Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates - Ft. Myers, Florida

"Be courageous! Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation.... Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith and go forward."

~ Thomas Alva Edison ~

Thomas Edison was born in Ohio. I've seen his birthplace in Milan and it's not all that far from where I live. I learned much about him in my Ohio History class in junior high school, but before today, about all I could remember to tell you about him is that he invented the phonograph and the light bulb. Now one of those is not exactly true, but more on that later.

Edison lived in several places, but he spent his winters in Fort Myers, Florida. He built his "Seminole Lodge" home there and his good friend Henry Ford had a home right next to his. Much of his work in Florida was dedicated to botanical research and development to find a plant that could be grown domestically that would produce enough latex for commercial use. This, of course, was of interest to Ford as well, since tires for his cars were made from latex rubber.

When we were about halfway to Fort Myers to tour the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, which were an hour and a half south of us, I remembered that I had forgotten to bring my AHS (American Horticultural Society) membership card along. This was a costly oversight, since that would have allowed me to take the Home and Gardens Tour for free. Instead, I had to pay the $20 fee.

It was a beautiful day that we chose for making our trip here and we meandered through the grounds, which were on both sides of McGregor Boulevard. The Edison and Ford homes, as well as the guest house and cottage, overlook the Caloosahatchee River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

We took the self-guided tour where we were provided with recordings on a device that we wore like a necklace. When we came to a location with a numbered sign, we pressed that number on the device and it would play a short message with information about that location. I found it ironic that Edison was credited with so many inventions that involved telecommunication and here we were, using just such a device to tell us about it.

Edison home - Seminole Lodge

Edison and his second wife, Mina, were both interested in plants and flowers, for different reasons. Mr. Edison was interested in breeding goldenrod for latex production and eventually produced a variety that grew four times as tall as most goldenrod and produced more than twice as much latex. This goldenrod was named for him - Solidago edisoniana - and a specimen of it is mounted in a case on the wall in his laboratory.

Mina loved the beauty of flowers, and grew a variety of them, both for use as a backdrop for her entertaining and as a way to entice birds. She was instrumental in the formation of the Audubon Society.

We visited the Moonlight Garden, where she planted white-flowering plants so they could be seen at night. Today, there are other colors here, but still many with white blooms.

Rosa 'Mrs. B. R. Cant'

The bougainvilleas on the property are impressive, especially the large purple one located just east of the Edison home. Climbing over 20 feet tall, it was covered with blooms, and was simply amazing. Crazy amazing.

And then there were the pink ones across the street where the research labs are located. These are in a row as a hedge and they were a solid mass of blooms - more crazy amazing.

The next part of our visit was a look at Edison's laboratory. Here, he spent countless hours working with four assistants on his research and experiments.

He was a workaholic who once attributed his success to the fact that he had no clock in his laboratory. He often worked such long hours that he took naps on his desk, on the lab tables and even on the floor. His wife had a cot brought in, where he took his naps from then on.

Edison spent his last ten years working almost exclusively on the development of the goldenrod as a viable resource for producing latex on a commercial level, but at the time of his death, he hadn't yet accomplished it. Mina continued to run the lab for five years more, but no breakthrough was ever made and the lab shut down.

There is a museum on the grounds, highlighting Edison's life and his inventions. It was really neat to see some of the things he is credited with inventing and many originals and prototypes are on display there. He invented a baby's high chair and even had a company that produced baby furniture.

"Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best...."

Photo by Jenna DeCraene

One of the most astounding things we saw on the grounds was the gigantic Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis). It was originally brought to Edison by Harvey Firestone from India as a four-foot-tall specimen and it now covers nearly an acre. There are several similar figs throughout the property, as well as many, many different palms.

The largest Banyan tree in the United States is here.

Orchid Lane, which was a path behind the Edison house, had many orchids growing in the trees, but only a few of them were in bloom while we were there. They were scattered throughout the property in other trees, too.

