You can book your place on the next guided tour when you pay park admission at the entrance ranger station. Tours begin in the beautiful Art Hall still used for public concerts as it was in the days of the Koreshan Unity Settlement. The hall is filled with artwork created by former Koreshan members and Dr. Teed’s son, Douglas Arthur Teed, who became a well-known landscape and portrait artist in New York. The most remarkable exhibit is the globe which shows the world as we know it, but instead on the inner shell of the Earth’s outer atmosphere, as Dr. Teed believed it was.
The tour continues along crushed shell paths to the mango orchard outside the New Store building where you will learn about Dr.Teed’s life, his 1869 “illumination” which led to the founding of his Koreshan Unity, and the origin of the word, Koreshan. His followers were hard-working people and their community was self-sufficient, even providing services to the wider local community. They valued education and the arts and had their own drama group and 13-piece orchestra.
The three-story “Planetary Court,” built in 1904, is a fine example of Georgian Foursquare architecture. This clapboard house with its shady front porch was home to “The Seven Sisters,” who provided much of the original financing Teed required to establish his community and saw to the day-to-day business affairs of the settlement. The house features a craftsman-built staircase carved from beautiful Dade Heartwood Pine.
All eleven of the surviving Koreshan buildings in the historic settlement are on the National Register of Historic Places. You can look inside the bakery, which could make up to 600 loaves of bread a day. Their yeast bread was in great demand locally as it was much tastier than the local skillet bread.
Other buildings include the two-room cottage where Vesta Newcombe resided. Vesta, who came to the community as a child, lived there until her death in her 90s, and witnessed Neal Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969 on a small TV still in her cottage.
The Koreshan Unity was totally dependent upon Dr. Teed and after his death in 1908, many followers became disillusioned when his teachings about his resurrection were not fulfilled. Eventually the Koreshan community, its archives and substantial acreage were donated to the state of Florida, in 1961.
The final part of the guided tour explores the gardens and its many specimen trees Dr. Teed acquired in his travels from all over the world. Look for the exotic flowers on the Bombax (red silk, cotton tree), the Ear Tree and the African Sausage Tree. Fruit trees, pecans, magnolias and red pineapples with their exotic pink fruits thrive amid azaleas and palms.
Landscaped mounds make a popular place for the burrowing Gopher Tortoises, and two decorative bridges provide an interesting focal point popular with photographers. Massive Washingtonian Palms planted in 1896 line the Grande Promenade visible from the Bamboo Landing. It’s a good place watch canoes, kayaks and paddleboards ply the shallow waters of the Estero River, once the main access to the settlement before US-41 was paved.
The tour ends at the “Founders House,” built for Cyrus Teed in 1896 with much of the original furnishings still on display. There you will also find old photographs of the Koreshan community in its heyday, and an informative PBS film, which gives more background detail to this unique religious sect.