Edison & Ford Winter Estates

When we toured the Edison and Ford Estate, it was decorated for Christmas and  looked so inviting.  We went back in the evening to see all the Christmas lights and the light show.   You can spend quite a few hours going through the museum, laboratory, homes, and walking around the botanical grounds.

It was nice to have Paul and Linda share all the history and beauty of the Edison and Ford Estate. Our first attempt to tour the estate was cancelled due to rain, so we just toured the botanical grounds and gardens.  We came back the next day and it was warm and sunny and toured the estate.

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Thomas Edison (Feb 11-1847 to Oct 18-1931) was an American inventor and business man and has been described as America’s greatest inventor.  Edison was born in Milan Ohio the youngest of seven children.  He grew up in Port Huron, Michigan and was home schooled by his mother.  Edison developed hearing problems at a young age and almost totally deaf.  Edison married his first wife Mary in 1871 she was 16 and they had three children.  She died at the age of 29 of unknown causes.  He married his second wife Mina she was 20 and had three more children.  Mina was Edisons inspiration and keep him motivated.   Of the six children there were no grandsons to carry on the Edison name. This is a statue of Mina in front of her garden across the street from the estate homes.

Edison developed many devices that greatly influence life around the world, including the phonograph, motion picture camera, and the electric light bulb.  He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large scale teamwork to the process of inventions. He is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.  Edison’s groundbreaking 1,093 patents shaped the course of history and created industries that became everyday necessities of 20th century life.  A belief in hard work, intellectual curiosity, and persistence motivated Edison to innovate in a myriad of fields.  One of Edison’s phonographs have sever teeth marks caused by Edison bighting down hard.  This is how he heard the music through vibration due to poor hearing.  The saying “put a sock in it” came from people putting socks in the sound horn of the phonographs.  This was there volume control. Edisons light bulbs, and electrical system became Edison Electric and later became General Electric.  This was the company that Kent worked for in the medical division.

When we visited Thomas Edison’s winter estate we enter a world unlike any other.  The furnishings and architecture of these gracious, rambling buildings are reminiscent of a bygone area.  The estate is 21 acres with a botanical garden across McGregor Blvd the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Edison purchased the land for his second wife Mina in 1885 to build a winter vacation home.  Mina had three request in the house, it had to have indoor plumbing, electricity, and running water.  Edison provided her with all three and was the only home in Fort Myers at that time with electricity.

The Edison Pier was the first structure to be built after Edison acquired the property in 1885 as a way to transport building materials to the property.  The pier is on the Caloosahatchee River named after a Native American group that inhabited the area.  The river was the primary means of transportation until the railroad arrived in 1904. A Boat house, benches and pravilion made this area a favorite spot for the Edison family to enjoy fishing, boating, and entertainment.

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When Edison purchased the land they were only 300 people in Fort Meyers.  Most of them were hiding from the law because their was no way to reach Fort Meyers other than by water.  The land back then had a dusty cattle road that ran through the middle of the property.  Cows roamed freely while cowboys bunked in what is now called the caretakers house. This is the oldes building on the property and is an example of early Floridas “Cracker” architecture.

img_4155Today the cattle road is McGregor Blvd a two lane street lined with royal palm trees.  Edison is responsible for the city being call the City of Palms. He lined his estate with Royal Palm and Fort Myers is still lining the street with Royal Palm trees.

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The grounds on the west side of the street were primarily dedicated to growing plants of personal interest.

After Edison purchased the land he quickly made a pencil sketch of how he envisioned his home.  The lumber for the two post and beam homes were precut in Maine and transported by ship to the site where local laborers assembled the homes.  The main house original design included a kitchen (servant’s quarters above) and dinning room in the north wing.  In 1906 Mrs. Edison had this part of the house remodeled.  The kitchen was turned into a master bedroom suite and dining room into a library.

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The family and visitors dined in the guest house and the two buildings were connected with a pergola.   The main house includes a library, study, and Edisons Den.

Edison Guest House was initially sold to his friend and business partner Ezra Gillian’s.  Edison reacquired the home in 1906 and remodeled it for use as a Guest house.  He sold the home to Henry Ford his good friend in 1916.

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The Ford porch adjacent to the vintage garage offers a spectacular riverfront view of the the Caloosahatchee River.  The Ford Catertaker Cottage was used as a garage and caretakers home for the Ford Family.

