Behind the Scenes at the Edison Ford Estate
One of the most visited attractions in Fort Myers is the Edison Ford Winter Homes Estates. Located right on the riverfront just a short distance from downtown Fort Myers, it was one of the first developments of this small cattle-ranching town in 1886. The estate straddles busy McGregor Boulevard with the Laboratory, Ticket Office, Museum and Gift Shop on one side and the houses and gardens on the other. Any visit will necessitate crossing the road at the pedestrian crossing.
The most noticeable thing you will see as you drive into the 13-acre estate is the huge banyan tree. It covers an acre with its many aerial roots and was planted by Edison in his quest to find the best source of latex for producing rubber. It is now the largest banyan tree in America.
There are several buildings which you can browse around with a self-guided audio tour or you can join one of the many docent-led tours on offer. The themed tours include Garden Tours with a horticulturist, Lab Tours of Edison’s restored botanical laboratory, Behind the Scenes Tours with a historian and even a Holiday Nights Tour in season. Without exception the tours are all very interesting and cover Edison’s personal life, his wife Mina, his many inventions (he had over 1000 patents) and the winter homes belonging to Edison and Henry Ford. Overlooking the wide Caloosahatchee River, boat tours are also available from the long pier leading out from the gardens.
Edison lived in Seminole Lodge and the accommodation is divided between the family home and the guest house which are linked by a pergola. Furnishings are surprisingly simple, but this was never Edison’s main residence. He visited Fort Myers for a few months a year to escape the cold New Jersey winters.
The other house on the property, the Mangoes, was the winter home of his good friend Henry Ford and there is a garage with a couple of Ford’s historic vehicles on show. Be aware that only the Behind-the-Scenes Tour gives visitors access into the properties; the other tours allow visitors to see the furnished homes through the open doors and windows, but the views and photo opportunities are pretty good. The humidity near the river and high temperatures make the homes pretty hot to tour as they are not air-conditioned.
Keen gardeners will really enjoy browsing the extensive gardens. Early summer is a great time to visit when many of the flowers and trees are in full bloom. There are hibiscus, euphorbia, trumpet trees, tulip trees, bright red Poinciana trees, gingers, orchids and many other tropical plants. Each specimen is clearly labeled, making any tour of the gardens an informative treat for gardeners. The Moonlight Garden with its small reflecting pool is one of the most tranquil spots and marks the footprint of Edison’s original laboratory. There is also an above-ground swimming pool complete with diving boards which the six Edison children no doubt enjoyed, and a caretaker’s house. The Ford caretaker’s home is now a gift shop.
The restored Botanical Laboratory is really not terribly exciting in my opinion. Recently opened after a $1 million restoration, it looks like a typical 1920s machine shop with work benches set out with test tubes and bottles. However, the Museum is full of interesting memorabilia, photographs and Edison’s main inventions including the phonograph and his long-lasting light bulbs that revolutionized the world.
There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “Days Out Around Fort Myers” (available in all formats) which has 15 more places to visit.