the Koreshan Unity, they gave up all their possessions, including homes, furniture and valuable items. These items were either used in the Koreshan Unity Settlement or sold in order to buy commodities the unity needed. Many of the unsold items are still in the park today as part of the park’s artifact collections, and most are on display.
A belief practiced and preached by Koresh and well ahead of its time was equality of men and women. Koreshan women were treated as equals and had voting rights in the unity well before August 1920 when the 19th Amendment, granting woman suffrage, was ratified.
Koreshanity, the practiced religion in the unity, was Christian-based as it referred to the New and Old Testaments of the Bible. Koreshanity was also based on the writings in Teed’s book “The Cellular Cosmogony — The Earth, a Concave Sphere.” The book carefully depicts a hollow earth theory and describes how Teed came to this realization.
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Teed frequently lectured on the physics of this subject and later made significant attempts to prove it. In the late 1890s, an experiment was conducted on Naples beach called the Koreshan Geodetic Survey of 1897. The experiment tried to prove that the earth was concave, or curved inward, rather than convex. The Koreshans proved to themselves and to a few others that this was, in fact, the truth. A reward of $10,000 was offered to disprove this theory. To this day, nobody has proved otherwise.
Visitors to the park frequently ask if the Koreshans of Estero had any kind of relationship with David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. It is ironic that both groups had several things in common but had no affiliation with each other. They both practiced communal living with religion as a base. Both groups had a leader who was a self-proclaimed “messiah,” and both groups were scrutinized by government agencies.
The 153-plus acres of Koreshan State Historic Site are rich with history and culture. The 11 buildings and dozens of shell paths in the settlement still remain today as a reminder of how an inspirational speaker can motivate hundreds of people. The Florida Park Service is continuing to preserve and protect these resources for further generations to enjoy.
Koreshan State Historic Site is open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day of the year. Ranger guided tours are available at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Special group tours of the Koreshan Unity Settlement may be available by contacting the ranger station at 992-0311.