Ever since our kids moved out of the house, my wife and I have been trying to get out of town every once in a while either to do some fishing, visit family, visit some kind of national landmark, or just to spend a few days in a hotel away from home. Our most recent vacation destination left us re-energized but also feeling a little inadequate as productive members of society.
We headed south along Interstate 75 out of Tampa, setting our sights on Ft. Myers and the winter estates of inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist Henry Ford. I hadn’t realized they had spent so much time in south Florida but it was an adventure back in time that I’m glad I was talked into.
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates are in downtown Ft. Myers along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on a road lined with Royal Palms that Edison loved so much. Unusual and spectacular plants of all kinds dominate the landscape from the moment you park the car and continuing on as you work your way through the estate to the waterfront. Banyan trees, innumerable palm, and mango trees provide shade, while bamboo of every possible variety proves that Edison was as much a botanist as he was an inventor. I didn’t realize that he worked with so many different plants trying to produce filaments for his light bulbs and a domestic source of rubber for automobile tires. Edison, Ford, and their good friend Harvey Firestone worked together for years and partied together with their families at the estate. Can you imagine being in the company of such men?
The estate buildings themselves are beautifully preserved just as they would have been back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wraparound porches, open floor plans, and natural lighting allowed for entertaining, comfortable living, and creative thinking. My favorite building was Edison’s office in the Moonlight Garden, which I’m quite sure was the first “Man Room” ever. Just perfect for reading, inventing, or just taking a recuperative nap as Edison was quite fond of doing any time he felt like it.
The museum contains artifacts that leave most people stunned (myself included) by the genius that had lived on those grounds and wondering how anyone could have that much brain power. Multiple vintage automobiles are on display on the grounds along with many other inventions and memorabilia that document the lives and exploits of two great men and the friends they associated with. One room in particular documented the camping trips that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and naturalist John Burroughs embarked upon. Of course these men didn’t “rough it” in the traditional sense, their butlers, cooks, and other helpers traveled with them across the untamed land of America. What escapades those must have been. Can you imagine sitting around the camp fire in the cool air of twilight as these adventurers told stories of past voyages?
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates are a great place to visit if you’re looking for something different and beautiful. Just be prepared to feel dumber than a box of hammers compared to the men that walked the grounds before you. I sure did!
Brian "Beastman" Eastman
White River Fly Shop