A portrait of some early Koreshan Settlers In Estero FL
By Roger Parlin, Docent, Tour Guide
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 San Francisco and other towns, as well as in Estero Florida, which Teed believed would become “The New Jerusalem” with two million followers. The settlement, with its plays and concerts, quickly became the cultural heart of Southwest Florida, supported by such luminaries as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Following the 1908 death of Dr. Teed, who had renamed himself “Koresh,” Hebrew for “Cyrus,” the Unity went into decline. Several groups split to form other groups. One, The Order of Theocracy, left in 1910, moved to nearby Fort Myers and lasted until 1931. The fact the Unity was celibate did not help, although celibacy was not the real problem; there was a married status within the Unity. However, celibates were the highest order and held the most important positions. With members leaving and no new members joining, the Unity slowly dwindled.
In 1961, Hedwig Michel, one of the few surviving members, and president of the Koreshans’ religious community, deeded the property to the State of Florida, which then became Koreshan State Park. In 1967, after restoration of eleven buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places, the park was renamed Koreshan State Historic Site. In 2017, shortly after Hurricane Irma, the site again became Koreshan State Park.
For more in-depth history on the Koreshans, order a copy of Dr. Lyn Milner’s groundbreaking book, The Lure of Immortality or pick one up at the Koreshan State Park Ranger Station, or take a historic guided tour.