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Mound House Happenings shares the latest in ongoing projects, site improvements, scheduled programs and events, plus interesting facts and photos on our unique archaeology, history and ecology.

Mound House

Mound House
October 15, 2013

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Unity - Post-Teed

Mound House staff and volunteers had the opportunity to visit Koreshan State Historic Site on May 17, 2012 where we had the opportunity to learn more about the unusual religious organization that developed in Estero, FL as the nineteenth century closed. This multi-part series follows the Unity following the death of its charismatic leader, Cyrus Teed.
Disillusionment immediately took a toll on the Unity. Younger members began to leave and, dividing into factions, a power struggle ensued as to who would succeed Koresh as head of the Unity. Several groups split off from the Unity. One such group was the Order of Theocracy that left in 1910 and moved to nearby Ft. Myers. This group lasted until 1931. Surprisingly, the persistent faith of about three-dozen members sustained the community for the next 30 years. The Koreshan Unity continued to be productive however, from 1916 until 1946, they generated their own electricity to power the community and sold it as well to homes in the surrounding area. The fact the Unity was celibate did not help, even though there was a married status within the Unity. Celibates were the highest order. Without new members joining, the group slowly dwindled. It continued to publish the Flaming Sword until the printing press burned down in 1949. It also published the American Eagle, which began in 1906 and later became a horticultural newspaper.
By 1940, 35 elderly members remained. It was at this time that a Jewish woman named Hedwig Michel, having just fled Nazi Germany, arrived at the Unity. She had learned of the organization while living in Germany. Over the next two years, Michel proceeded to reorganize the Koreshan General Store, adding a restaurant, a Western Union office, and, across the street, a gas station. The Unity experienced a momentary renewal, but, with only four members left by 1960, Michel offered the 300-acre “utopia” to the State of Florida.
Sometimes referred to as “The Last Koreshan,” Michel has been called a fussy and hard-nosed businesswoman who took over a failing ideological community and rekindled its elderly and faltering membership. Michel became head of the Koreshan Unity, the corporate arm of the settlement, in 1960, and hoarded the community’s possessions and land until she died in 1982. Considered by many to be a shrewd opportunist, Michel lived a life of luxury on the Koreshan grounds, driving a new Cadillac and traveling to Europe each year while many of the elderly Koreshans complained they didn’t have the bare necessities.
Mound House volunteer Bill Grace’s great-grandparents, John and Mary Grier, were part of the original Chicago Koreshans who came to live on the banks of the Estero River near the turn of the 20th century. “They considered her to be an interloper,” Grace said. “And they considered Vesta (Newcomb) to be the last surviving Koreshan.” The settlement flourished in its early days, bringing electricity and modern printing presses to a remote and relatively unsettled Southwest Florida.
Unlike the majority of Koreshans who lived at the compound in the 1960s, Michel was an outsider who forced her way into the leadership role. After securing her place as the legal figurehead, Michel later deeded more than 300 acres to the state in return for a life estate within the settlement and tax-free status. There are countless stories documented in books, newspapers and verbal tales of Michel abandoning the settlement during storms and spending money on her personal comforts rather than food and utilities for elderly Koreshan members. “She got a majority vote on the (Koreshan) board and (Koreshan Allen) Andrews filed a lawsuit against her for converting Unity assets to herself,” said Grace, himself a Fort Myers attorney. The lawsuit eventually was dismissed and Michel became an autocrat in a settlement that was founded on communal beliefs and equality among all people and races.
Evelyn Horne worked for Michel from the time she took over the Unity until Michel’s death in 1982. Over the years, Horne developed a loyalty to Michel that’s still evident when she talks about the fallen Koreshan leader today. Even though Michel ruled with strict guidelines and took little input from outsiders, Horne considers her to be a saving grace. “She really brought the Unity out of debt when we were really in the hole,” Horne said. Still, Horne doesn’t subscribe to “The Last Koreshan” title either. Like Grace and many historians, Horne says Newcomb was the real last Koreshan. After Hedwig gave custody of the land to the state, the Koreshan State Park (now known as the Koreshan State Historic Site) opened in 1967. Hedwig Michel was allowed to continue to living in the opulent building known as the "Planetary Court" until her death in 1981. Horne’s deceased husband, George Horne, buried Michel on a plot in the middle of the Koreshan State Historic Site’s garden. “The water was knee-deep where the (original) cemetery was when Hedwig died, and George couldn’t get down there to bury her,” Horne said. “So we got permission from the state to bury her in the garden.” Her grave is fenced off and marked with a descriptive stone.
Grace, one of Michel’s biggest detractors, said Michel doesn’t deserve to rest in the center of the Koreshan settlement. “I think it’s most inappropriate, especially when you consider how she let the other cemeteries go,” Grace said. There are two Koreshan cemeteries still in existence. Neither burial ground was well kept under Michel’s tenure; and today the grave sites are in risk of being lost to decay.
While many had vastly differing views of the last leader of the Koreshans, it can be agreed she took dictatorial control of the religious group and used it for her own advantage. Her greatest work, which self-servingly allowed her to live expense and tax free until her death, may have been the donation of Koreshan land to the state of Florida forming the Koreshan State Historic Site where visitors fish, picnic, boat, hike, and learn from park rangers about this unique utopian religious community along the scenic banks of the Estero River. 
The settlement became the Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Eleven of the community’s buildings now remain within Koreshan State Historic Site, a unit of the Florida Park Service, and house a collection of approximately 5,000 artifacts. Half of the collection is state property and is fully cataloged. The other 2,500 objects were conveyed to the State of Florida by the College of Life Foundation, the nonprofit corporate successor of the Koreshan Unity. Today, visitors can fish, picnic, boat, and hike where Teed´s visionaries once carried out survey experiments to prove the horizon on the beaches of Collier County curves upward. A boat ramp and canoe rentals are available. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the settlement or a ranger-guided tour.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Moment of Zen

