Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paying Edison and Ford a visit

March 6, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

Note: I started this post over two weeks ago, then decided to take advantage of a lull in our travels to visit my two sons in Oregon with full intentions to keep my posts current. You can see how well that went. . . . I am now back in Florida after a two week break and trying to get back in the blogging groove!

Something on our list of things to do in this area, this year and last year, was touring the estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Fort Myers was their winter home during the early part of the century. Edison bought the land on the Caloosahatchee River near downtown Fort Myers in 1885 and had the house built there the following year. In 1916, Ford became Edison’s neighbor by purchasing the home right next door. This convenient arrangement allowed these two American icons to not only share good times with each other and their families, but also to collaborate on their research and inventions.

Adding to the fun, our friends Mike, BJ, Mark, and Sandy joined us on this excursion. It was good to see different aspects of the estates through their eyes and interests as well as our own. I appreciated seeing Edison's laboratory, a major part of the tour, with examples of some of his most well-known inventions, but the homes and gardens appealed to me the most.

One of the tour guides said that the Edison estate has over 1500 different specimens of trees and plants, many of which he used for his experiments and research, especially in his quest for a rubber alternative. Another big attraction for Edison were the different types of bamboo growing in Fort Myers as he believed the bamboo fibers might work as a filament for the light bulb. Other plants that stood out were the many varieties of trees including mango, fig, banyan, and a 1.5 mile row of royal palms.

This amazing banyan tree was a gift from Harvey Firestone to Edison in 1925. It now takes up almost an acre in diameter and is believed to be the largest specimen in the United States.  Edison, looking for a domestic source of natural rubber, experimented with using the sap from this tree (latex) to make rubber. He also grew different types of goldenrod for latex production and eventually produced a variety that was named for him--Solidago edisoniana. Despite his success with this plant, neither the banyan or goldenrod  produced enough latex to be economically feasible alternatives to the rubber plant.


In addition to the amazing trees, the estates have beautiful collections of flowering plants including rows of gardenias, orchids from all over the world (but they were not yet blooming), iris, roses, bromeliads, bougainvillea, and something I have always wanted to smell-- the flower of the ylang ylang tree which is used to make Chanel No. 5. Edison’s second wife, Mina, who lived with him here, loved flowers both for entertaining and for attracting birds. She was instrumental in the formation of the Audubon Society. She even had what is called a Moonlight Garden which she planted with white flowers that would catch the light of the moon. Interestingly, the estates can be rented for wedding receptions or other types of private parties.

Many specimens of these heritage plants and herbs were for sale in the estate’s Garden Shoppe. BJ couldn’t resist bringing “home” a much smaller version of this giant staghorn fern—something I have long admired in gardens throughout Florida.

Edison’s estate includes his home and a guest lodge called Seminole Lodge.  Pretty impressive place for his friends and visiting dignitaries to stay.

This is the backside of the wrap around porch at the Seminole Lodge, situated between the Edison and Ford estates. It is easy to imagine the grand parties that took place on this lovely porch.

Here is a cozy sitting area on the front side of the Seminole Lodge porch. The mounted fish is a tarpon, something Edison was fond of catching. Sure looks inviting to me.

I am a pushover for such beautiful tableware. Presidents Harding and Hoover were two of the more famous people to eat at this dining table.

The kitchen seems pretty small for putting out large meals, but it has a classic beauty all its own. I can’t figure out what kind of material is covering this butcher block. Sure doesn't look practical for food prep.

Pictured above are photos of the dining room and bedroom in Edison’s private home. The furnishings here are all original as Mina Edison deeded the estate to the city of Fort Myers in 1947 as a shrine to the memory of her husband.

Several places on the combined properties had direct access to the river. One of the first things Edison did after purchasing the property was build a large dock which extended out almost 800 feet to accommodate the tidal changes.  He used the dock to ship building supplies to the property as it was being built.  The original dock was destroyed in a hurricane 1944 but a smaller reproduction still stands in the same spot.  Near the dock, Edison eventually added a swimming pool, one of Florida’s first modern swimming pools built in 1910. 

