Ft. Myers, FL
One day this week we met our friends, MonaLiza and Steve, (The Lowes RV Adventures) for a visit to one of the main tourist attractions in southwest Florida, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.
In 1885, inventor Thomas Edison visited the tiny town of Ft. Myers looking for a place where he could escape the cold of New Jersey. He purchased property along the Caloosahatchee River and built a home for his family. The home, completed in 1887 and dubbed “Seminole Lodge,” served as a winter retreat and place of relaxation until Edison’s death in 1931. Edison’s good friend, Henry Ford, purchased the adjoining property in 1916 and named it “The Mangoes”. In 1947, Mrs. Edison deeded the property to the City of Fort Myers in memory of her husband for the enjoyment of the public. It was opened for public tours in 1950. By 1988, the adjacent Henry Ford winter estate was purchased and opened for public tours in 1990.
The estate sits along both sides of McGregor Blvd., just south of the center of Ft. Myers. The parking lot, a gift shop, a museum, and Edison’s workshop (not open to the public) are on the east side of the road, while the main estates are on the west side along the river. The dominate feature in front of the gift shop is a huge Banyan Tree. In 1925 Edison’s friend, Harvey Firestone, (think tires!) gave a four foot tree to Edison. Edison, Ford, and Firestone were working on research in pursuit of a domestic source of natural rubber. The Banyan Tree produces a white milky sap that can be used to create rubber, but not economically. Today the tree covers almost an entire acre!
The museum houses a nice variety of Edison/Ford material.
Edison built two houses next to each other. The houses are mirror images, as he wanted to save money on architecture fees. One house served as the family residence while the other was used as a guest house.
Henry Ford’s house, on the property next to Edison’s, is not as large as Edison’s. But the Fords only used the house two weeks a year when Ford came to Ft. Myers to celebrate his friend’s birthday.
At the time the Edison houses were constructed roads in southwest Florida were very poor. So Edison had materials shipped to his estate by boat. Barges brought the materials up the river to a long pier built out into the deeper part of the river. The wooden pier has not survived but pylons show where the it once stood.
The Caretaker’s House is the oldest structure at the Estates. A one room section of the house existed when Edison purchased the property in 1885. Edison expanded the building over the years, with the garage section completed in 1928.
In 1928 Edison’s original laboratory was moved to Henry Ford’s museum in Dearborn, MI. Ford agreed to build the little office pictured below in it’s place. Edison used it as a private retreat, like a den.
A traffic light allows visitors to cross McGregor Blvd. from the estates to the museum and parking area. As you cross you see a nice view of the many palm trees along the road. Edison had Royal Palms planted along the road for a mile and a half. The city of Ft. Myers is now known as the City of Palms and the trees extend for seven miles.
After a rough day of touring a good meal was needed. So off we went to a nearby Joe’s Crab Shack for a little snack.
If you ever visit southwestern Florida, put the Edison and Ford Winter Estates on your list of things to do.