Cyrus Reed Teed was not — to borrow a phrase from his favorite book — one to hide his light under a bushel. Especially not when his “light’’ was that an emissary from God had told Teed he was the seventh Messiah … right after Jesus.
Just 30 when he originally proclaimed his status in 1869, this medical doctor from upstate New York recruited believers to build and populate a “New Jerusalem.’’ He named this society the Koreshan Unity — “Koresh” being Hebrew for “Cyrus’’ and meaning a shepherd.
This shepherd built his New Jerusalem on the Estero River, five miles in from the Gulf of Mexico. In 1894 he moved his flock of 75 followers from Chicago to 300 acres near Fort Myers.
By 1908, they would number about 250 members, living and working in about 50 buildings including a bakery, sawmill, publishing house, three-story dining hall, school, electrical-generating plant and a performance venue named the Art Hall.
Eleven of these structures, plus charming gardens, still exist in Koreshan State Historic Site.
Beyond Teed’s insistence on being recognized as a Messiah, he also announced that the sun, moon, planets and stars were actually contained in a hollow sphere, with the Earth as the inside surface of that sphere.
A large model of this sphere is displayed inside the Art Hall, where rangers explain Teed’s theory. You’ll be sitting where such Fort Myers snowbirds as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison attended public concerts.
After the ranger’s presentation, stroll the crushed-shell paths winding amid palms, oaks, mahogany, magnolias, azaleas and sea grape. Follow the self-guided tour pamphlet into buildings lovingly restored with original and period pieces by the state — the final four residents donated the land to Florida in 1961, 53 years after Teed died.
Among 10 structures visitors can enter:
▪ The Founder’s Home, built in 1896 and occupied, in separate apartments, by Teed and the woman whom he selected to be the moon to his sun.
▪ The lovely two-story residence known as the Planetary Court, home to the seven women Teed selected to administer day-to-day matters. Of note, the use of heart pine throughout and a staircase constructed by a traveling shipbuilder.
▪ Koreshan State Historic Site, 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero, is open year-round and offers overnight camping at 60 sites, RVs and tents. Reserve at 239. 992-0311. Ranger-led tours are available on weekend mornings at 10 a.m. Visitors can fish, picnic and walk nature trails. A boat ramp and canoe rentals are available. Information: www.floridastateparks.org/park/Koreshan.