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Henry Ford’s vision and technical expertise allowed him to Create  machines that transformed the modern landscape and the way we travel.  He also revolutionized farming methods, mechanizing the work of the farm and creating new ways for farmers to move their goods to market.  His 161 patens reflected a commitment to continual innovation in the automotive field.  Like Edison, Ford was interested in finding natural solutions to industrial problems.  He experimented with creating paints and plastics from soybeans, producing a “soybean car” in 1941.

A Model T truck was delivered in a crate, their was no box on the back of it.  Local labors were hired to build the box out of the crate it was shipped in.  When finished they called the owner and said they could pick up their truck.  That is how it got its named used today as a pick up truck.

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The pool was constructed in 1910 and built from Edison’s Portland Cement, the pool was one of the first residential pools in Florida.  In 1928 Henry Ford financed the re modeling of this area by adding the tea house and enlarging the bath house. The cistern, also constructed from Edison Portland Cement was add in 1919.  The pool is only four foot deep yet take note it has a diving board.

The lily pond was added in 1929 and includes some of Mrs Edison’s favorite plants such as iris, water lilies, and papyrus.

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The fountain was constructed in 1907 this area was a popular gathering place for Edison and his guest.  The fountain provides and expansivee view of the gardens looking towards the river, the allee and the Edison Main Gate.

During the period of 1914-1918 Edison became concerned with America’s reliance on foreign supples of rubber.  He partnered with Harvey Firestone and his good friend Henry Ford to try to find a rubber tree or plant that could grow quickly in the United States and provide a domestic supple of rubber.  In 1927 the three men each contributed $25,000 and created the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in an attempt to find a solution.  In 1928 the Edison Botanic Research laboratory was constructed this is where Edison would do the majority of his research.  The laboratory was in operation until 1936 five years after Edisons death.  The layout of the interior contained a chemical processing area, machine shop, ginding room, office, and dark room.  Behind the laboratory was a slate house for growing and drying plants, and a concrete vault for storage.  Plants grew in acres of research beds, raised gardens, and various shaded structures outside the laboratory.  They were tested for their rubber content.  Harvey Firestone was an innovator and business tycoon.  His patents included methods of producing more resilient tires, and new ways to mount tires to wheels, amongst other things.  Firestone got his start selling carriage tires before moving on to automobile tires.

After testing over 17,000 plant samples Edison eventually discovered a source in the plant Goldenrod(Solidago Leavenworth).  After Edisons death in 1931 the rubber project was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture five years later.

Edisons botanical garden contains more than a thousand varieties of plants from around the world, including African Sausage Trees and a 400 foot banyan tree planted in the mid 1920 and now covers almost an acre of the grounds.

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The gardens feature plants grown for industrial purposes such as bamboo used in light bulb filaments and those which Mina planted for their beauty, including roses, orchids, and bromeliads.

Edisons original 1886 laboratory was moved in 1928 to Henry Ford’s Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan.  Ford agreed to build Edison a study in its place.  The moonlight garden was located behind the study.

Mrs Edison commissioned Ellen Biddle Shipman reowened landscape architect, to design the Moon Light Garden in 1928.  This garden was one of Mrs Edisons favorite places designed with fragrant, white and blue flowers and a small pool to reflect the moonlight.  The garden has been restored to reflect the look, feel, and scent of the historic area.

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A double row of mango trees were planted along the McGregor Boulevard fence line spanning both the Edison and Ford properties.  Orchids from all over the world were planted within the mango trees and this area became know as Orchid Lane.

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The landscape today is still dominated by the huge ficus trees planted by Edison, Ford and Firestone during the time of their quest to find a viable domestic source of rubber (latex) to grow in this region.  Edison planted stately palms in single file creating a distinctive effect.

Linda and I are standing inside this tree.  It just amazing how big these trees are.

Somebody had to take a rest during the tour.

We took a break from the tour and had lunch at Pinchers, a restaurant outside the gates of the Estate along the Caloosahatchee River. This was our beautiful view as we enjoyed our lunch.  In March when we were visiting we toured this marina for a possible stay when we did the loop.

Pictures of the Edison and Ford estate at night all light up with thousands of lights and traditional holiday decorations.  Somebody has to do a lot of work decorating so we can enjoy this beauty.

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This is the light show at the Estate each night from December 1 to January 1st.  They have chairs set up so you can relax and enjoy the music and light show.

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