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September 2011 – “Then and Now”

Aerial view of the Unity (1940's)

For those who have ever visited Estero, there is an area that, although owned by the State, is not part of the Historic Site. For our wonderful volunteers, it is known as the “Volunteer Village”. But once upon a time it was a working trailer park. ((1))

Many people have always related Florida with trailer parks. They have, through time, taken on less than desirable reputations, but in 1941, the Koreshans were looking for ways to support themselves. They had what was probably a thriving printing business, but they apparently needed or wanted to diversify their income so they had the idea to build a trailer park on the north side of the Estero River.

In the September 1941 issue of the “Flaming Sword”, in the “Community Current Events” column it was written:

“WORK ON THE Estero tourist park is progressing. The eight-acre tract has been mowed. Ditches have been dug and two water pipe lines are being laid. A sixteenfoot road is being shelled from the Tamiami Trail west to the river. In the tract is a grove of native Oak Trees and Cabbage Palmettos and giant Bamboo fronting on the river, where bees have been kept for more than forty years. The bees are being removed and this natural beauty spot will be preserved as a park for the use of camping tourists. The natural beauty will be enhanced by the planting of Azaleas’, Tree Ferns and flowering shrubs and vines. The tourist park site is irregularly triangular, fronting 600 feet on the Trail, 1000 feet on north side and having a meandering diagonal river frontage of approximately half a mile. Just inside the front fence White and Purple Bauhinia Trees will be planted. These will be a mass of bloom during the tourist season and will not be injured by any cold weather that is experienced here.”

However, not everyone apparently thought the trailer park to be a good idea. Claude Rahn wrote to Laurie Bubbett with his thoughts in a February 1942 letter. He said:

“… Was also glad to get the news of Estero, the good and the bad and the indifferent. The trailer park venture never has aroused my enthusiasm–my principle reason being perhaps the question that always presented itself to my thoughts ‘who is there capable of running such a project at Estero, and still leave any profit for the Unity?” Of course they could probably get some outsider to do it, but the cost of a competent man would probably eat up most of the profits, if there were any. Now that the war is on, and travel restricted to those who have auto tires, it looks hopeless. It has always seemed to me that while it is commendable to look upon the bright, side of a new venture, one should also carefully consider the darkest possibilities that might arise, and then after due consideration if there was a gambler’s chance to succeed – take-the chance, but be sure to leave a bridge standing over which to make a safe retreat if it should become necessary, Now that Allen ((2)) has gambled and apparently lost, has a bridge over which he may have looked ahead to carry him been built strong enough to carry the financial load?” ((3))

Later on, a new member of the Unity was give the task of running the trailer park. Hedwig Michel, the “last Koreshan” apparently made it work because it remained in use for a long time until the State decided to make better use of the area in the 1990’s.

To view two other photos that were taken in the “trailer park” just click the links below. They don’t show a whole lot of the trailer park unfortunatley. The first one shows Allen Andrews and others celebrating Thanksgiving in 1948, and the other shows Emma Norton ((4)), Elizabeth Rahn (wife of Claude), Adah Price, Cora Newcomb and Bella Armour, all in their later years.

Road Construction — In the last post we made mention of the current road construction on the Tamiami Trail, or US-41 which passes through Estero. Here is a photo taken from the first construction. This photo was taken about 1958-1960[?] Notice the Art Hall which is seen on the right hand side of the photo. You can also see the original entrance to the Unity. This was when the road was being widened to four lanes from a two lane road. ((5)) [Click for a larger view].

  1. Photo 5-58 []
  2. Allen Andrews, who was President of the Koreshan Unity at the time []
  3. Claude Rahn to Laurie Bubbett-19 February, 1942 – Laurie Bubbett Correspondence []
  4. Emma Norton was the sister of Dr. Teed []
  5. Photo 5-57 []

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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