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Koreshan State Park is Florida’s strangest historic site

But there’s more to this beautiful park near Naples. It has great camping and kayaking too.

One reason I love Koreshan State Park on Florida’s Gulf Coast is that it is so “on brand.” Leave it to Florida to have a historic state park preserving the story of an eccentric cult.

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

This grand building, named the Planetary Court, was built around 1904 as a home for the seven women managing the Koreshan Unity community. The community was majority female and women ran all the businesses. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Koreshan State Park: Named the Planetary Court, this historic landmark was built around 1904 as a home for the seven women who managed the Koreshan Unity community, which was majority female. Women ran all the businesses. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 an excellent campground.

You could stop here and walk through the historic grounds, read a few signs and be happy with a 60-minute visit. But it’s easy to spend two or three hours here. Even on a return visit, I found I wanted to see inside the buildings and read all the signs because I found the topic so interesting. (But, then, I do love Florida history.)

This historic cottage is the oldest building at Koreshan State Park. It was built by Gustave Damkohler, a German homesteader who lived here before giving this cabin and 160 acres on the Estero River to the Koreshan Unity and following his son to Alaska. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The oldest building at Koreshan State Park is a historic cottage built by Gustave Damkohler, a German homesteader who lived here. He gave this cabin and 160 acres on the Estero River to the Koreshan Unity and followed his son to Alaska. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

History of Koreshan comunity

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.

This pretty Victorian wooden bridge is a reproduction of one built between around 1904 at the community. There is a second replica bridge inthe garden area at Koreshan State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The pretty Victorian wooden bridge is a reproduction of one built around 1904 at the community. There is another replica bridge in the garden area at Koreshan State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Thank goodness they did. As a result, we have a park that not only preserves a fascinating historic story but also terrific recreational lands and waters.

A volunteer at Koreshan State Park describes the strange theory of the founder, Cyrus Teed, of the community. In the background is the model Teed used to explain his theory that the Earth was inside a sphere with the sun in the middle. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A volunteer at Koreshan State Park describes the strange theory of Cyrus Teed, founder of the community. In the background is the model Teed used to explain his theory that the Earth was inside a sphere with the sun in the middle. To make the theory work, he had to convince people that the moon did not exist. He said it was an illusion. Two hundred people followed him to Florida, apparent believers. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Take a tour of Koreshan State Park’s historic buildings

While you can take a self-guided tour using the good signage at the park, the 90-minute tours given by volunteers is a great way to learn the story.

You can go inside a few of the historic buildings, which are well preserved. Many of the buildings that you cannot enter have glass doors that allow you to see inside.

Guided Tours are $10 each. Tours start at the entrance to the Historic Settlement by the parking lot and can be reserved online. You also can arrange private tours.

There is an excellent movie in the Founder’s House, which is very worth watching.

koreshan state park koreshan laundrey Koreshan State Park is Florida's strangest historic site
The central laundry facility illustrates that life in a cult community had advantages for women. Household tasks were communal, which meant meals were eaten together, laundry was done centrally and children were cared for communally. This “women’s work” was shared rather than the burden of an individual, freeing some to run and work in businesses. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The women of Koreshan

I’ve visited Koreshan several times over many years and each time I have a different take-away. This time I was struck by the role of women. Life for women was tough at the end of the 19th Century — women had no rights; they couldn’t vote; if they worked, their husbands were legally entitled to their wages; if they divorced, the husbands could claim custody of the children.

Cyrus Teed called marriage “female slavery,” and it’s no surprise then that his followers were predominantly female, some bringing children with them.

This cult’s appeal to women is understandable. At Koreshan, women ran all the businesses and children were raised communally. It was an alternative to marriage or a way to escape a bad marriage.

Of course, the wacky cult leader thought he was God. But, then, women are used to that.

koreshan state park koreshan kayaking Koreshan State Park is Florida's strangest historic site
Koreshan State Park near Naples offers a beautiful kayak trail on the Estero River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Koreshan State Park kayaking and hiking

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

The 1.5 mile-long shady loop hiking trail along the Estero River passes through a historic bamboo forest planted by the community. It is an easy and popular hike.

We loved paddling the scenic, bird-filled Estero River, which winds through a natural setting both upstream and downstream for about two miles. Upstream, the river gets shallow; downstream after a mile or two, it widens and gains power boat traffic.

Canoe and kayak rentals for no longer available at the park. A local outfitter rents kayaks on the Estero River.

We’ve paddled from Koreshan to Mound Key Archaeological State Park, which is a long haul — more than four miles, with half of that being a less pleasant power-boat-intensive paddle.  After doing that, I think it’s better to paddle to Mound Key from the opposite side of Estero Bay at Lovers Key State Park, from which it is about two miles.) Mound Key was, incidentally, donated to the state by the last of the Koreshan women.

Campsite at Koreshan State Park
Koreshan State Park camping. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Camping at Koreshan State Park

Koreshan State Park camping gets good reviews. It’s particularly nice for tent campers.  (Big RV rigs will find the sites tight; the sites are all back in.)

There are 54 sites, with 12 designated for tent campers, and campsites are wooded with vegetation providing privacy. 

Map of Koreshan State Park in Estero, just north of Naples
Map of Koreshan State Park in Estero, just north of Naples

Koreshan State Park
3800 Corkscrew Rd
Estero, FL 33928
(239) 992-0311
Directions to Koreshan State Park:  Six minutes off the Interstate. Exit I-75 west on Corkscrew Road/SR 850 and drive two miles west. Admission is $4 single occupancy or $5 per vehicle for two to eight passengers.

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

Things to do near Koreshan State Park:


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