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.

What to Expect on an Historic Walking Tour

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.

Those interested in helping us preserve the beautiful historic buildings of Koreshan State Park may donate to their upkeep and restoration by clicking here.

A Brief History of The Koreshans and Koreshan State Park

The Koreshan Unity began in the 1870s in New York, where, after God came to him in the form of a beautiful woman, Dr. Cyrus Teed began preaching equality and that “We Live Inside” a hollow Earth. He formed groups of followers in New York City and Moravia and later moved to Chicago Illinois. There, Teed and his followers established their first commune in 1888. Members also created communities in  Continue reading “A Brief History of The Koreshans and Koreshan State Park”