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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.

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October 15, 2013

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.