I’ve just spent a very pleasant afternoon touring the Burroughs Home and Gardens in downtown Fort Myers. Set in lush subtropical gardens on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, the Burroughs Home epitomizes life for one elite family on Millionaire’s Row in the early 20th century. Step through the grand front door and take a virtual tour….
The beautifully restored Burroughs Home on First Street home reveals the life enjoyed by Nelson and Adeline Burroughs and their two daughters, Jettie and Mona, when Fort Myers was in its heyday. The antique furnishings, artifacts, photographs and personal belongings of the family tell their own story within this Georgian Colonial Revival mansion.
Tour groups gather in the spacious pine floored hall with its sweeping staircase. Unlike many other historic homes, Burroughs home docents immediately make visitors feel at ease. They encourage you to walk around, take photographs and even take a seat in the Receiving Parlour where the tour begins.
Set in almost 2 ½ acres of gardens, this beautifully proportioned residence has four main receiving rooms, four bedrooms, a study, trunk room and two bathrooms on the second floor. There is a third floor with servants’ quarters which is not included in the tour. It is all topped by a Widows Walk which has splendid views across the wide Caloosahatchee River. The riverfront gardens are in the shadow of the Edison Bridge, which carries the busy southbound Business US41.
It soon becomes apparent that the Burroughs home is a cut above most other turn-of-the-century homes. The fine woodwork, original oak and tile corner fireplaces, elegant chandeliers and burly pine wainscoting made this a very comfortable home in its time. Beautifully restored following damage from Hurricane Charlie in 2004, the house still has sliding wooden shutters on the first floor windows.
Completed in 1901, the home was ahead of its time, having two full baths with indoor plumbing, electric bells to summon the servants and it was wired throughout for electricity.
My favorite part of the tour was the unusual bench seat at the bottom of the curved wood staircase and the plinth where gentlemen callers for Jettie and Mona would leave their calling cards. One amusing story of the lively younger sister, Mona, was that she had a view of the bench seat lined up in her cheval mirror and would only come down to meet the visitor if she liked the look of him! Another story was that the electricity in Fort Myers would be turned off nightly at 11 p.m. when everyone would retire to bed. Mona would climb down the trellis from her bedroom and cycle to the pier for late night trysts with her many admirers!
A beautiful Italian mirror tops the marble hall table beneath which is another mirror – this time for checking the petticoat and hemline before the ladies left the house. An open doorway leads to the light and airy music room on the first floor which has an Early Square Piano, an original Victrola gramophone and a fine collection of colorful pictures featuring English kings and queens.
The formal dining room has an outstanding restored mural painted on the walls depicting a typical Florida scene. Another original chandelier hangs above the dining table, which is supported on heavy carved legs with lions’ heads at the top and massive claw feet.
The tour continues upstairs on the generous landing and in the furnished bedrooms. Highlights include the built-in closets, a beautiful secretaire and a collection of personal items belonging to Jettie and Mona.
Outdoors is a covered oval terrace and steps lead down into the gardens where live oaks covered in resurrection ferns and Spanish moss shade much of the property. A fountain, gazebo and an early grotto fed by an artesian well are pointed out as we stroll along the paths.
The caretaker’s house and carriage house, which once housed a pair of Rolls Royce Phantoms belonging to the Burroughs sisters, takes up much of the grounds. Hidden in the ficus and bougainvillea is the entrance to the “secret” garden where high tea is still served for groups by prior arrangement.
Here’s a great book, available in all formats, for those visiting Fort Myers, Sanibel or Naples in southwest Florida