Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford, two of the most famous inventors in the history of the United States, kept adjacent winter homes beside the Caloosahatchee River in southwestern Florida. Today, their two homes, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, are open to the public daily and house a historical museum and 17-acre botanical garden.
Thomas Edison first visited Florida in 1885, or so the story goes, and decided, at that time, that he would build a vacation home there. He purchased a piece of property on that first trip and, two years later, it was the site of Seminole Lodge, the name he gave his winter retreat. Seminole Lodge was used by Edison up until his death in 1931. Fifteen years prior to Edison’s death, his friend Henry Ford purchased the adjoining property and “The Mangoes,” a craftsman-style bungalow built in 1911 by Robert Smith of New York.
In 1947, Mina Edison donated the property to the City of Fort Myers in the memory of her husband. Her wish was that the site would be enjoyed by the public; it was opened for tours three years later in 1950. It would take another four decades before the Henry Ford estate was purchased and opened to the public for tours. In 2003, a non-profit was established - the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates - in order to protect and preserve the sites. Today, it is the most popular historic attraction in southwest Florida and looks exactly as it did back in Edison’s lifetime.
Edison was an avid botanist and his gardens contain more than a thousand varieties of plants from all over the world. The plants are a bit strange: Edison saw the gardens as an experimental bed for industrial products and imported African Sausage Trees and a 400-foot banyan tree. Over the years, Edison built light bulb filaments from bamboo and turned goldenrod into rubber. Later, Edison’s wife added roses, orchids, bromeliads, and other more traditional flora.
Edison’s plants and gardens are the primary draw for tourists to the region, but there’s a lot more on site. Even during his winter retreats, Edison couldn’t get away from the laboratory. Near the home, he built a lab where he and his staff worked on some of his 1,000-plus inventions.