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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Who Knew?

~Saturday, January 30, 2021~

Day 230

Woke up to the early morning rumble of speed boats and yachts going by. Larry wasn’t kidding when he said, “Just you wait…..when the weekend comes, there’s a steady flow of doctors and lawyers enjoying their weekend yacht time.”

One of the highlights of the Fort Myers area, other than the beautiful scenery from Larry’s property, was the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, FL. I’ve got to tell you, if you ever make it to this part of Florida, you must check out this beautiful property and museum. You don’t even have to be an avid history buff to enjoy it. Over the years I’ve developed an interest in history so much more than I ever did in my younger years. So being immersed in the lives of Edison and Ford for a few hours made me really appreciate the accomplishments of these 2 iconic geniuses. The only disappointment of the day was not allowing enough time to thoroughly tour the museum. We could have easily spent a few more hours as it was that huge.

When we arrived, the group tours were sold out (they could have easily had larger groups if it weren’t for COVID). So we opted for a phone/audio tour which worked out great. To get to the main property, you have to go through the nursery area and cross the street where you are greeted with Edison’s lovely 2nd home surrounded by an amazing botanical garden consisting of native trees, plants and a wide variety of orchids. Edison’s wife Mina, was an avid grower of orchids, as they were her favorite plants. She attached them to trees so they could grow as she saw them in the Everglades. Note: in the 1800’s Florida’s native orchids filled the Everglades and trees with pink, orange and white petals which have nearly become extinct due to the many people stealing them for profit.

Thank goodness laws have been put in place to bring these indigenous species back. Highlights on the property were the pool complex, Moonlight Garden, Edison’s main house, Edison’s guest house and the Friendship Walk.

Edison purchased the 13-acre estate,

located right on the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers in 1885 from a rancher for $2,750. It would eventually be named Seminole Lodge. This lodge became a winter retreat from the cold winters in West Orange, NJ where Edison and his wife Mina’s main residence was located. From 1885 to the time Edison passed away in 1931, this was a place for swimming, boating, fishing, and entertaining many of their famous friends such as Herbert Hoover, John Burroughs, Harvey Firestone, and one who he would develop a lasting, genuine friendship with...Henry Ford. One brief encounter led to a lifelong bond so strong, they became neighbors. Thus, The Edison/Ford Winter Estates.

Edison had met Ford at an industrial conference, taking notice of his innovativeness, and later invited him to Seminole Lodge. After a few years of developing their friendship, Ford purchased the home next door to Edison, known as the “Mango” estate from Robert Smith. The home was called “The Mangoes” because of the numerous mango trees on the property. Like Edison, this would be the Ford family’s winter retreat for a few weeks of the year. Their main residence was in Dearborn, Michigan. Their ideal travel time to the Mango estate would always be around his dear friend, Edison’s birthday.

As we toured the property of Henry Ford, the highlights there were the Ford Car Exhibit displaying the famous Model A and Model T cars (to name a few), the Ford House, Clara Ford’s Rose Garden (a miniature version of her garden in Dearborn), and the Citrus Grove.

In 1947 (16 years after her beloved husband passed away), Mina Edison deeded their winter retreat to the City of Fort Myers for $1. Ford’s Mango estate was sold to a private family in 1947 and by 1988, that family had sold it to the city of Fort Myers for $1.5 million. After 2 years of restoration, it was formally opened to the public in 1990.

By the time we were done with the estate portion, we still had the 15,000 sq. foot museum to tour which could easily take half a day to see thoroughly. Think of the over 1,100 inventions that Thomas Edison had and add that to Ford’s innovations with the automobile, and there’s alot to display. Even Thomas Edison’s 1916 Model T, given to him by Ford for his birthday, is on display.

With so much to take in, we were exhausted by the time we got back to Larry’s. We still had it in us though, to make a yummy dinner of hamburgers/veggie burgers and a batch of chocolate chip cookies as a “thank you” to Larry for hosting us at his little Fort Denaud paradise.

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