Oh, that light bulb thing? There were others before Edison that had invented various forms of the light bulb, but it was Edison who found a way to produce one that could stay lit for long periods of time and be used commercially. With 1093 patents to his credit, he was always looking for new ways to improve items already invented and to improve life for people in general.

More scenes from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates

The outside of the Moonlight Garden



Friendship Walk

The Herb Garden by the laboratory


Lipstick Tree (Bixa orellana) - its seeds are used for dyes

Just another little lizard...

Mysore Fig

Henry Ford's home was under renovation and not open to the public during our visit. We were given rain checks for a return visit, though it's doubtful we'll do that.

A couple of Ford's cars

Edison's swimming pool

Rain barrel

Pier on the Caloosahatchee River


Tree Crinum

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Flower (Brunfelsia latifolia)

Orchid (?) growing on tree

Unknown Crinum

Staghorn (Platycerium sp.)

L-R: Me, Aunt Kay, Thomas Edison, Jenna, Uncle Bob


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tour you've shared with us, Kylee. There are lots of things in your photos that I'd very much like to have, but I believe that gorgeous rain barrel tops the list! I've never seen anything like it.

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

A good read and a treat for the eyes.

What a great post. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Wow, they really upped the ante on the rain barrel! That's gorgeous! It's so weird to see orchids growing in trees, too. I think of them as carefully cultivated indoor plants, so to see them outside at all, let alone randomly tucked in trees, just seems so unlikely - but cool.

Diana said...

I feel like I have taken the tour, Kylee. It looks like you had a great trip all around. Thanks for sharing it with us. I can't imagine how amazing it must have been to see those enormous bougainvilleas and the orchids growing in the trees.

Unknown said...

Great post!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Gosh, I felt like I was right there with you Kylee. Wonderful tour, thank you.

Meems said...

You captured this tour with fantastic photos and great information. It has been years (lots of them) since I've been there and I didn't recall so many of the sights you showed.

The bouganvillea wall WAS crazy amazing and really easy for me to imagine its glory. The colors of those plants in bloom are fantastical! (Looks like you had some patient companions with you, too. LOL)

Hugs for a belated Valentine's Day, my friend!
Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

Wayne Stratz said...

the kind of place we would visit. Thanks for sharing. always left with a strange joy of seeing what wealth can make happen and sadness of the lack of wealth in others.

Unknown said...

What a floral feast, Kylee, especially the bougainvillea. I got this crazy grin on my face at site of all the blossoms--wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen the photos!

Kerri said...

Thanks for all the work you did to put this post together, Kylee. What a fascinating tour with so many interesting things to see!
The bougainvillea is astoundingly beautiful! My mom used to grow it along her back porch railing in Australia and I've always adored it. Hers wasn't this big!
Just the other week at school our science guy was visiting for 'Good Morning Program' and we learned that last fact you mentioned about Edison not actually inventing the first lightbulb. That was news to me.

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

Ah, I finally got to meet your famous uncle Bob. ;-)

Thanks for a lovely tour round Edison's home, lab and garden. I enjoyed it very much and thanks to all the pics you took I now have a pretty good idea of how things look. Love his house with the wrap around porch.

Pity about the Ford house being closed, but the garden looks great. I really really like that rain barrel! And how cool to see orchids growing the way they are supposed to.

Bernadette said...


My husband and I just returned home from our annual October vacation in Clearwater Beach, Florida. This year we decided to take a ride down to Ft. Myers to visit the Edison/Ford Estates (thanks to a friend's recommendation). You did a fantastic job of documenting the estates....almost a virtual tour. Unfortunately not all the flowers are blooming in October, but it was still a spectacular estate to visit, and most interesting to say the least! Great job....almost like being there again!

Chris said...

Kylee, I lived in Cape Coral (across the river) for many years, 1990-2003, and have visited the Edison/ Ford estates a couple of times but did not realize how beautiful it really is, I think I was focust more on the inventions.You really captured the beauty of it and brought me down kind of a memory lane..That part of Fla. is so very beautiful. You have inspired me to take a trip back, I have lived in NY for the last 10 years, I am planning my trip the second im done with this post! Thank You

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