Fort Myers was the winter home of the Edison and Ford families, and on Tuesday afternoon, we spent some time exploring the estates.
Edison and Ford, both avid scientists and inventors, were also good friends, and their winter estates are side-by-side, along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.
Arriving in the parking lot, the first thing you see is this Banyan Tree.
This Banyan Tree was given to Thomas Edison by Harvey Firestone in 1925. This type of tree produces a white milky sap that can be used to produce rubber. Edison & Firestone were doing research to find a way to produce rubber domestically, rather than depending on foreign sources.
This tree was planted as a 4-ft. sapling, and now covers almost an acre of land. It’s believed to be the largest in the continental United States.
After buying our tickets and picking up audio devices for our self-guided tour, we crossed McGregor Blvd. and began our tour of the estates.
Thomas Edison purchased this property in 1885, the same year that Fort Myers was incorporated as a city, and the first structure that was built was the pier . . . to allow for building materials to be brought by barge during construction of his home.
The Caretaker’s House, built in the style of the Florida “Crackers”, was the only existing structure on the property at the time Edison purchased it.
Edison sketched the home he wanted to build, and an architect turned his dream into reality . . . Seminole Lodge.
The Lodge consisted of two separate homes – one for family and the other for guests. Walking around the home, we admired the beautiful furniture and some of Edison’s early inventions – an intercom system between the two buildings, and electroliers (some of the oldest light fixtures in existence).
(clicking on the collage will open a larger version in a new window)
In 1914, Henry Ford visited Thomas Edison in Fort Myers, and he liked it so much, her purchased the property next door and built his own vacation home.
The Ford Estate, referred to as “The Mangoes”, was a comfortable winter retreat for the family, built in the style of a bungalow, and is more rustic than the neighboring Edison estate.
Ford and Edison maintained their winter estates until the mid-40s, when the Edison estate was deeded to the city of Ft. Myers and the Ford Estate was sold (later acquired by the Estate Foundation in 1988).
The grounds of the estates are amazingly beautiful, with many exotic plants,
and numerous types of rubber-producing trees, planted by Edison during his research for the best way to produce rubber domestically.
There were also several varieties of giant green bamboo, which Edison researched as a material for filaments in his first light bulbs.
Another interesting tree was this Calabash Tree, with its gourd-like fruit. We found out that these are the fruits used to create maracas!
Walking along the path that follows the Caloosahatchee River, we could understand why the Edisons and Ford chose this property for their winter get-aways.
The Fords only spent about 2 weeks each year at their winter estate, but the Edisons lived here for much longer periods of time. This was evident from the presence of a pool on the Edison Estate,
along with Edison’s office,
and several of Mina Edison’s gardens.
The Moonlight Garden
The Lily Pond
We finished our tour of the estates, and crossed back over to the Museum, where we were able to see many of Edison’s numerous inventions.
We were just in time to see a demonstration of music played on a phonograph that was over 100 years old . . .
and it still sounded pretty darn good!
Our last stop was Edison’s Botanic Research Lab. His Menlo Park Lab, where he invented the light bulb and other technological advances, has been moved to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI, but this botanic lab remains here in Ft. Myers where he did all of his research with plants and fibers.
The lab is in great shape, and looks like Edison could just walk right in and sit down to work!
Our visit to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates was very educational and enjoyable, and we’re glad we spent the afternoon here. If you are ever in Ft. Myers, you should be sure to stop in for a visit!