Tourists flock to Florida in droves to relax on its sandy beaches and to bond with family at its theme parks. But there’s another side to Florida worth knowing about: Mysterious beachfront domes, a former mafia-owned mansion, and entire towns emptied out with nothing but sugar cane and dense woods for miles.
The Koreshan Unity Historical Site: Estero FloridaFlorida Traveler.org
In 1894 a religious community known as the Koreshan Unity settled in Estero to establish their utopian society. Dr. Cyrus Teed declared he would make the land just south of Fort Myers the “New Jerusalem.” He and his followers held the belief that the world was hollow and that humans existed just below its shell. They also believed in reincarnation and that god was both male and female.
Their New Jerusalem was equipped with homes, an art hall, bakery, a general store and its own power plant long before many of the surrounding areas had any electricity at all. The town flourished until the death of Teed in December of 1908. There was a steady decline in members until only “The last Koreshan," Hedwig Michel, was all that remained. She died in 1982 and was buried onsite. The land was left to the state and a section of this historic site has been turned into a park with campgrounds open to the public to explore.
In the 1930s, elite clubs on stilts were established to provide an exclusive location to engage in gambling, drinking, and to indulge in any vices away from the prying eyes of the law.
These structures were technically just outside of United States jurisdiction, creating an elevated community a mile south of Cape Florida that was completely unfazed by prohibition. It was a safe haven for party animals and pirates until the hurricane of 1965 wiped away all but seven structures. The little town was damaged beyond repair, and what remained fell under the protective wing of the National Park Service.
The "Mafia Mansion"Pinterest
The old abandoned "Mafia Mansion" in Davie, Florida has been the source of wild rumors since it was erected. Some claimed a gang of illegal arms dealers resided there, others claimed the mansion was owned by the infamous Pablo Escobar, and everyone agreed that it was probably haunted. Whether or not the property ever belonged to Pablo Escobar cannot be confirmed; it isn't on record with his other Florida properties. But according to public records, this sprawling estate was bought by Jose Puello in 2002 and was then seized by the government during a drug trafficking investigation in 2003.
The combination of questionable documentation for the home and how the money used to purchase it was attained kept it caught up in a legal battle for quite some time. After Puello’s death, the property was transferred over to his wife but it was in such a deteriorated state, that she never moved back into it. The land was bought and has been repurposed as a ranch.
The Orlando Sunland Mental HospitalAbandoned Florida.com
This hospital was originally a state-of-the-art treatment center for tuberculosis patients. After the vaccine for tuberculosis was discovered, all the centers shut down, only to be reopened by the Florida Department of Health in 1961 as Sunland Training Centers. The Orlando division treated mentally and physically disabled adults and children.
Reports of physical abuse and neglect prompted an investigation in 1970. Patients suffered from various skin and respiratory infections due to the uninhabitable living conditions. Over 400 patients were being fed a cereal-like substance through feeding tubes three times a day. The facility maintained unsafe surgical areas and was infested with rats, which were biting the patients. By 1983 all of the Sunland facilities were closed down. The ruins became a local hang-out until a young man fell down an elevator shaft and most of the facility was demolished. The old administration building that served as the original tuberculosis center still stands today and draws in a sea of documentary filmmakers and ghost hunters.
Hampton Springs HotelFlorida trail Blazer
Built in the early 1900s, the Hampton Springs Hotel was famous for its elaborate facilities that included indoor bath houses, gardens, a golf course, swimming pool, and its mineral springs. The springs possessed healing properties that made this a sought after destination for wealthy people.
The hotel was expanded into a luxury spa resort that flourished until World War II caused a severe drop in tourism. Then, in 1954 the hotel suffered a fire leaving nothing but ruins behind. Empty pools and fountains remain; eerie echoes of what it once was.
The Cape Romano Dome HomeMila Bridge, Messy Nessy Chic.com
This quirky little dome complex went up in 1980 at the southern tip of Marco Island and was shrouded in mystery for quite some time. No one knew who owned the curious igloo-like structure or what its purpose was. Some locals actually believed extraterrestrial life forms stopped by to built it.
