By Tour Guide and Docent, Roger Parlin
Aerial of the Koreshan Unity and Route 41/Tamiami Trail c. 1958. Photo from Koreshan State Historic Site Photograph Collection.
The name Estero is Spanish for estuary – where the river meets the sea – and until the 1970s much of the settlement and development in Estero was near the Estero River, then called Mosquito Creek.
In the early days, Estero was a major citrus producing area. The first homesteader is reported to be Gustave Damkohler who in 1882 farmed citrus along the Estero River and then used the river to ship his harvests north via the Gulf of Mexico.
Estero’s most noted pioneer was Dr. Cyrus Teed, leader of the Koreshan Unity (now Koreshan State Park), who believed the universe existed within a giant hollow sphere. He and some of his followers began settling along the Estero River in 1894. Gustave Damkohler joined the group after selling his 320 acres of land to the Unity for $200.
The Koreshans were able to incorporate 110 square miles into the Town of Estero in 1904. The municipality stretched from a mile north of today’s Gladiolus Drive in South Fort Myers to a mile north of Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs and included all of today’s Lovers Key State Park and the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
Not all the homesteaders of that time were happy with the Koreshans. In 1901 Mr. and Mrs. F. M. Hendry deeded land for the Estero Creek School with the restriction of prohibiting all things Koreshan. This school operated until 1903; there is no record of why it closed. The Town of Estero was later abolished in 1907.
During this time, the Koreshans opened a post office, store, blacksmith and saw mill; established schools for all those who wanted to attend; built an Art Hall for their symphony orchestra and theater group, and gathered exotic vegetation from throughout the world which they planted on their grounds. The eleven remaining historic structures are now maintained by the state at Koreshan State Park. Gustave Damkohler’s cottage is among those, and is the oldest structure in Lee County, built in 1882.
Step back in time and witness pivotal moments in the lives of these hardy Florida pioneers and visionaries in Ghost Walk 2022, January 28, 29 and February 4, 5. Tickets are $25 and available online only. To learn more and purchase tickets, click here.
Damkohler’s cottage c. 1890. Photo from Koreshan State Historic Site Photograph Collection.