Cassadega, Florida: George P. Colby’s Nineteenth Century Spiritualist Community

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Welcome to Florida

I spent a few days in northern and central Florida for a conference and had an excellent time. My progressive friends thought I might be risking my life due to the state’s liberal gun laws. Instead I found friendly people, delicious food and breathtaking landscapes. It helped that I had a local and longtime friend as a guide who took me on the back roads including a short trip to the Cassadega Spiritualist Camp, known as the “psychic capital of the world”. We were not there to communicate with spirits, buy crystals, or have a tarot card reading. More a place to stretch our legs and walk around. The small trail surrounding the town provides nice views of local flora and fauna. Unfortunately the “Spirit Lake” was extremely low on water and the “Spirit Pond” was completely dry. A reflection of this season’s drought.

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I have a peripheral interest in the spiritualists because there was some overlap between them and other radicals and eccentrics—Fourierists, anarchists, free thinkers, and back to nature/health nut types—who established utopian communities across the United States during the nineteenth century. Cassadega was founded in 1875 by renowned spiritualist George P. Colby. He attributed his psychic abilities to his baptism in a frozen lake, which left him nearly dead. In this state, Colby claimed his dead uncle spoke to him and let him know he would become a medium. Spiritualism gained popularity in 1848, the year of Colby’s birth and by the 1860s and 1870s it was quite common for mediums to travel from town to town, in some cases making quite a bit of money. Colby’s séances were so popular that he had to turn people away for lack of room.

One of Colby’s most conjured spirit guides was a Native American named Seneca who ultimately guided him south to Florida. By 1875 Colby was suffering from tuberculosis and damaged vocal chords. Seneca told Colby to inhale pine smoke and drink water from the springs he would find in order to cure himself. Heeding Seneca’s advice, Colby traveled by train to Jacksonville and made his way through the forests of Volusia County, ultimately arriving in the location of Cassadega.

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Colby filed a homestead claim in 1880 which was approved in 1884. By 1881 he was cured of his maladies and took his spiritualist tour across seventeen states. It was at one of these meetings that he met the mayor of Willoughby, Ohio and fellow spiritualist E.W. Bond who suggested Colby visit the Lily Dale Assembly near the village of Cassadega, New York. Colby appropriated the name for his new community, which would be known as Southern Cassadega Spiritualist Camp. Colby and the Lily Dale Spiritualists viewed the Florida location as an ideal place to escape the frigid northern winters.

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Things worked out well until the early twentieth century. In 1911 his house burned down, followed by other fires during the 1910s and 1920s (see picture above). Colby died in 1933, nearly destitute, supported by a small group of followers. Much more on Colby here.

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Looks like some local kids were doing doughnuts in the “Spirit Pond”.

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