A Day Trip For All
Summer with its slow pace and easy living makes a perfect time for travel, and especially a well chosen Day Trip. An ideal location for the perfect all-ages, all-interests outing is the Edison-Ford Winter Estates, nearby in Ft Myers. The Estates are an easy hour and half drive south on I-75.
Located on 13 scenic acres on the Caloosahatchee River, the winter residences of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are people pleasing for a diversity of reasons.
For the history lover, here is a perfectly preserved time capsule of the life style of the Gilded Age and early 1900’s in the homes and grounds of these two early snowbirds, Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford. The Edison and Ford homes are open and invite admiration with their relaxed Old Florida decor and design. Both sport generous porches situated to catch breezes off the river. The multi-talented Edison designed his house himself, named Seminole Lodge, and it is both casual and elegant at the same time. Furnishings are original and in good condition – you get the feeling the families will walk in and sit down any minute. Ford’s home, called Mangoes, is equally charming, but smaller.
For the botanical and plant lover, there are the fabulous grounds with their abundance of exotic plants, trees, flowers - even food gardens. Edison was searching for a domestic source of plant based rubber and cultivated Banyan trees for their sap, as well as exotic varieties of Golden Rod and other plants. One Banyan tree is said to be the largest in the continental USA. A Heritage Garden replicates how and what the Edison used for growing their own produce.
For STEM types interested in science and technology, there is the incredible diversity of Edison’s and Ford’s inventions and genius. There is the Edison-Ford Museum containing everything from Edison’s first successful incandescent light bulb to his phonographs (which he invented). There are details of his thousands of patents. There are Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles, one equipped with newly invented balloon tires, courtesy of friend and neighbor Harvey Firestone. You learn about the evolution of the first automobiles and the genius of Henry Ford and the birth of assembly line manufacturing.
Especially fascinating is the Edison Botanical Research Lab where a source for an American plant derived rubber was pursued. Tables, test tubes, cabinets, instruments all are exactly as Edison left them. They did not succeed – rubber was found elsewhere, in Central America and Asia.
Guided tours, portable audio listening devices and excellent signage share the personalities and contributions of Edison and Ford. You learn details about their wives, friends, children and life style. These titans of invention and industry knew how to live fully, whether at work or play. You learn about the “three amigos” Edison, Ford, and third cohort, Harvey Firestone, the rubber king and tire baron, who was another winter resident and buddy. The three friends with their families tent camped together in the Everglades, fished for Tarpon off Edison’s dock, explored the wilderness that was then Sanibel Island and lived life to the hilt in what was in those days an unspoiled natural paradise. They put as much enthusiasm and creativity into their leisure as they did their work!
What impressed me most from this trip was learning about Thomas Edison and the scope of his genius and inventiveness. I had no idea he was responsible for so many inventions! Ditto Henry Ford! They don’t make men like them anymore. Visiting their winter homes gives an inside look at homegrown American genius and how they lived.
This is a child-friendly location with hands-on learning ops for curious students of all ages. A summer visit might inspire a young inventor to try discovery. I recommend taking at least half a day, or better yet a full day (if your legs hold out). You can walk to an adjoining restaurant like we did, Pinchers, and enjoy excellent seafood late lunch while overlooking the Caloosahatchee River. There is also the Banyan Refreshment area on the grounds, and the Museum Store.