In 1894 the followers of Cyrus Teed, who called himself Koresh, worked out an agreement with land owner Gustave Damkohler to acquire 320 acres of land. It was the dream of the group, called the Koreshan Unity, to build a city, which they would have thought of as their New Jerusalem.
The Koreshans believed that Teed, or Master Koresh as they called him, was the seventh prophet in a line that started with Adam. Jesus had been the sixth prophet. The Koreshans used the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as their guidebook. Teed would reveal what Jesus had not—the answers to everything in the universe.
When Teed was 30, living in New York State and practicing medicine, an angel visited him, he claimed. She told him he had been sent to redeem humanity. Teed called the experience his “Divine Illumination.”
After the visit, he began working out the principles of Koreshanity. Among his tenets was that maintaining a celibate lifestyle would bring about immortality. He also believed that women were equal to men. Understandably, women found this attractive, and about 75% of the Koreshan population was female. The Koreshans also believed that the earth was hollow and that we live inside, standing on its inner shell.
It took the Koreshans nine years to clear land, construct buildings, plant crops and develop the infrastructure to support approximately 200 people. The early 1900s were the glory years for the Koreshans, who acquired nearly 7,500 acres of land and constructed more than 70 buildings. They developed more than a dozen businesses.
On December 22, 1908, Cyrus Teed died, and this marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the Koreshan Unity. The followers, believing he would resurrect, kept his body above ground for five days and waited. But he failed to reincarnate as promised.
The membership gradually dwindled until in 1956 there were only five members remaining. In 1961, these members of the Koreshan Unity donated 305 acres to the State of Florida to make their land a historic site. This land included the historic settlement, conservation land near the mouth of the Estero River, and much of Mound Key, ancient home of the Calusa. The remaining members were allowed to live in the settlement until their death. The last Koreshan, Hedwig Michel, died in 1982 in her apartment in the Planetary Court.
Today, visitors to the site can enjoy tours of the historic settlement, kayak and canoe trips on the Estero River, a 60 site campground and many events that relate both to the natural surroundings and the history of the Koreshan Unity. Their legacy lives on through music in the Art Hall, an annual play called Ghost Walk, historic cooking programs, blacksmith demonstrations and the running of the antique engines that powered their machine shop and electric generator.