Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Edison/Ford Winter Estates

Thursday March 3, 2016                                                                        Most Recent Posts:
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David and the Mermaid Hit the DMV
Estero, Florida                                                                                       Plans Change Twice in One Day


Today nothing interfers with our sixteen mile trip north to Fort Myers for a visit to the Edison/Ford Winter Estates.   When we pull into the parking lot we are greeted with a warning sign.  “Caution, Falling Figs”.   Thinking we might like some of those to fall into our hands, we park there anyway.  This is actually a huge group of connected fig trees.  It has become a forest in itself almost.






Beyond the fig forest is the information booth, the ticket booth, the museum and the laboratory.  The Estates are open 9 to 5:30 daily.

We purchase our tickets with a $1.00 off coupon I found in a flyer.  There is no senior discount off the $20 price for the self guided tour.  It is the most inexpensive of the tours.  There is also a $25 History tour which does not have the self guided audio set but does have a tour guide for the group.  There is a Garden Tour for $30, a Behind the Scenes tour for $50.  You can see just the Museum and the Laboratory for $12.   Once we see the grounds and the upkeep of these estates and find out that the city to whom they were given neglected them almost beyond the point of repair before a private foundation was created, we understand the ticket prices.   If  you really love estates and historic houses,  the Behind the Scenes tour will take you into the houses to see the upstairs rooms that are not visible to any other tour groups.

While we wait for our “orientation” we look around some sections of the museum.  It is clear that you could spend half a day just in the  museum with all of its information, pictures, movies and displays.   We see the Model T that Henry Ford gave to his mentor Thomas Edison.



I see the camping Ford that  Henry Ford had built so that he and Edison and John Burroughs could go off as the Vagabonds in what must have been the first RV of sorts. Although it appeared primarily to be a kitchen, there were camping supplies inside as well..





Once all the members of this half hour’s tour are assembled, a staff member goes over how to use the audio digital tour controls to listen to the information at various stops around the grounds.  The Estates are divided by McGregor Boulevard.  The Laboratory, Museum, ticket office are on one side and you must cross the road to be on the estate grounds.

The two red  buildings are the Edison Home, more on why there are two later.  The blue building is the Ford home.   All face the Caloosahatchee River which this year was polluted by the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision regarding the protection of agricultural fields around Lake Okeechobee.



It is clear from the start that this is a serious arboreteum.  Every plant, tree, bush, flower is clearly labeled.  These grounds, as at the Koreshan Site are filled with exotics.  I agree with Gaelyn’s comment on my previous post on the Koreshan garden tour, that exotics belong in their native habitat.  It is absolutely true that when they get out of control they can drive out native species and become naturalized as Judilyn pointed out in her comment about growing up South Florida.  Here as at Koreshan, these museums strive to keep the grounds as they were when their original owners lived here.  So the exotics stay.   Many of the ones we see today are the same ones we find at Koreshan.  But also like Koreshan, not all of the plants are exotics or invasive.

I have pictures of some of the showier ones but the number of different plant species here boggles the mind.

Double Peach HibiscusIMG_8533

It looks like a rose but the scent of this Crape Jasmine is very different and powerful.  One of my favorite smells.



Angel Trumpet
(Brugmansia X Super Nova)


The first building we come to is Edison’s Caretaker’s House and the garage for the Model T.  However both are closed today.  No discount on the tickets though.  There are two “private events” going on.


This sign is on the door of the garage.


This one on the house.



When I walk up on the porch and look around, someone opens the door to come out and props it open.  I take advantage.
Not sure what is usually in here but today there is some sort of food and slide presentation apparently.



From there we walk around to what was the first swimming pool in Fort Myers built in 1910 from Edison Portland Cement.



I haven’t seen a wooden diving board in years.



Opposite the diving board, is a shaded deck for relaxation and along the side, a connecting “tea house” for parties.



The Lily Pond accepts run off from the pool. 



Along the Caloosahatchee was a dock for their boats.  The pilings remain but the dock is no longer available.




At each point we can use our audio device to listen to a description of the area.  There are 20 such spots. Just punch in the number, in any order you like, and listen.




At this point, we decide we’ll walk up and see the house.



The houses all have wide porches with chairs for sitting in the shade during hot Florida summers.  The rooms on the ground floor are visible through the numerous french doors that open out onto the porches.  Only the Behind the Scenes Tours go inside the house or up to the second floors.




