Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Settlement at Koreshan State Historic Site

At Koreshan State Historic Site, on the Estero River, besides camping, visitors can explore the structures and gardens of the 19th century religious settlement.  There are landscaped grounds and eleven restored buildings.  You can take self-guided tours or request a ranger-guided tour.

*The founding of the Koreshan Unity Settlement was the continuation of a movement started in Moravia, New York, in 1880 by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed. This utopian community of 200 followers often had to contend with an unfriendly and hostile society because of their religious, scientific and cultural beliefs.  To find an accommodating environment, the movement relocated to the Florida frontier in 1894.  Dr. Teed took the name "Koresh", the Hebrew translation for Cyrus, meaning shepherd.

The colonists believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere.  They conducted experiments that seemed to confirm their beliefs.

Encouraged by their visionary leader, the industrious Koreshans built and operated a printing facility, boat works, cement works, sawmill, bakery, store and hostelry.  Education, science and art also helped shape their community.  Education served an important role, not only for the children at the settlement, but also for the adult members.  Artistic endeavors included producing plays and musicals, and creating elaborate Victorian gardens. 

After the death of Dr. Teed in 1908 at the age of 69, membership of his religious group began to decline.  Not a single new building was constructed or project started after his death.  In 1961, the four remaining members deeded 305 acres of their land to the State of Florida as a park and memorial.  The Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.*

(*from a brochure distributed at the park.)

Touring the site is a good day trip if you spend the time to read the many signages and peruse the paintings and photos that are inside the buildings and along the walkways. 

There are three ways to enter the historic site.  A paved road and parking lot near the ranger station, the Blue Trail by the machine shops, or the River Trail at the sunken garden area.  The walkways in the site are wide, small white gravel paths.  Accessible for all. Some buildings are not accessible, but have glass walls for viewing inside.

 Enter from the parking lot by two gravel paths.

 These paths cross a small creek.

The first building you see is the Art Hall.  Still in use today local people provide a variety of entertainment.

The stage in the hall still has the original floor planks.  The Steinway is original and is still tuned and used for performances.  It is rare in the fact that it has only 85 keys while a standard Steinway has 88.

Throughout the hall are many paintings collected by Dr. Teed.

Also, in the hall is a Koreshan hollow earth globe, which is used to explain Cellular Cosmogony, and descriptions of experiments to prove their belief regarding Earth and its relationship with the universe.

Dr. Teed's residence.  The original building was of frame construction, but to the left is the beginnings of a planned observatory.  It was never finished due to Dr. Teeds death.

The parlor in the residence. Plexiglass panels protect the original furnishings.  The second floor is blocked off and the remainder of the first floor is filled with old photographs, dioramas and other mementos of the era.

The Planetary Court. Built circa 1904, it was originally designed to house the seven women who managed the Unity.

The foyer.  Again, photos taken through plexiglass panels.

One of the first floor bedrooms. 

In one corner of the property are the support buildings for the community.  This is the large machine shop.   All the machinery works.  Around December the volunteer machinists take the covers off the equipment and demonstrate the operation.  Attached to the rear of the large machine shop was the laundry.  One of the buildings that could not be salvaged.

The overhead drive pulleys that power the saws, lathes, punch press, etc. Electric power from the generator building powers a large electric motor driving the pulley shaft.

Tools of the trade.

On the right the generator building, to the left the small machine shop.

Inside the generator room. On the back wall is the steam engine that turned the generators in the foreground. 

Inside the small machine shop.

The bakery.

Inside the bakery.

 Vesta Newcomb Cottage.


 The living room.

Damkohler Cottage. The first building of the new settlement. The cottage hosted Dr. Teed and his entourage during his first visit to the future home of the Koreshan Unity.

I don't know the size of his entourage, but this is a one room cottage!  A good reason Dr. Teed's residence was so huge once he settled in, I guess.

The membership cottage used as the residence for the membership. It eventually became the home of Vesta Newcomb, one of the last remaining Koreshans. 