As it turns out it wasn't aliens, it was oil producer Bob Lee who had the eco-friendly house built as a vacation home, which is why it wasn’t occupied all the time. The structure was completely self-sustaining and way ahead of its time. It had its own water collection and filtration system, allowing rainwater to be recycled for showers. Lee also installed solar panels for free electricity. The Lee family sold the house in 1984, and sadly over time the shoreline changed and the domes were deemed unsafe to live in. The ghostly structure still stands empty today.
Fort JeffersonBeach On Map.com
Fort Jefferson is located just off Key West and was constructed in 1847. It was home to soldiers, their families, and support staff such as cooks and lighthouse keepers. It became a prison during the Civil War and in 1867 a yellow fever epidemic claimed the lives of many of the residents.
By 1888 the Fort served as a quarantine station, and then went on to become a National Monument in 1935. Now, the Fort is famous for strange noises, voices, and sightings of ghostly apparitions. One particularly famous apparition is the spirit of Doctor Samuel Mudd, who was convicted of conspiracy against Abraham Lincoln. The Fort is open to the public for tours and there are even a few campsites available for those who dare to spend the night. The Fort is a popular location for paranormal investigators and has been featured on SyFy Channel’s “Haunted Highway.”
Flamingo, FloridaGhost Towns.com
Some pieces of land just don’t seem to want to be inhabited, the town of Flamingo is one of them. It was established in 1893 and was named after the birds that could be found all throughout the area. Oddly enough, it was the rise of exotic bird hunting that led to the town’s deterioration. A game warden was sent to regulate the hunting and ended up being murdered by poachers, creating a media frenzy and leading to harsher hunting legislation enforcement. Since illegal hunting was the main industry, the town was almost completely abandoned by 1910.
Moonshiners tried to take over some of the abandoned structures, but the government stepped in and took ownership, establishing Flamingo as part of Everglades National Park. Campgrounds, stores, hotels, a café, and even a marina were all built, but Hurricane Wilma swept most of it away in 2005. Many of the deteriorated structures still stand and the area is popular among hikers. While there have always been plans to bring this little ghost town back to life, a lack of financial resources have prevented it.
Kerr was the second incorporated city in Marion County, in 1884. While the town’s cotton plantation was a source income for the town prior to the Civil War, it was the orange groves that truly allowed the town to flourish. For 10 years the community thrived and expanded until “The Great Freeze” set in and devastated the entire community by killing all of the orange trees. Record lows were recorded in 1894 and the entire citrus industry in the state suffered. An average of 6 million boxes of oranges per year was slashed to a mere 100,000 boxes. It wasn’t until 1900 that the state was able to break 1 million boxes again. These were highly distressing numbers for Kerr City and many residents left, most headed out to California.
The town’s founder George Smiley remained in Kerr, buying all the property he could as it became available. Eventually, Smiley owned the whole ghost town and he never sold it. The current owner Arthur Brennan has renovated many of the old homes and the town is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the town are available and most frequently requested by ghost hunters.
The Rosewood MassacreI Love Ancestry.com
One of the most horrific events in Florida’s history occurred just nine miles outside of Cedar Key in a town by the name of Rosewood. The settlement was established around the timber industry, the surrounding areas contained two pencil mills, a sawmill, and in 1870 a railway station was built, providing enough jobs to go around. Originally, Rosewood had both black and white occupants, but by the 1990’s the majority of the white residents moved over to Sumner.
The neighboring towns seemed to get along fine until January 1, 1923, when a white woman named Fannie Coleman Taylor, claimed she was raped and beaten by a black man. Witnesses placed a white man near her house at the time of the alleged attack and accused her of trying to hide a scandalous affair that went sour. Absolute rage and chaos followed these accusations, both communities had turned against each other and lynch mobs were forming.
An estimate 400 white men raged into Rosewood determined to kill every black man they came into contact with along with any white person that tried to stop them. They shot, beat, and lynched the people on the streets of Rosewood and then began to burn it all down. Homes, stores, churches, all lit on fire. White train conductors started evacuating the black women and children out but they wouldn’t help the black men escape out of fear of the white mob’s retaliation. Some people escaped to the woods only to be shot on sight the moment they dared to wander out. For seven days the town was burned and its people massacred. The Sheriff and mill bosses couldn’t get them under control. On February 12th, 1923 after twenty-five white and eight black witnesses testified jurors claimed they could find no real evidence to justify any indictments. The surviving black community never returned to Rosewood and many were too traumatized to talk about it, some even changed their names out of fear for their safety.