Edison was also an avid fishermen as were many of the guests. It’s hard to imagine he ever had time for fishing considering what a prolific inventor he was garnering over 1000 patents in his lifetime. I love the look of this creel. They may not be practical anymore, but they are sure are artful looking. You can see a photo of what I believe was the original dock in the background.

This photo above shows the front of Ford’s home, named The Mangoes after their favorite fruit. The architectural style, craftsman bungalow, features a wrap around porch taking advantage of the riverfront views and the street front lined with royal palms.

None of the furnishings in the Ford Estate is original as it was sold to a private party in 1945 and then later purchased by the city of Fort Myers in 1988 for $1.5 million—seems like a deal to me but the two estates required more than $11 million to restore.

roots of mysor or brown wooly fig tree

This Mysore Fig tree provides a focal point for the view from Ford’s back porch. This breathtaking tree was my favorite feature of the properties.  It was really hard to capture a photo that did it justice.

Here is Vic checking out the back porch and the view of the river. I like the striped awnings which seem to capture the 1920s era quite well.

You can’t really expect to visit Ford’s home without a chance to see some of his original cars.  I think the one on the left is a model A but the wooden truck (a model T?) really caught our eye.

We just had to do the tourist thing and have our photo taken next to the statue of Edison near the 64 foot banyan tree with over 350 roots.  Seems like a fitting ending to this photo heavy blog, but then I came up with the idea of having a meal at Ford’s Garage, a popular beer and burgers pub in downtown Fort Myers.

It just happened to be their one year anniversary which made it an extra popular place this day but we managed to get a table. In addition to closing off a side street for a vintage car show, they were giving away free craft beers and sliders as part of their street party. 

We ate inside, but still managed to score some free craft beer which went really well with our delicious sandwiches. I had to take a photo of their unique hamburger buns, stamped with the restaurant name—something I have never seen before.

Vic and Mark were pretty impressed with this old Ford truck. The inside was sure plush for its time. They had some gorgeous vintage cars lined up on the brick streets as part of their celebration.

Thanks for traveling along on our tour of the Edison Ford Estates. I had actually come here as a teenager and must admit my appreciation for this place increased a thousand fold over the years.  

p.s. to Mike, BJ, and Sandy, where were you when I was snapping photos?


  1. You at least have my sandwich in the pictures!!

  2. Wonderful post. We are hoping to get down to FL next winter. I would love to visit both these places.

    The photo of the Mysore Fig tree is super.

  3. I wondered where you went. Hadn't heard from you in a long time. I've never been to either house but this great post has convinced me that was a mistake. That acre of banyon tree and the Mysore fig I really have to see. David thinks the top on the butcher block is the same as on our turn of the century Hoosier cupboard preparation survaces - galvanized steel.

    1. I thought you would appreciate those trees. I hadn't thought of galvanized steel but that makes sense. Thank David for the information!

  4. We really enjoyed the Edison estate when we went there, but I think you did a much better tribute to it than I did! Glad you are back...

  5. Thought I would check out your blog since you are joining us on our journey. Besides our name being the same, I was also a teacher!

    We spent five weeks in Ft. Myers last winter. My parents use to have a condo there so we are familiar with the area. We wintered out west this year and are returning to FL next winter. We will be in Cypress Woods Ft. Myers from the last week in Dec. to the end of Jan. We then move to Holiday Cove, Cortez, FL for Feb and Mar. Any idea where you will be next winter?

    We didn't get to Edison's House last year but we definitely will next winter. Your post was very informative and really made sorry we didn't make it.

    1. Thanks for the note. It sounds like we have more in common than our names and past careers as we are looking into staying at those same two parks next winter!

  6. Great pics and museum review. I've added it to my "places to see" when in Fl.

  7. Welcome back...missed your posts. And this is why...just beautiful! The homes are spectacular, but loved the gardens more. Can almost smell the gardenias....

  8. Great tour, we really enjoyed our visit there a few years ago!


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