For the month of December and into the New Year, holiday lights and decorations sparkle and shine in the homes and gardens of the historical Edison and Ford Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
Have you ever wondered what the holidays were like a century ago in Florida? Back then, the state was only beginning to develop and there were no interstate highways, no shopping malls and no wintry wonderlands for sleigh riding. Currier and Ives may have been creating the iconic American Christmas, but they were far-removed from the semi-tropical splendor of mild Florida winters.
Those who were moving here from northern states were coming to escape the snow and cold. They found a comfortable place where only a slight chill caressed the morning air and fragrant flowers still bloomed. It was here that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford found a retreat from the harsh winters back home. Their winter estates, along the banks of the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers, are a special destination any time of year, but especially now.
Even before you arrive at the Edison/Ford Winter Estates, you will be impressed by the beauty of the drive along Fort Myers’ McGregor Boulevard, the main road to the historic homes. It is lined with statuesque royal palms. Edison himself brought the trees from Cuba, two thousand of them, to create grand avenues to welcome people to the town that had welcomed him.
Situated on 20 acres overlooking the scenic Caloosahatchee River, the estates provided a mild winter retreat for friends Edison and Ford. Visitors today can get a glimpse of how these historical icons lived as neighbors in Southwest Florida, even before railroads reached the area.
The grounds encompass several historic buildings, huge banyan trees, tropical and botanical research gardens, filling the property with fascinating sights to see. Visitors can take guided or self-guided walking tours through the spacious grounds. In addition to being one of the top most visited historic homes in America, the property also houses a large museum featuring inventions, photographs and memorabilia portraying the lives of these legendary men and their accomplishments. In addition, a botanical laboratory sits on the property. It’s where Edison experimented with various plants trying to discover an alternative source for rubber.
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was a man of many talents. Did you know that he held 1,093 patents (a record set by any inventor)? Most recall that he is credited with inventing the electric light bulb, phonographs, film projectors and motion pictures. But that’s just the short list.
Born excessively curious at a very early age, he strove to learn how things worked and most importantly, why they worked. Beginning his career as a telegraph operator, he quickly evolved into a prolific inventor, but he also hedged his smarts as an entrepreneur and wise businessman. Ever heard of General Electric? That was his company, and of course it is still around today. Some believe his crowning achievement is the model he set for modern industrial research, which he derived first-hand from time in laboratories creating and improving many modern day comforts we enjoy today.
Henry Ford (1863- 1947) is a household name in America and around the world. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, or the assembly line for that matter, but he refined them into a product and process that changed life on the planet. And Ford, just like Edison, became a Floridian spending winters on the banks of the Caloosahatchee.
The Fort Myers Estate has nine historic buildings. The Edison home, or Seminole Lodge (named in honor of the Florida Indian tribe), consists of two buildings separated by a garden walkway. Nearby is Henry and Clara Ford’s home called The Mangoes, due to the large number of mango trees on the property. You’ll even see some historical Ford automobiles in a nearby building. Other highlights include the private moonlight garden, Edison’s office, the caretaker’s home, swimming pool, pier, lily pond and fountain, all set among beautiful gardens and tropical Florida foliage.
An observer may be struck by the contrast between the simplicity of the homes, and the complexity of the inventions and processes derived from this base for experimentation. One may also wonder if the beautiful Florida winter evenings spent sitting on the spacious verandas, the leisurely picnics on the river or the trips throughout the state inspired the inventions that we appreciate today.
If You Go
Daily tours are provided seven days a week from 9 am to 5:30 pm. For the evening Holiday Nights tours, check the website, www.edisonfordwinterestates.org or call (239)334-7419.
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