In December 2011, we began a 15-month journey with the Koreshan Unity, a journey that carried vestiges of New York State’s mid-19th century “burned-over district” west to the bustling streets of late 19th century Chicago, and then south to the untamed frontier of southwest Florida at the turn of the 20th century.
The journey was guided by an extensive collection of archival records created and maintained by the Koreshan Unity for over a century; personal letters and journals, religious writings, legal and financial records, publications, and many thousands of photographs documenting the Unity’s founding and founders, their beliefs, and their dream to establish a New Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Intensive archival processing work conducted on the Koreshan Unity Papers from December 2011 through February 2013, supported by grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), allowed us to transform a disorganized and largely inaccessible collection into a well-organized, easily accessible collection that will continue to reveal new insights into both the Koreshan Unity and Florida history to researchers and the public far into the future.
While some final processing tasks remain to be completed, project staff have identified virtually all collection materials and housed them in archival boxes and folders to ensure their preservation and ease of access. We are preparing detailed finding aids and making them available on the Web, including in the State Archives Online Catalog.
Meanwhile, well over 1,500 digitized photographs from the collection have been added to the Florida Memory website. Also on Florida Memory is a new online exhibit using photographs and documents from the collection to illustrate the history and legacy of the Koreshan Unity.
The Koreshan legacy is preserved not only through the incredibly rich documentation in the Koreshan Unity Papers Collection, but also through the work of the Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero, Florida. Since the park’s inception in November 1961, the Florida Park Service has worked to not only preserve the grounds and buildings left behind by the Koreshans, but also to interpret their lives and the contributions they made to the development of southwest Florida.
With the assistance of the Friends of the Koreshan State Historic Site, the Park Service is currently conducting a project to stabilize the Conrad Schlender (Membership) Cottage, one of the site’s 11 National Register Historic Buildings. The project will take several months as staff carefully remove the siding, chemically stabilize it, repair damaged areas, and reinstall it to ensure a tight skin on the cottage that will keep out the weather and vermin while retaining much of the historic structure.
Through the Friends of the Koreshan State Historic Site Inc., the park hosts a number of events throughout the year highlighting the lives of the Koreshans. A candlelit Ghost Walk of the settlement allows visitors to encounter Koreshans in several vignettes based on archival letters from the 1890s to the 1940s. Visitors can also enjoy a Taste of History Luncheon featuring a meal from the Koreshan cookbook and an Afternoon Tea on the porch of the Planetary Court.
Learn more about the Koreshan State Historic Site. The park can be reached at 239.992.0311.