We are on a mission to visit as many of the Florida state parks as we can. Each one of them has a fascinating history, and because they are administered by the Department of Environmental Protection, they often embrace unique ecosystems. We are finding Southwest Florida particularly interesting, having been drastically impacted by both human ambition and extreme weather.
We had the unique opportunity to have a guided tour at Mound Key State Park, accessible only by boat and understandable only with the assistance of an archeologist. This island was believed to be the capital city of the Calusa, a tribe which was wiped out in the 18th century following the arrival of Europeans. The shell mounds on this island were built by the Calusa 2000 years ago, and then nearly destroyed by shell mining in the last century.
|Koreshan Unity Exhibit for 1893 World's Fair
As we followed our docent around the grounds and restored buildings of the Koreshan Unity Settlement, we were delighted with the idea of a place where women made the decisions and men served in the bakery and laundry. A group of women came from Chicago, following a charismatic leader named Cyrus “Koresh” Teed, to establish this community. These Koreshans bought up over 7,000 acres in the Fort Meyer area and developed several businesses which made them economically and socially self-sustaining. Believing in the equality of the sexes and a cosmology that embraced the idea that the earth was the lining of a sphere that contained the sun and stars, these pilgrims worked hard to create an oasis of civilization in the wilderness.The last remaining Koreshan lived to see men walk on the moon and died at the site in 1984. Literary, dramatic and musical performances of Koreshans attracted nearby snowbirds such as Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.
|Latex producing trees also drop figs
Speaking of those famous men, one of the places we visited in Fort Meyers was the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. These properties included an extensive botanical laboratory used by Edison for research to produce rubber from a crop that could be grown in North America. The grounds are graced with 100 year old examples of possible rubber-producing plants and trees that Edison planted in hopes of finding the magic one. The experiments eventually failed when the DuPont Company began producing synthetic rubber from petroleum, but seeing this historical setting for Edison’s prodigious ingenuity is astounding. Also looking at some of his over 1,000 patented inventions was mind boggling.
|Fakahatchee Ghost Orchid
All the proceeds from our tour of Key Mound were donated to Friends of Koreshan State Historic Site for a film about the mounds to be aired on public television. You might enjoy this article and photos from one of our fellow tourists on that trip: (see: article by Tom Hall). We try to buy souvenirs and gifts only at parks and other nonprofits doing this kind of good work. It isn’t much, but we do what we can to support these important local efforts..