Visitors view the house through the large windows or the french doors.





Two houses were built on the property in 1885 from lumber pre-cut in Maine and transported by ship to the site where they were assembled by local labor. Edison returned here in 1886 with his new bride, Mina Miller Edison daughter of an Ohio industrialist who was also one of the founders of the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  Chautauqua is one of my very favorite places.  I have spent several wonderful summers there.  The Edisons visited  during the summer season when it would have been very hot in Fort Myers.  They stayed in the Miller home on the Chautauqua grounds.

The Edison Fort Myers home originally had a kitchen with servant’s quarters above and a dining room.  Beginning in 1906 with the aquisition of the house next door, Mrs. Edison turned the kitchen into a master bedroom suite and the dining room into a library.

The library with one of Edison’s inventions, the phonograph. 



The master bedroom suite complete with bathroom and indoor plumbing.



The living room
The houses both have a very open feeling with the large windows and french doors letting in the light.










I love the original light fixtures and the reproduction bulbs.  The original bulbs had bamboo filaments.







From the deep porches we can see the pergola connecting the two houses.





But before we go over to Edison’s Guest House, it’s time for some lunch.  So we pick one of the benches along the river.
At this point, just before emptying into the Gulf, the river is very wide.




Before returning to the houses, we stroll along the paths lined with tall spreading trees.




This is one of the largest palms we’ve seen.   Standing back to try to get its entire height dwarfs David beneath it.




David notices this odd tree.  It’s labeled Calabash from Central America and Northern South America.  What a strange flower.









The fruits are large and inedible.


As you can see on the map above, the guest is nearly a mirror of the Edison home.




Again we look through the door into the home.




The guest bedrooms are upstairs.  Downstairs is the sitting room with the piano which Mina Edison played very well we are told.  Through the doorway is the formal dining room.







We start around to see the rooms from the other side when we are stopped by one of the historical tours.  We didn’t pay the extra money but we can easily listen to the information which appears to be perhaps slightly expanded versions of what is on our audio sets and in the information stands around the grounds.  Way too many people for me.  We hang around until they move on and then have a much easier time taking our time.





The dining room table is set for 10.  Apparently the Edisons had many guests and one reason for the two houses was so that the family could leave the Guest House and have some privacy.






Thomas Edison was Henry Ford’s hero.  They met in 1896 when Ford was just starting out.  Ford talked to Edison about his quadricycle and Edison encouraged him to “keep at it”.  The inventors forged a friendship that lasted for the rest of Edison’s life. Ford would come to Fort Myers to visit Edison.  These visits became annual ones in February for Edison’s birthday.  After a few years, Ford’s wife felt they could not impose on the Edison’s and so when the house next door to the Edison’s came up for sale, they bought it.  They only visited Fort Myers that one time a year and the visits ceased with Edison’s death.

The first thing we come to on the Ford property is the Auto Museum containing a pick up truck, a Model T and a Model A.








In 1916 Ford purchased this property named The Mangos for all the mango trees.  He paid $2000 for it.  He didn’t use it after Edison’s death in 1931 and sold it in 1945 for the same amount he had paid for it nearly 30 years before. It was sold by that same family in 1988 to the City of Fort Myers for $1.5 Million.





The Ford living room and dining room were connected.  The furniture was sometimes moved outside so that dances could be held.  Henry Ford loved to dance.  He added the window seats in the corners of the living room and the end of the dining room so that chairs would not have to take up room on the dance floor.





Notice the window seat in the corner.




The Ford table, set for six with the window seat.



Bedrooms on the ground floor believed to have been used by the staff.



I love the quilts.





As with the Edison house, this home has wide porches.  The natural rather than painted wooden ceilings and floors give it a darker feel.







Clara Ford was very fond of roses and had a rose garden here on the front of the house.  She had a much larger one at their home in Dearborn, Michigan.



Antique roses of the period continue to be grown here.




Of course I have to smell them.










Before leaving the Ford home, we visit the former Ford garage, now the Ford Cottage shop which is both a gift shop and serves light refreshments on this patio overlooking both the river and this magnificent Mysore or Brown Wooly Fig tree originally from China, Southeast Asia, and Northeastern Australia.  It measures 25.5 feet around and is 102 feet tall.



