A visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates is like stepping back to the turn of last century—although the royal palms Thomas Edison planted along McGregor Boulevard now tower above the scenic street as does the inventor's former 4-foot banyan tree planted in 1925 that now spans almost an acre.
Located on 20 acres, the property is a national historic site and a Florida landmark. It boasts nine historic buildings, including Edison's winter research lab, the Edisons' Seminole Lodge home, the winter home of Clara and automobile maker Henry Ford, and a museum collection that pays tribute to Edison and Ford's inventions and everyday life in Fort Myers.
The winter estates are among the top 10 most visited historic home sites in America and the Edison Botanical Research Lab became Florida's only National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2014. The building and gardens have been carefully preserved and restored to represent life in the early 1900s and the genius of the man who gave the world the electric lightbulb, phonograph and motion picture camera.
"People really feel like they're getting a peak into what it was like for Edison and Ford to come here during the early part of the 20th century," says Mike Cosden, the estates' curator. "The site really offers a step back in time, and many people are surprised by how modest the homes are."
The Edison Ford Museum displays hundreds of inventions and artifacts and plays host to special exhibits. The Main Gallery displays the telegraph, telephone, x-ray machine and Thomas Edison's original custom-made Model T that was a gift from Henry Ford.
The buildings reflect the architectural style of Florida at the time, including gracious front porches, and the lifestyle the Edisons and Fords enjoyed during wintertime in Florida, with separate quarters for guests and caretakers and even a pool. The pool was built in 1910 and remodeled in 1928 with the additon of the Tea and Bath House.
The gardens retain their historic 1929 landscaping, including Clara Ford's famous Midnight Garden, recreated to deliver the same sensory experience as the original. The poperty boasts more than 400 species of flowers, plants and trees from six continents, including mango and citrus trees, bromeliads, cycasds and more than 50 types of palms. "Edison called the property his jungle," notes Cosden. "It was densely vegetated right from the start. Mina Edison loved orchids and Clara Ford had a fondness for roses."
Guests can explore the site at their leisure or participate in specialty tours, including daily and sunset excursions aboard the Edison Explorer, offering a historian-led riverboat cruise to downtown.
For garden lovers, the estates offer Wednesday morning horticultural tours at 10:30, which explore the history of the plants and unique trees throughout the property and the garden traditions during the early 1900s. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and come ready to walk and explore the Estates.
Behind-the-scenes tours each Thursday provide a VIP experience. "It's one of the few chances for the public to get inside the homes," says Cosden. "Participants learn how we preserve the property. It's a great opportunity. I recommend any of our specialty tours. They provide a wonderful insight into the lives and times of the Edisons and Fords."
A new riverside pavilion in the Coconut Grove area under construction is being built as a replica of the original building on Edison's pier. Despite the work, the Coconut Grove area will remain open during construction so that visitors can access The Marina at Edison & Ford and the river entrance for the estates. It will open to the public in the summer of 2016.