At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.
Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”
Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.