To escape the brutally cold northern winters, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had winter homes right next to each other in Fort Myers, Florida. Today this area is known as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. You can view these beautiful historic homes, museum, and laboratory on-site, and to help you with your visit, I’ve put together a short guide that includes visiting tips and what you’ll see.
Perhaps you are like me and just recently learned about these homes. I saw the estates on Samantha Brown’s television series Places to Love. I grew up watching her shows on the Travel Channel, green with envy for her job. So, I was excited to hear she had a new series on PBS. She recently did a short feature on the Edison and Ford Winter Estates down in Fort Myers, and I was captivated by Thomas Edison’s dark green laboratory.
Lucky for us, we made an impromptu side trip down to Fort Myers from Anna Maria Island so that I could see the laboratory for myself. We only got to visit for the afternoon, but we saw most of the property before it started to rain.
Some people don’t like Thomas Edison, and I understand why. Still, I love diving deep into history, especially seeing timeless homes that beckon to me. Plus, I wanted to learn more about the two men who helped contribute to modern-day America.
Know Before You Go
Address and Parking
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are at 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, Florida 33901. We plugged this address into our GPS, which took us to the parking lot. Parking is free, and you will see signs indicating where to park. We arrived mid-afternoon and had no trouble finding a parking spot. Find the estates on a map here:
Hours and Tour Information
The museum and historic homes are open daily from 9am to 5:30pm, with the last ticket sold at 4:30pm. You can view the different tour prices here.
We did the guided 60-minute tour, where a historian takes you to the estates and through the gardens. This tour is recommended if you have limited time to visit. The cost is more at $30 per adult, but it gives a good overview of the estates. There are also self-guided tours that cost less than guided tours, but both tours include visiting the museum, laboratory, estates, and gardens.
If you do the self-guided tour ($25 per adult), you can download the Edison Ford App for an audio tour of the estates and gardens. It is convenient and free!
If you want to see rooms in the homes that aren’t generally on the other tours, consider the Inside the Homes Tour. This tour is only offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am. We missed this tour but still saw certain areas in the homes. They have rooms closed off where you cannot enter them, but you can still view the interiors from the doorways.
Other Visiting Tips
I would plan at least half a day to visit the entire place. We were there for about three hours and still didn’t see everything! However, I read a lot, including all the captions you see under every exhibit or artifact in a museum. If you don’t do this, visiting the Edison and Ford Winter Estates might take less time.
We went in June, and it was so hot and humid. It felt like I was back in Cancun, Mexico – one of the hottest places I’ve been. I try to push through it, but it is hard to concentrate when it is that hot! If we go back, it will be in the cooler winter months. With that said, you may want to avoid late spring, summer, and hurricane season.
What You Will See at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates
The property comprises the museum, Edison’s and Ford’s estates, the gardens, and Thomas Edison’s laboratory. Read below to discover a little bit more about each one.
I love the museum because it has air conditioning! Okay, that is not the only reason, but the A/C is a huge plus.
The museum is packed with TONS of history, along with Thomas Edison’s innovations and Ford’s automobiles. The permanent galleries include:
- Orientation Gallery
- Timeline of Innovation
- Into the Wild
- Music and Movies
- Edison and Rubber
- DC vs. AC (Electrify America)
- Edison’s and Ford’s family and friends
As much as I loved learning about Edison’s inventions, my favorite gallery out of those listed above was Into the Wild. This gallery highlights Edison and Ford’s unique friendship and their lavish excursions into the Florida Everglades.
A Close Friendship
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had a close friendship, which is probably one of the reasons their homes are right next to each other. I like my friends, of course, but not sure if I would live right next to them (sorry y’all!).
They often went on “camping” trips to Cypress and the Everglades. I put camping in quotes since these were elaborate journeys, not your typical camping trips where you pack a tent, light gear, and a cooler with beer.
No, they were definitely glamping. How so? At one point, they had 80 staff members accompany them, including chefs and secretaries! Astonishingly, they even packed a piano to sing and play music for President Harding, who joined them. Can you imagine going on a camping trip this large into the Florida Everglades? I surely cannot.
Disappointingly, they didn’t allow their wives and children to accompany them initially because they were afraid they would somehow ruin their fun (seriously?) The invitation was later extended to them, and the camping trips became quite a family outing. After nine trips, they called it quits as the trips became too publicized, and Edison started to focus more on his work with rubber in his laboratory.
The photos are fun to look at in this gallery; you can clearly see they had a good time.
Thomas Edison had over 1000 Patents!
Thomas Edison had so many patents, and you will see some of them and other inventions that Thomas Edison produced in the Music and Movies gallery of the museum.
Do you know that Thomas Edison influenced the movie film industry? In fact, the first movie studio was established by Edison in 1893. Called the “Black Maria,” it was located not in California but in West Orange, New Jersey. You can see a small-scale model of it at the museum.
Edison also had nine patents in the movie film industry, including a movie projector and a kinetoscope. You might recall seeing flipbooks that have a drawing on each page. When you flip through the book quickly, the images appear in motion. Those flipbooks act like a kinetoscope.
Edison had a projecting kinetoscope that displayed images on a wall. Like a modern-day motion picture, the kinetoscope consisted of multiple images captured within a short time frame, which gave the appearance of subjects in motion, similar to our flipbooks.
He also produced a home kinetoscope in 1913, so people could enjoy a short movie in the comfort of their homes, where they could select a film from a catalog. Think of it as a precursor to modern-day streaming.
