The Koreshan Unity Old and New Stores

The Old Store, built by the Koreshan Unity in 1902-1903, faced the Estero River, the best and likely only means of travel there. Going would have been slow. The fifteen-mile trip from Estero to Fort Myers on horseback would have taken all day, depending on the time of year. In the summer rainy season, the trail could be covered with water and muddy. During the dry winter, wagon wheels would sink in the sugar sand.

When travelers from nearby communities finally arrived at the Old Store, on the first floor they would find either merchandise just received or ready for shipment to other ports. The second floor stored items sold locally, such as bread baked by the Koreshans, honey from their beehives, and sundries. The Old Store also housed the first post office in Estero until the building burned down in 1938.

The New Store, built in 1920, still stands along Tamiami Trail and served as a general store. Both stores existed side by side for a time. Koreshans built the New Store for two reasons: 1. the Old Store had flooded several times so they wanted a new store on higher ground, and 2. by the 1920s, river transportation was yielding to the automobile, so the Koreshans built the New Store facing the county road, which later became Tamiami Trail/U.S. 41 in 1928.

As it was in the Old Store, new merchandise received or shipped was on on the first floor, along with a general store and later a restaurant. The second floor had a dorm for Unity members and rooms to rent–sort of like a Holiday Inn and 7-11 of its day. In 1956, the original façade of the New Store was removed when U.S. 41 was widened.

To learn more about the Koreshan Unity and its leader, Cyrus Teed, read The Allure of Immortality, available from our online store and visit the park. Click here to purchase contactless park passes.

New Store, c. mid-20th century, as seen from the Estero River.

The First Time Estero Became a Village

Back in the early 20th century, most of the south and especially Florida, was hardcore Democrat. In the 1904 presidential election, the Koreshan Unity voted for Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican. This angered the politicians of Fort Myers, and they threw out all the Koreshans’ ballots. After that, the Koreshans filed with the state of Florida to become their own municipality, and Florida granted their petition. The Koreshans created a town seal: the sun rising over a waterscape with a swan floating on the water. At the top, a six-pointed star representing the Seal of Solomon.

The Koreshans were able to incorporate one-hundred-ten square miles into the Village of Estero in 1904, making it the fifth largest city in terms of land mass in the United States. This did not go over well with the local population, who thought it would increase their taxes. To add fuel to the fire, the Koreshan Unity also formed their own political party, the Progressive Liberty Party.

Needless to say, Fort Myers leadership was not happy about any of this, so Fort Myers challenged the newly incorporated Village of Estero. Florida sided with Fort Myers and overturned their decision allowing Estero to incorporate and Estero once again became a suburb of Fort Myers.

Up until the 1904 presidential election, the locals, for the most part, got along with the Koreshans. The election became a flashpoint, and the relationship began to degrade. In 1906, there was a brawl in Fort Myers between the Koreshans and some Fort Myers citizens. During the fight, the town marshal severely injured Dr. Teed, which many believe eventually led to his death in 1908.

More than a hundred years would pass before the community of Estero would again become a municipality; in 2014, it officially became the Village of Estero.

Why Were Most of Teed’s Followers Women?

Photo of Early Koreshan Unity Women

Why did so many Victorian-era women become Koreshans, at one point comprising almost eighty percent of the Koreshan Unity membership? Was it the lure of Teed’s new religion that promised immortality, or were other factors at play?

Women were regarded as little more than the property of their husbands for much of history. In Teed’s time a married woman could not own property—and none could vote. Everything belonged to the husband, including any money earned or brought into the marriage by the woman.  Even marriage vows demanded wives love, honor and OBEY their husbands. In addition, many women of that time were unskilled or uneducated with large families and could not afford to leave their husbands. And since divorce was frowned upon, women who could afford to leave would choose to remain and live in quiet desperation. Teed referred to this as the Slavery of Marriage and addressed it in many of his lectures and writings.

Many women were also widowed after the Civil War and left with large families. With no work skills, education or resources, they were often impoverished. Out of desperation, many were forced into marriages to older or much younger men, since there was a shortage of men their own age due to the war. Some even resorted to prostitution. Women who could find meaningful jobs were paid much less than men.

