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Koreshan State Park preserves wacky Florida history


Near Naples, Koreshan State Park is popular for camping, kayaking, history

Koreshan Founder's Hall in Estero Florida by Mwanner

Historic Founder’s Hall at Koreshan State Park near Naples

Scenic Estero riverfront at Koreshan State Park

Scenic Estero riverfront at Koreshan State Park

Historic buildings at Koreshan State Park

Historic buildings at Koreshan State Park

A settler's riverfront cabin at Koreshan State Park

A settler’s riverfront cabin. at Koreshan State Park

Campsite at Koreshan State Park

Campsite at Koreshan State Park.

ESTERO — When I worked in a newsroom, we had a saying: Take any wacko story in the country and, sooner or later, it will involve somebody from Florida.

This is one reason I love Koreshan State Historic Park on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s so perfect that we have a Florida state park devoted to preserving the story of a wacky 19th century cult.

Koreshan State Park  plays it very straight, soberly explaining “the Koreshan Unity believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere.”

Yup. These people picked up and left Chicago to become pioneers on the Florida frontier in 1894 because they thought we lived inside a bubble. OK. They probably left Chicago in the winter. But Florida, with its malarial mosquitoes, was no picnic in the summer.

Today Koreshan State Park offers great natural beauty. Sprawling along the lovely Estero River, there are gardens and exotic bamboo forests left over from the community’s beautification efforts, 11 historic buildings and attractive, shaded picnic sites and campgrounds.

The walking tour of the grounds and buildings tells the story of Dr. Cyrus R. Teed, who led the utopian community that eventually attracted 200 followers. By all accounts, they were an industrious group, operating a bakery, sawmill, printing facility, even a restaurant and hotel on the main road, U.S. 41. Like many of the idealistic communities of the era, followers believed in communal living and celibacy, which certainly limited one form of community growth.

Koreshan was well-preserved over the years even though Teed died in 1908. (The story goes that followers propped up the body and waited days for him to resurrect himself until the county health department made them bury him.) Without Teed, the group did not thrive. Amazingly, though, there were still four members living there in 1961, and it was this elderly contingent that generously gave the 305 acres to become Koreshan State Park.

That park is a great place to picnic and explore — on foot or by canoe or kayak.

We rented a canoe at the park and paddled the scenic, bird-filled Estero River.

We paddled from Koreshan to Mound Key Archaeological State Park, which is a long haul.  After doing that, we would  recommend heading to Mound Key from the opposite side — Lovers Key.   But a shorter exploration of the Estero makes a pleasant paddle.

The campsites get good reviews for tent camping; big RV rigs might find them a little tight.

Koreshan State Park is located near many interesting and scenic locales:

Things to do near Koreshan State Park:

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