Prehistoric Native Americans known as the Calusa, were a non-agricultural hunting and gathering chiefdom. They dominated the waters of southwest Florida for over 2,000 years. Mound Key is believed to have been the ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians.
HOME OF THE KING OF THE CALUSA
Framed in forests of mangrove trees, the shell mounds and ridges of Mound Key rise more than 30 feet above the waters of Estero Bay.
When the Spaniards first attempted to colonize Southwest Florida in 1566. The governor of Florida established a settlement on the island with a fort and the first Jesuit mission in the Spanish New World. The settlement was abandoned three years later after violent clashes with the Indians.
Mound Key is rich in early Florida history. The island was developed over 2,000 years of the Calusa Indian civilization. The site likely began as a flat, mangrove-lined oyster bar that barely rose above the shallow waters of the Estero Bay. Located in the center of an estuary, food was easy to find. As the native population grew, the remains of their food were collected and heaped into middens. Mound Key is believed to have been the cultural center for the Calusa. They had their first encounters with Europeans in the early 1500s when the Spaniards were exploring the Caribbean and peninsula of Florida. The first recorded contact with the Calusa was in 1513 when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed in the area.
In 1566 Spain’s first Governor of Florida, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, was appointed at this site. This was also the site of the first Jesuit mission to the new world, San Antonio de Carlos. The Spanish period of the site was hard fought and short lived and was abandoned by 1569. However, with the Spaniards came diseases for which the natives had no immunity which would be the demise of their population combined with continued warfare with local tribes bringing an end to their once great society around 1750. This would not be the end of the occupation of the site. The island was frequented by pirates and fisherman and in 1891 was homesteaded by Frank Johnson. The Johnsons brought in other families to farm the site until the property was sold to the utopian Koreshans in 1905. The site on the island was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 12, 1970. Today most of the island is preserved as a Mound Key Archaeological State Park.
A 0.75 mile linear hiking trail traverses the island's tropical vegetation. The trail takes you over steep shell mounds created by the Calusa Indians, the tallest being 33 feet making for some of the most extreme terrain in the area.
The park is accessible only by the water and is managed by Koreshan State Historic Site located at: 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero, Florida. There are no facilities. Interpretive displays can be found along a trail that spans the width of the island. For a group, a ranger guided tour can be arranged by contacting Koreshan State Historic Site at (239) 992-0311. Guests must provide their own transportation to the site.
PHONE: (239) 992-0311 (Koreshan State Historic Site)
HOURS: Sunrise to sunset
This video was produced by Southwest Florida Television, in support of Florida State Parks.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, University of South Florida
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors (special thanks to artist David Meo)