Both women and men could join the Koreshan Unity either as an individual or with their children; spouses were “optional.” So what if they had to surrender all their belongings in order to join? Many of the women and their children likely came with little more than the clothes on their backs, and in the Koreshan Unity, since men and women were considered equal, women could take almost any job offered, learn a trade—and get paid the same as men in work “credits.” One credit = one hour’s work, which could be used for goods at the Unity store or even have a cabin built.

So perhaps many women joined the Unity more as a matter of survival than any promise of immortality.

What do you think?

Cyrus Teed In the Army

cyrus teed in the army

In 1862 at the age of twenty-two, a young medical student named Cyrus Teed enlisted in the Union Army and joined the New York Infantry of the New York volunteers. In 1863, by then a Corporal, Teed was assigned to Brigade Headquarters where he served as special aide to acting General Woodford. Some sources indicate he also worked as an assistant physician and surgeon but he may have embellished his record with this to make him and his military service seem more important.

While on the march near Warrenton Junction, Virginia, in August of 1863, he suffered sunstroke, which led to paralysis of his left arm and leg. According to army records, he was hospitalized in the army hospital in Alexandria, Virginia for almost two months.

During his hospital stay, Teed observed wounded soldiers who had a more positive outlook on life or strong religious faith recovered faster from their injuries—an observation which likely helped shape his own beliefs and contributed to his formation of Koreshanity and the Koreshan Unity.

He received an Honorable  (Medical) Discharge from the Army in October of 1863. After his discharge, he returned to New York to complete his medical studies and graduated from the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York, in February 1868 at the age of 29.

To learn more about Cyrus Teed, Koreshanity and the Koreshan Unitytake a guided tour of the historic settlement or attend a Ghost Walk performance. Showtimes are at 6:45, 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 and 8:00 PM on Jan 31st & Feb 1st, Feb 7th and 8th. Tickets are $25.00. Performances sell out quickly! To purchase tickets, click here.

Ghost Walk – A Time Travel Through History

The Koreshans brought culture and industry to Southwest Florida. They owned and operated many businesses in the Historic Settlement, including a machine shop, general store, bakery, post office and school.

For more than a quarter century, Koreshan State Park and Friends of Koreshan have offered guests a view of the life and times of Dr. Cyrus Teed, their founder, and the Koreshans with the theatrical production, Ghost Walk. In each one-hour performance, volunteers in period costumes guide you through a historical journey along the candlelit shell paths of the Historic Unity Settlement.

You will stroll past restored buildings from a bygone era and watch Koreshan reenactors scenes from their lives before, during, and after they settled in Southwest Florida.

In the first scene, you will witness the tension between Dr. Teed and Gustav Damkohler, the German homesteader who, while grieving for his recently deceased wife and children, had sold Teed 300 acres of land along the Estero River for the Koreshan Unity, and now regrets that decision.

In scene two, join prospective members of the Unity as Professor Eleanor Castle gives them an orientation on Koreshan beliefs. The Koreshans were unique, promoting racial and gender equality in a time where racism and gender inequality were rampant. At least one prospect finds some of their beliefs a bit too much to bear.

In scene three, we visit some Unity men and learn about their work, personal lives and sacrifices they endured in following Dr. Teed and his utopian vision—and the epic mistake one of them made.

While the charismatic Dr. Teed traveled, evangelizing and promoting Unity membership, the women of the Planetary Court ran the community. Despite the Koreshans’ belief in equality, in scene four, which features some of these women, you will learn that some Unity members were “more equal than others.”

In scene five, the women of the Planetary Court mourn Dr. Teed’s death and ponder the future of the Koreshan Unity.

Enjoy treats made from Koreshan recipes at the restored Bakery in scene six, and get a glimpse into the lives of the bakers who were not only responsible for feeding the Unity, but also meeting a growing demand for their “risin’ bread” from the outside community.

In scene seven, join Vesta Newcomb and an old friend as they reminisce about their early life in the Unity, and how they—and the Unity are adapting to the changing times.

In scene eight, volunteers crank up the 1925 Fairbanks Morse engine that powers the Westinghouse generator and provided the “miracle of light” for the settlement.

Ghost Walk 2020 showtimes are at 6:45, 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 and 8:00 PM on Jan 31st & Feb 1st, Feb 7th and 8th. Tickets are $25.00. Performances sell out quickly! To purchase your tickets, click here.