Look at the root system above ground on this tree and imagine what it looks  like underground.







How do you give a tree this big a hug?



We take the path along the river back to the Edison Estate to look at some more of the plantings before returning to the museum.






High up in this farthest palm I notice something red.  My camera brings it up close for me but I’m still not sure if it is flowers or berries.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.






In 1928, Henry Ford moved Edison’s original 1886 laboratory from this spot to his museum in Deerborn Michigan.  In its place he built Ford this study so he would have a place to retreat together with the Moonlight Garden behind it, the two create a footprint of the exact size and location of the laboratory.







Mina Edison commissioned Ellen Biddle shipman, a renowned landscape architect to design this space in 1928.  It was one of her favorite places with its fragrant white flowers and small pool to reflect the moonlight.  There is a list of the plants in the garden on display for anyone who wants to create their own moonlight garden.






One more thing we want to see while we are here is Orchid Lane.  Mango trees line the front of both Estates facing the road.  Orchids find mango trees the perfect host to grow on.  Orchids are epiphites so they are not parasitic on the trees.

Today we find that a blooming one is labeled with a sign that says Look Up.






We find another on our own next to Friendship Walk.







The friendship walk is made up of stones given to the Edisons by family and friends beginning in 1928 with the stone from Hamilton Holt president of Rollins College in Winter Park Florida.    Some of the stones have been removed for restoration.

The walk runs from the street to the Edison’s front steps.




We leave the estate grounds and walk back across the street where we have to decide whether to spend our remaining time looking at the museum exhibits or watching the 110 minute movie about Edison produced by American Experience.  We’ve been on our feet for nearly 6 hours now so we opt for the movie which is excellent and paints a much clearer portrait of Thomas Edison as an American Icon and as a man with flaws just like the rest of us.

After the film we have just enough time to take a quick trip into the laboratory where Edison’s final research efforts were botanical as he searched for a plant that could produce rubber and be grown in the United States.  After testing some 17,000 plants, the towering goldenrod was his choice.  By selectively crossbreeding the plant, he was able to dramatically increase its size and the amount of rubber it could produce.







We’ve been here since it opened this morning at 9:00 and we are leaving as it closes at 5:30.  We say good-bye to Tom and Mina knowing a lot more about their lives, their work and their friends.


Bye Tom



Bye Mina



  1. Fascinating! You've photographed the place beautifully! I would enjoy a visit here.

  2. Great flashback-really enjoyed our visit some years ago, wish we could have gotten back there on our south Florida trip in Feb.

  3. Wonderful description of an interesting place to visit! Even when my friends lived in Fort Myers, I never managed to get there. I love those breezy white old Florida houses, but it is hard to imagine them in a Florida summer without air conditioning.

  4. We have a lot to be thankful for today because of the inventive nature of the man that just had to make things work. Otherwise we'd still be back in the dark ages.

    It's about time.

  5. What a wonderful tour! Where do I send my fee? ;->

    Virtual hugs,


  6. I don't think I've ever seen a grove of fig trees. It sort of looks spooky when they are packed so close together.

    At the prices of guided tours I don't think I'd be taking many of them. I would assume they have self-guided tours?

  7. Love this place!! MonaLiza and I spent most of our time looking at all the different fruit trees. There are so many new fruits. Saw our first Star fruit tree with fruit. The VC was selling the very ripe Star fruit for a $1!! They were so good. Glad you enjoyed yourselves.

  8. Wow, pricey tour but then restoration takes a lot of money. I think I've smelled that Jasmine in South Africa, where I saw CA Redwoods in an arboretum. So go figure.

    I love your informative tours and photos, especially as I'd probably not visit this place. Although I love the true smell of roses and that Brown Wooly Fig tree is Awesome. The homes are beautiful but the study would be big enough for me with that glorious moon garden.

  9. That is weird, those flowers growing right out of that tree bark!!! And love the Georgia O'Keefe pictures of the orchids!!!!!!

  10. Glad you finally got to take the tour!! Love the roses, orchids and Fig trees. Interesting how the two connecting houses are basically a mirror imagine.