Public Display Articles on Mound House

Table-top display articles are complete, so stop by Mound House for a quick read on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday between 9am and 12pm. This display board will help us entice visitors next festival season to explore Mound House.

Summer Sunset Beachwalk Success

The Summer Sunset Beachwalks offered by Parke Lewis have become an Island Favorite! The special series has attracted approximately 25 - 30 guests PER BEACHWALK! Click the link below to read more about this fantastic offering...

Bicycles Welcome!

Did you know the Mound House grouds are completely bicycle friendly? We welcome all bike enthusiasts to come out and enjoy our property, with 8 bike racks scattered around the grounds available for your pleasure. There are racks at both entrances, the fishing pier and the kayak launch.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bishop Verot Summer Camp July 20th, 2012

Mound House welcomed the Bishop Verot Summer camp on Friday July 20th. The summer camp is about 12 children of varying ages who embark on several exciting adventures all over southwest Florida. The group visits Mound House almost every summer, and we are always happy to have them here! Check out a few pictures from their visit below...

Monday, July 16, 2012

NEW! Volunteer Spotlight

We have a new Volunteer Spotlight! Please click here to read about Mutzi Prasse.

Moment of Zen

ce n'est pas une libellule ...

NEW! Creature Feature

#15 - SMOOTH BUTTERFLY RAY ( Gymnura micura)

Summer is the time in which the full and new moons bring extreme low evening tides to the beaches of Estero Island, and it is during these low tides that the sand bars become exposed  for a few hours at sunset, separating the waves form the shore and leaving the water between sandbar and beach shallow, clear , calm… and teeming with marine life that is rarely seen in the turbulence of the waves washing ashore on a high tide. One of the more unusual species to be observed during this time is the smooth butterfly ray. He is a master of camouflage, and you must look closely to find him. Usually found on soft sandy bottoms, the butterfly rays found on our shores tend to be a light sandy color that blends in nearly perfectly with the bottom. They are wider than they are long, with a very short tail displaying two distinct horizontal bands. These small rays feed on  fish, invertebrates and crustaceans. Butterfly rays are common throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the northern coast of South America, and the Atlantic coast of Africa. If you are wading in the shallows looking for one, these rays tend to move slowly away ,gliding just above the bottom and will often stop to fan themselves into the sand nearly disappearing from sight. Although this species of ray is harmless and has no poisonous spine, be sure to shuffle your feet, lest you step on him and feel the stinging pain of butterfly ray resentment.      

NEW! Plants in Profile

#15 - BARBADOS CHERRY (Malpighia punicifolia)

The Barbados cherry is a small tree or bushy shrub and can be found right outside the Mound House office. It is an attractive shrub with lavender flowers and bright red cherries in the summer. A natïve to the Lesser Antilles, it has become naturalized in Cuba, Jamaica  and Puerto Rico. It is also commonly grown in dooryards throughout the Bahamas and Bermuda. The fruit has been found to have a high amount of ascorbic acid and is commonly eaten by people in the Caribbean to relieve cold symptoms. Most commonly ,they are picked regularly during the long fruiting season and enjoyed as a desert, preserved or even juiced. They are also a favorite of the birds, small mammals , staff and volunteers of Mound House

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Koreshans: Teed and Co. arrive in Estero

Mound House staff and volunteers had the opportunity to visit Koreshan State Historic Site on May 17, 2012 where we had the opportunity to learn more about the unusual religious organization that developed in Estero, FL as the nineteenth century closed. This multi-part series continues as Cyrus Teed and a few of his followers arrive in Southwest Florida, which they hope to make a "New Jerusalem."