The Birth of Koreshanity

Caduceus
Caduceus

On an autumn evening in 1869, while experimenting with a mysterious force called electricity, 30-year-old Cyrus Teed had a vision he would later call his Illumination.

The spirit of God came to him in the form of a beautiful woman in gold and purple robes who carried the Mercury’s Caduceus.

This “God-spirit” told Teed the secrets of the universe and his place in it. The spirit revealed to him that God was both male and female, and men and women, as well as all races, were equal. The spirit also told him that he was chosen to explain (or interpret) the truths of the Bible to the masses. The spirit also told Teed that the earth is hollow, and we live inside it.

Later, Cyrus Teed would adopt the name Koresh, Hebrew for Cyrus, which, in ancient Hebrew, means Shepherd. His followers were called Koreshans, and their religion, a mixture of science and theology, was called Koreshanity.

Teed had been a student of alchemy for years and claimed he had changed lead to gold. Alchemists believed through the application of alchemical processes, the physical body can be maintained through infinity, unless physcially injured or destroyed. Perhaps this in part led him to his other belief, one that would have profound implications for the Koreshans in later years: only through celibacy could one hope to obtain eternal life.

Teed was raised a Baptist but was once a member of the Shakers, another religious organization that shared may of Teed’s beliefs, including communal/utopian living. Teed later invited them to become a  part of the Koreshan Unity, but they declined, perhaps being unable to accept his unique theory of Cellular Cosmogony, the belief that…

To learn more about the Koreshan Unity and its beginnings, take a guided tour of the historic settlement or purchase The Allure of Immortality, now available in paperback in the ranger station.

Koreshan Unity Member, Moses Weaver, Painter and Sculptor

Moses Weaver

Dr. Cyrus Teed (AKA Koresh) envisioned his Koreshan Unity would someday have ten million members, and Estero Florida would become the capital of the world. Painter and sculptor Moses Weaver, a unity member, created a painting of Teed’s vision of a New Jerusalem, which now hangs in the Art Hall.

In the painting, there are four sections of roads crisscrossing the Koreshan settlement. Each section has three roads: one for foot traffic, one for horse and buggy and one for commercial traffic.

The unity had even planned a composting disposal system called an Earth Closet to take sewage out of the City to what we now call a sewage treatment plant, to be used as fertilizer for their agricultural projects. No sewage was to be dumped into the rivers, bays or the Gulf.

Founders House, ca. 1900

Koresh even had plans to reroute the Estero River around the settlement to build a moat with a drawbridge. This would give the settlement a castle-like appearance for his New Jerusalem. His settlement home (now the Founders House) was to have a turret like those found in medieval European castles, sheathed in gold, which resembled Teed’s vision of Heaven.

Moses, born in Lancaster Pennsylvania in 1862 and died December 1965 in Utah, served for a time as a Koreshan Unity council member. He later left the Unity to join the Mormon Church.

To learn more about the Koreshan Unity and this unique period of Florida history, take a guided tour of the Koreshan Unity Historic Settlement.

The Koreshan Laundry House

The Koreshan Laundry House was built in 1903 in the Industrial Area of the park, where the entire settlement’s laundry could be washed and dried in only one day (11 hours).

All of the Unity laundry was done at the laundry house. There were between five and seven staff members. The laundry building contained three machines. One was a (VERY) large capacity washer, and the two other machines were called an extractor and a tumbler.

After the clothing and bedding were washed in the washer, The extractor, which operated like a modern spin dryer, reportedly spun at 3,000 RPM. It extracted all the water out of the newly washed items, leaving them virtually dry but tightly pressed together. The compressed items were then placed in the tumbler. The tumbler would rotate and loosen the items so they could be hung up to dry. In the Florida sun and heat, most of the wrinkles fell out, so little ironing was needed.

The laundry house was torn down in the mid 1950s, when it was no longer needed.

We Live Inside

Why Dr. Teed believed the Earth was hollow and we live inside it.

THE KORESHAN WORLD
Beliefs, about the nature of God and the nature of the Universe, were very important to the Koreshans in later years. Their vision of the world is a set of religious/pseudo-scientific beliefs put forth by Dr. Cyrus Teed, founder of Koreshanity.

