Edison and Ford Winter Estates Lighting Up the Holidays and Inspiring All Year

We celebrate the holidays with light, a symbol of hope that dispels darkness. This month as I walked the grounds of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, I felt the restorative and illuminating power of light and beauty. As I listened to waves lapping the shore and watched the sun casting a golden glow on the Caloosahatchee River, I felt peace and renewal. 

I’m not alone. From now until January 2, 2022 (closed Christmas Day), locals, resident snowbirds, and guests will continue to gather at the 46th Annual Holiday Nights Celebration at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. If you can’t join them this year, put the event on your calendar for next, but plan a trip to Fort Myers, Florida now where abundant beauty illuminates and rejuvenates visitors all four seasons. Located 11 miles from the Southwest International Airport, the Estates are a global destination, but if you want to stock your garden with plants propagated on the property, make it a road trip. There are also lectures and workshops on a variety of gardening topics.

 ‘There is only one Fort Myers in the United States, and there are 90 million people who are going to find it out.” 

Thomas Edison

His words have proven true as Edison’s winter estate is one of the most visited historic home sites in America and named #1 of the 10Best attractions in Fort Myers by USA Today.

I admit it. Until recently I did not know the scope of Thomas Edison’s genius or his connection with Fort Myers. Until 2020, I knew little about the southwestern coast of Florida — its beauty, abundance, and power that inspires and restores. I didn’t know that Edison was one of the first snowbirds who not only spent winters in the Sunshine State but also created a retreat that fueled his passion, fed his genius, and sustained his work.

Thus before he created the first home phonograph in 1896, the first office dictation machine in 1908, the first disc record and phonograph in 1909, or most of his other accomplishments, Thomas Edison knew he needed a place to feed his soul. In 1885 he found a cattle town where he bought a 13-acre property for $2750 where he built a lab and home which he named “Seminole Lodge.” A widower with three children, he married Mina Miller. They honeymooned there and had three children of their own.  

He died in 1941 in New Jersey. Ford sold his estate in 1945 for $20,000, the amount he paid for it. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the city of Fort Myers, and in that year she and Ford died. Below are photos of the home and guest house decorated as they were when the family lived there.

13 of Edison’s lights are in the home.
Edison built the pier first so materials from Maine could be shipped via river to build his new home. There was no train here until 1904 or good roads until after 1910.
“It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.” — Henry David Thoreau
On the 20 acres are more than 1,700 plants of 400 species from six continents.
I agree with Lisa Wilson, Marketing & Public Relations Director and my tour guide. The Moonlight Garden is my favorite space, too. In 1928 Edison built it behind his new study. (See video.) Photo: Courtesy Edison Ford Winter Estates
Edison built the first residential swimming pool in Fort Myers. The only other pool was at a hotel.
Almost as large as the Banyan tree (thought to be the largest in the continental US) planted in the late 1920s (located outside the museum) is Mysore Fig this one near the River. See both in the video. The roots are as tall and thick as park benches. Under its shade many couples have wed.
Palm trees are not only ubiquitous on the property but along McGregor Boulevard where the Estates are located. Once cattle were driven here to Punta Rassa to be shipped to Cuba. where the Estates From Central Florida, cattle drives went right through town and down the river to the port at Punta Rassa, where cattle would be shipped to Cuba.
Stroll by roses, coconuts, citrus trees, lilies, succulents, and flowering shrubs.

Darth Vader Tree Under the Stars at the Edison Ford Estates

Edison cared about making his inventions affordable and accessible as well as his estate. This year at Holiday Nights nearly 60 local schools are participating in the 13th annual Edison and Ford Winter Estates Children’s Tree Trail. Students created ornaments from recycled materials with stipends from the Estates. The Estates host children and their families —some who wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise —to see the decorated trees and Estates.

The Lilly Pond was added in 1929
The Luminary Hotel is where I stayed just a short Uber or Lyft ride or walk away.

I love that Edison didn’t spend all of his time in a lab but was curious about so much of life around him. He loved to travel, camp, and fish with friends and their families. He loved Florida’s warm temperatures, natural resources, and people which is why he named his estate “Seminole Lodge.”

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone who formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC) in 1927.
Photo courtesy of Edison Ford Estates

In 1896 Henry Ford meets Thomas Edison at a Detroit Edison Illuminating Company conference where Ford worked. In 1912 they worked together to improve the storage battery for the Model T. In 1901 Ford began spending winters at his Florida home. Famous guests included President Herbert Hoover, Colgate and Kellogg families, Harvey Firestone. In 1910 Edison did renovations to his Queen Anne home. In 1914 the Ford family first visits the Edison in Fort Myers for a camping trip to the Everglades. In 1916 Ford purchased The Mangoes, a Craftsman home next to Edison.

I love his story– a man with little formal education who was bored with school where the mode of learning was rote memory (difficult because he was partially deaf). Like many of the brightest people I’ve known, he would be diagnosed today with ADHD for his boundless curiosity and experimentation. Today he might be called “all over the place” for his interest in so many diverse projects where he used the skills of a writer, chemist, and inventor.

Most of all, I love his resilience. While known for his 1000+ patents, he also had 500-600 patent applications that were rejected or never finished. — which earned him the credibility to be an encouragement today.

Judy, one of many passionate volunteers, shared fun facts for music lovers of all ages.

In 1931 Thomas Edison spent 6 months in Fort Myers working on rubber research.

When you leave, take some beauty home with you. And if there are goals you hope to reach in the new year — old dreams that don’t die but you’re not sure how or when they’ll materialize — take some advice from Thomas Edison…

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

And my favorite as I look ahead into the new year…

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

Getting There

The short drive to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach Approximately 30 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport ADA accessible with wheelchairs available Free parkingThe Edison and Ford Winter Estates are located approximately 30 minutes from the Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and near Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island. (More on Downtown Fort Myers and Captiva next). There are guided tours, self-guided tours, and maps in English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese. Narration in English, German, French or Spanish is available with the new app and through a phone number. For more info go to http://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org.

Thank you so much to Edison and Ford Winter Estates and The Beaches of Ft. Myers and Sanibel and Lee County for the tour and hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

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