On December 26, 1893, Dr. Teed, Mary Mills, Berthaldine Boomer, and Annie Ordway again left Chicago for Punta Gorda. Mrs. Boomer sold some land that she owned and used the money to finance the trip. The party rode the train from Chicago to Punta Gorda and then took a boat to Punta Rassa. They spent the night at the hotel and were met by Damkohler and his son Elwin the next morning. They proceeded up the Estero River, arriving at what is now Bamboo Landing at on January 1, 1894. On January 7th, Dr. Teed spoke at the Baptist Church in the afternoon and evening. They stayed with Damkohler for six weeks, and convinced him to sell his 320 acres to the Koreshans. Title was transferred on November 19, 1894. Meanwhile, the first group of Koreshans left Chicago on January 11th and arrived on January 20th, this group consisted of five people, followed by a group of twenty who left Chicago on January 31 and arrived February 6th. The new colony was soon in full swing. Teed also bought land from William T. Dodd in 1894 at what was to become Horseshoe Bend. Dodd's house had fallen apart and was known as Skeleton House. Later, the Koreshans put their first cemetery there.

Several locals tried to stir up resentment against the Koreshan group for perceived slights, but Teed and others did an excellent job of cultivating goodwill in Ft. Myers. Hoping to avoid the troubles encountered in Chicago, Teed lectured several times in Ft. Myers and opened their door to visitors in Estero. After a weekend visit the Ft. Myers News-Press stated they were all, “intelligent, well-educated and pleasant people whom it is a pleasure to meet and to talk to.” The paper went on to say, “They are all workers and will make their part of the county a veritable paradise on earth.” It was not until Teed and the Koreshans entered politics that they would raise the ire of the rest of Lee County.

Between 1904 and 1908, with a population of approximately 250 members, the Unity in Estero was at its zenith. The Koreshans were remarkably prolific, fashioning homes, businesses, and industries that allowed them to be a self-sustaining community. They began by building a log house with a thatched roof shortly after their arrival in 1894, and an immense, three-story community dining hall two years later. By this time, the Koreshans had their own sawmill, and the “Master’s House,” a home for Teed, followed shortly after by the dining hall. Eventually, Koreshan enterprises included a boat works, steam laundry, printing house, concrete works, post office, and general store all located on the grounds. The “risin’ bread” baked in the Koreshan Bakery was sold in the general store and became a choice commodity of the local public. Also frequented by the public were the many plays and band concerts put on by members of the Unity in their “Art Hall” auditorium. But there was still a level of distrust and contempt for the Koreshans from the local community.

Ironically, the mounting prosperity of the community inadvertently brought about its decline. In 1904, the Koreshans sought to incorporate the Unity and surrounding area into a city. However, area landowners rejected the idea, fearing an increased tax burden. Nonetheless, in September 1904, a compromise was made, leaving the opposing landowners unincorporated while the Unity and some other adjacent lands, totaling 110 square miles, became the town of “Estero.” Estero’s incorporation entitled the town to county road tax funds. Compounded by the prejudicial views of the surrounding society toward the Koreshans’ communistic way of life, resentment began to emerge on the part of the neighboring City of Fort Myers, who would lose money as a result of it being diverted to Estero. In an attempt to divert more of those funds, the Koreshans formed the Progressive Liberty Party to run against the area’s established Democrats in the election of 1906.
            The above, fueled an altercation between several Koreshan men, including Teed, and some citizens of Fort Myers, accompanied by the town marshal, S. W. Sanchez, on October 13, 1906. Dr. Teed was injured and arrested along with Richard Jansch and Claude Rahn. They were taken to the Lee County Bank at the corner of 1st and Hendry Street where they posted bond of $10.00 each. They chose not to return for trial and the matter was dropped. However, Cyrus’ condition from the beating worsened as time went on and was believed to be the cause of his death two years later. He died on December 22, 1908, the Winter Solstice. One aspect of Teed’s 1869 “illumination” was that, upon physical death, he would re-incarnate and re-emerge immortal. Accordingly, in the days immediately following Teed’s death, the Koreshans awaited his resurrection. Members within the Koreshan Unity Settlement that practiced celibacy had been promised by Teed that they, too, would become immortal upon his resurrection. Therefore, by the time Christmas Day had come and gone, hope turned to disappointment, and on December 27, Dr. J.E. Brecht, the county health officer, ordered that the corpse be interred. Many of his followers had hoped that he would be resurrected on Christmas Day. He was entombed at the southern end of Estero Island on December 27, 1908.

And so ended the colorful life of Cyrus Teed. But, despite facing a huge number of challenges, the Koreshan Unity did not die with him, instead soldiering on. Check back next week to read about the Koreshans continuing their lives in the wilds of Southwest Florida.