An old photo of the old general store on the right and the new general store.  The old store existed along the Estero River and served as the hub of the Settlement. It housed the store, a restaurant, and a post office.  The Tamiami Trail was not built until the early 1920s, so much of the traffic was by boat. The old store burned down in 1938. 

 The back of the new general store which faces the Tamiami Trail (US Hwy 41).   The new store was built to take advantage of the Tamiami Trail.  In addition to the store, restaurant and post office, the second floor was a dormitory.  

Since the widening of the Tamiami Trail seriously encroached on the front fascia of this building, it is now boarded up.

The remains of the dining hall, the largest building in the settlement, and Lee County: the dinner bell.

An old photo of the dining hall.  The first floor of the three story building was the community dining area and the upper floors housed the sisters of the community.

The grounds of the settlement are wide open and very well kept for formal events and visitor use.


While there, several families used the grounds as a picnic area, professional photo shoots, playing non-electronic games, etc.  

On Sunday morning there is a farmer's market along the pathways.

Looking toward the sunken gardens.

The more rustic of the two ornate bridges in the sunken gardens area near the river.

The more formal bridge, as I see it.

A giant Monkey Puzzle Tree.  The Koreshans brought in a wide variety of plants for their Sunken Garden.  Only remnants now exist along the river.

The Bamboo Landing.  This landing served as an elaborate formal entrance to the Settlement from the Estero River. 

Passengers and freight arrived here and at another less conspicuous dock further east at the old general store and bridge.

Bamboo Landing also served as a cultural venue that the Koreshans used to stage theatrical and orchestral performances.

A view of the Estero River from the Bamboo Landing dock.

There are four mounds near the entrance to the Sunken Gardens.  Once filled with a variety of flowers, they are now grass mounds, and.....

 .....one is home to a large gopher turtle, who guards his domain by making an appearance about 11:00am and 6:00pm according to the rangers.  I can vouch for the 11:00 am appearance on the four days I visited the Settlement.

A Weekend at Florida's Koreshan State Historic Site

 A surprisingly neat state park.  Or, historic site as it were.  A nice campground and an opportunity to learn a little Florida history and see some interesting equipment.  This blog is just the campgrounds and trails.  The historic site part of the park is another blog.


All the campsites have a lot of shade and side privacy.  They all appear level and are dirt/sand with water and electricity.  There are about 10 dedicated to tent camping.

There are two paved loop roads.  This loop has sites only down the right side of half the loop and doesn't seem as crowded as the second loop which has sites along both sides of the the entire loop.  Side privacy is a little better in this loop, but good in both loops.

Aside from the historic site, the park has a beautiful river, paved roads for biking and two hiking trails.  The River Trail starts at the boat ramp near the campsites and winds along the Estero River for about .6 miles and ends at the historic site.  It is not a loop and you either return via this trail or return via the blue trail, a .76 mile trail that joins the red trail near the tent sites and day park.  The sign at the boat ramp discourages swimming in the river.  The sign says "alligator", but I believe there are more than one.

The trail starts with a short bridge,

passes through a nice picnic area/playground, 

then turns into a sandy fairly level trail along the river.

Along the way are turn-outs created over time by hikers to see the river.


And, there are a few "formal" observation points.

From the trail one can see paddlers on this river noted for kayaking activity.  Bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one at the ranger station, or a 3rd party off the state property across Hwy 41.  Saw only one powered boat in four days at the park.

The foliage varies along the way from clusters of bamboo.....

...to clusters of palms.....


...to a variety of trees and shrubs.  All making for an interesting hike along the river.

 Did I mention level?  There are slight elevation changes.  Nothing strenuous.  Just enough to make it interesting.  Also, there are some areas with exposed roots.

The Blue Trail, while flat and longer is not quite as interesting.  Albeit a nice hike.

From the historic site it starts out like a service road,

passes through some grassy areas,

and ends up joining the River Trail in an area comprised of pines, oaks, palmettos, palms and various shrubs.

Things you might see at the campground or trails

 Brown Anole

Eastern Gray Squirrel...bearing gifts.

Weird roots.

Limestone barriers.

Boat ramp....

.....on a serene river.