    1. I never knew of this place, now I have to visit. I love history and to see the homes will be quite a thrill.

      BTW, you said you have flaws? I find that hard to believe! ;c)

  11. Sherry, nice post but I see you've been taken in by the media hype down here. The Corps of Engineers did not pollute the river...they just did their job of flood control and released fresh water from the lake to prevent the fields from flooding. The "polluted water" is just silty because that's what rivers do at high flow rates. Would it have been better to let homes and livelihoods get flooded? The problem is that the CoE dam systems prevent this sort of high water in the spring in the rivers that is their natural state. This allows salt water fish to migrate upstream where they don't belong and then they are killed by fresh water when the CoE does its job as mandated by Congress. All the media hype is just that...hype.

    1. Not sure who is in error here Neil. Some pretty sick looking pictures of beaches and businesses up in arms about discouraging tourists on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It was definitely all over the news with a lot of on the scene coverage.

    2. Hi Sherry…yes, there have been lots of sick looking pictures of beaches on the news…and there are lots of dead fish…but that's what happens when you have salt water fish living in the river and it suddenly becomes fresh instead of brackish…they die and get washed out into the gulf and then onto the beaches. There's also a lot of silt in the water…just like if you look at aerial photos of the Mississippi where it enters the gulf…you can see the silt. Is there more silt in the water coming out of the river than usual right now…sure there is but that's due to increased flow. I can't disagree that fish die, the water is discolored, and (maybe) it has had some actual effect on tourism but based on the number of people we've seen this winter I think any tourism effect is minimal at best. What I don't like is the constant media hype that "the CoE is polluting the river" and "they should stop the discharge". Fresh water doesn't pollute the river, and it's not running into the fields and carrying fertilizer into the water because the Corps is careful not to let the river go above flood stage. The Corps doesn't carte about killing fish when it comes right down to it…their charge from Congress is to implement flood control and if the lake gets full then either they let more water out into the river (and they are always releasing some water…just not the levels they have been for the last month) or they let floods happen…which they are specifically directed not to do. No amount of state legislature hearings or media hype will change the Corp's legal obligation to implement flood control. Is it ugly on the beaches…sure it is in some places. Is it as bad as the media claims…nope…we've been over to the beach and it's not nearly as bad as the TV coverage would have you believe. I've yet to see anybody question how fresh water can cause pollution.

      I feel for the fish and wish it weren't so…but it's not the CoE's fault for doing their job…and fish kills and silty water would be much more common if they did not have levees around the lake and control the flow in the river as much as possible.

  12. Thanks for the tour and for saving us $40.00!

  13. Very pricey but I think it would be worth it. I loved the Ford Museum and the village and thought it was pricey but you can't put a price tag on great memories.

  14. Lots of things to learn here. I found it a curious coincidence that the original interest in plants from other places in the world was rooted in a belief that there was something to learn from them, and a hope that by further study, they might be found to have something we as a people might need. It was as though there was an undercurrent of at least plausibility that everything we need can be found in nature! What a novel idea. Isn't that what the big pharmaceutical and naturopathic medicine companies still believe and put their money into?? When they find something good, I wish they would just leave it where it belongs and let that country/people reap a profit if there is money to be made.

  15. I was amazed at the flower/fruit coming right out of the bark of that tree. The orchids are just beautiful, as are the hibiscus. Nice tour!

  16. So much to see and experience - thanks so much for sharing the great self-guided tour! The fig trees are incredible - that huge one looks like a sculpture. The restoration and maintenance is so nicely done, and I'm sure it's expensive. The red strings look like dates, surprising it wasn't labeled as so many others were. It's fascinating that such iconic figures found friendship and encouragement from each other, and sad that Ford didn't continue to enjoy that area after his friend's passing.

  17. We were visiting a presidential home and the warning was to watch out for falling walnuts! This place looks fascinating ... I have added it to my "when we return to Florida" list.

  18. You did a fabulous job photographing and describing the estates and grounds! Makes me feel like I was right there with you. I was there almost 30 years ago and have been wanting to return with Eric -- it's on our list for next year. It certainly looks worth the entrance fees! They should give you a job as virtual tour guide. :-))

  19. What a fascinating place, we enjoyed Dearborn Village in Michigan so imagine we'd enjoy this tour too. Interesting tree with a flower growing out of it, love the orchids.

  20. Thanks for the in-depth tour of a very interesting place..great photography...you bring the history to life! Those flowers are beautiful!


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