TEED’S BELIEFS
Much of what Teed believed was given to him in a vision he called his Divine Illumination in 1869. According to Dr. Teed, God revealed to him the meaning of the universe and Teed’s purpose and place in it. Teed said God instructed him to interpret the Bible to the masses, and revealed several “truths” he wanted Teed to share with the world.

Among these truths was that God was both male and female, and thus women were to be treated the same as men, and everyone of all races were to be treated equally. Then, according to Dr. Teed, in this same vision, God revealed to him that we live on the inside of the Earth.

After he awoke from this vision, Teed vowed to apply his scientific knowledge to “redeem humanity.” He then denounced the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun and instead pioneered his own theory of the universe he called the Cellular Cosmogony.

CELLULAR COSMOGONY; TEED’S THEORY OF THE HOLLOW EARTH
The sun is an invisible electromagnetic battery revolving in the universe’s center on a 24-year cycle. Our visible sun is only a reflection, as is the moon, with the stars reflecting off seven mercurial discs that float in the sphere’s center. In the Earth, there are three separate atmospheres: the first composed of oxygen and nitrogen and closest to the Earth; the second, a hydrogen atmosphere above it; the third, an aboron atmosphere at the center. The Earth’s shell is one hundred miles thick and has seventeen layers. The outer seven are metallic with a gold rind on the outermost layer; the middle five are mineral and the five inward are geologic strata. Inside the shell, there is life, outside a void.

TEED “PROVES” HIS HOLLOW EARTH THEORY
A team of Koreshans led by Ulysses Grant Morrow conducted a survey on Naples beach using a land surveying device called a geodetic rectilineator, part of which is on display in the Art Hall in the Historic Unity Settlement in Koreshan State Park. According to Teed, the survey indicated that the horizon did not go down, but actually went up about eight inches per mile or around thirty-six inches in the land surveyed.

Conclusion, if the horizon goes up, we must live in a concave world, or on the inside. Therefore…

We Live Inside!

To learn more about Dr. Teed and other Florida pioneers, take one of Koreshan State Park’s Historic Guided Tours, and pick up a copy of “The Allure of Immortality” by Lyn Millner or Teed’s “Cellular Cosmogony” in the Ranger Station.

Dr. Cyrus Teed

Cyrus Teed, who would later become the founder of the Koreshan Unity, was eleven and had only completed eighth grade when he dropped out of school to work as an Erie Canal hoggee (mule wrangler/driver) to help support his family.

Since Teed’s parents were Baptist and he was a natural orator, when he was older his friends urged him to study for the ministry. However, Cyrus decided to become a physician. In 1859 he began the study of  medicine in Utica, NY with his uncle, Dr. Samuel F. Teed, an allopathic physician. It was not unusual at that time for many doctors to learn their trade by apprenticing with a physician.

By 1860, Teed was married and had a young son, Douglas. In 1862, Teed enrolled in the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York. There, he studied until August 9, 1862 when he enlisted in the Infantry of the 127th New York Volunteers. The following year, by then a Corporal, He may have worked as an assistant physician and surgeon while in the Army, but he could have added this about himself later to make his service (and him) appear more important.

On August 1, 1863,  while on the march near Warrenton Junction, Virginia, Corporal Teed suffered severe sunstroke which led to paralysis of his left arm and leg. Army records indicate he was a patient in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia by August 8, 1863, where he spent fifty days.

As a patient, Corporal Teed noticed that wounded soldiers who had a positive outlook on life or strong faith recovered faster. After the war, he received an Honorable (Medical) Discharge from the Army, October 16, 1863. After his discharge, he returned to New York City to complete his medical studies in Eclectic Medicine and graduated in February 1868 at the age of twenty-nine.

In 1869, Teed experienced what he called his “Divine Illumination,” and left his son, Douglas, and wife, Fidelia to develop a religious sect he called Koreshanity. He would eventually select Estero, Florida as the epicenter of his “New Jerusalem.” He would go on to attract many followers to his new religion. What remains of his “New Jerusalem” is now the 200-acre Koreshan State Park.

To learn more about Dr. Teed and other Florida pioneers, take one of Koreshan State Park’s Historic Guided Tours, and pick up a copy of “The Allure of Immortality” by Lyn Millner in the Ranger Station.