Right next to the kinetoscopes in the museum, you’ll see Edison’s phonographs. If you have a record player, you have a phonograph. Not only could the phonograph play music, but it could also record sound and play it back.
The most unique (and creepy) phonograph on display at the museum is Edison’s Talking Doll. The doll spoke prerecorded nursery rhymes. It also had real human hair on top of its head. These were not popular, and it is pretty obvious why.
Don’t miss the remarkable phonograph with the biting marks. Edison had substantial hearing loss in his later years, and the only way he could listen to the sound was to bite down and feel the vibrations!
See Henry Ford’s 1914 Model T
The Orientation Gallery is the first museum gallery you step into after purchasing your tickets. You will see four classic cars, including Henry Ford’s 1914 Model T, and wow, it’s a beauty. I love classic cars.
Ford’s assembly line cut down production time, making cars affordable to more people. The Model T was one of these economical cars, costing around $550 (a little over $14,000 today). Most cars in 1914 were painted black. I am guessing people confused their vehicles with others frequently!
Also, in this gallery, you’ll see Henry Ford’s 1916 Model T. This car was given as a birthday gift to Thomas Edison. Pretty nice birthday gift if you ask me!
Thomas Edison’s Botanical Laboratory
Don’t miss the laboratory during your Edison and Ford Winter Estates visit. It is located right outside the museum, and you will see signs indicating the direction.
The laboratory is my favorite thing to see on the entire property. It’s almost as if you stepped back in time to see how the lab operated, and the remarkable thing is that most of the items are original.
Established in 1928 by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone (Firestone tires), the lab served as a research and testing center to grow rubber in the United States.
All three were concerned about how much rubber the United States purchased from foreign countries. Edison was definitely not one to quit, and after years of testing, he finally succeeded in producing rubber at a quicker pace by crossbreeding the goldenrod plant.
Another surprising and really cool feature about the lab is that it has a darkroom! Similar to what you find in a dark room today, their research process was documented by pictures to maintain thorough notes. Many of these photos developed in the darkroom are now displayed in the museum.
Edison and Ford Winter Estates
You’ll have to cross the street to visit the estates. Luckily, the walk from the museum to the estates is not too far. And don’t worry; there is a crosswalk, but be careful.
The estates sit right next to the Caloosahatchee River. You’ll see a beautiful pathway lined with tall royal palms. Edison’s main house and guest home are situated along this pathway. If you continue down, you will see Henry Ford’s estate.
There is also Edison’s caretaker house, a swimming pool, Edison’s study, and the caretaker cottage for Ford. You won’t have to walk too far to see all these as they are near each other.
The houses are not what I imagined. I suppose I’m used to the lavish Châteauesque (think Biltmore House in North Carolina) or Victorian-style architecture popular during this timeframe.
Instead, the exterior of Edison’s and Ford’s homes is relatively modern. Edison’s main wooden house and guest home have many windows and large, spacious porches. Henry Ford’s estate is craftsman style – very cozy and inviting. You can peer inside certain rooms in the homes, but you cannot walk into them.
Edison’s winter home is known as the Seminole Lodge. The main house was completed in 1886, just in time to return to Florida with Mina, whom Edison married that same year. Today, you can see the family’s bedrooms, the den, a library, and a study.
Edison acquired the guest house in 1906. It has a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, guest bedrooms, and rooms for the staff. President Hoover was one of the famous guests that stayed at Seminole Lodge.
I love that most of the furniture is original – even the wicker furniture on the porch once belonged to the Edison family. The furniture is well-preserved, and some of the pieces look modern.
Walking a little further down from Seminole Lodge but not too far, you’ll reach the Mangoes – Henry Ford’s winter home. The name of the house fits the area. You’ll notice large orange mangoes if you look up at some of the trees.
Henry Ford and his family purchased this home next to Edison in 1916. The funny thing is that you might expect Henry Ford to have an oversized garage for his cars. But no. The garage was relatively small; you can buy ice cream there today.
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates have 20 acres of beautiful gardens where you can stroll by different varieties of plants. There are many unique plants, and you might be surprised to discover something you have never seen. We saw bamboo, tropical fruit trees, cycads, and so many palm trees.
The most stunning tree is the gigantic banyan tree near the museum entrance and the parking lot. You can’t miss it.
If you want a further breakdown of what is in bloom each month, visit their website. You can even purchase a plant on-site in their garden center near the museum and gift shop entrance. I was very tempted to buy a gorgeous tropical plant but was unsure about taking it in the car for the road trip home.
A Note on My Images
This post contains a mixture of film and digital images. For the film, I used Portra 400 in my Canon E0S-1N. I also had my Instax Square SQ1 to take a few instant shots of the homes. Instax Square is best for taking pictures of landscapes and architecture.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken more pictures with film during our visit. Unfortunately, I had to put away my film camera for some time since it started to rain while we were touring the estates. The rain didn’t stop me from getting digital images, though.
I am slightly surprised the exposures came out well for Edison’s Botanical Laboratory. The lab has low light, and a tall barrier prevents you from walking fully inside. You can view the lab; you just can’t walk between the tables and machinery.
The top of the lab’s barrier was at level with my head. I had to stand on my tiptoes to get the shots that I took, and it was hard not to move. My camera was on the smallest aperture value to get enough shutter speed to take the images. Still blurry in some areas of the photos, but I like how they look. And they are now my favorites from the whole set!
Have you been to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers? Please share your experience below!
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