Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Thomas Edison Winter Estate and Henry Ford Estate
Henry Ford's winter home
|Location||Fort Myers, Florida|
|Built||1886 (Edison Estate)
1915 (Ford Estate)
|Governing body||Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates, Inc.|
|NRHP Reference #||91001044|
|Added to NRHP||August 12, 1991 (Edison Estate)
September 8, 1988 (Ford Estate)
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates contain a historical museum and 17 acre (6.9 hectares) botanical garden on the adjacent sites of the winter homes of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford beside the Caloosahatchee River in southwestern Florida. It is located at 2350 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers, Florida, USA. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, including Sundays. On April 18, 2012, the AIA's Florida Chapter placed the Edison and Ford Winter Estates on its list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.
The present site dates from 1885, when Edison first visited Florida and purchased the property to build a vacation home. His home, completed in 1887 and dubbed "Seminole Lodge", served as a winter retreat and place of relaxation until Edison's death in 1931. Edison’s good friend Henry Ford purchased the adjoining property in 1916 where he purchased "The Mangoes" from Robert Smith of New York. Ford's craftsman style bungalow was built in 1911 by Smith. In 1947, Mrs. Mina Edison deeded the property to the City of Fort Myers in memory of her husband for the enjoyment of the public. It was opened for public tours in 1950. By 1988, the adjacent Henry Ford winter estate was purchased and opened for public tours in 1990. In 2003, the governance of the site was transferred from the City to a new non-profit corporation, Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates, Inc. (dba Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Inc) whose mission is to protect, preserve and interpret the site and future growth and development. The new corporation successfully completed a $10 million restoration project in 2006. A separate fundraising arm, Edison-Ford Winter Estates Foundation, Inc., was created to assist the restoration project with no function in governance, programming or development but rather to assist the governing board with the initial restoration.
Edison's botanical garden contains more than a thousand varieties of plants from around the world, including African Sausage Trees and a 400-foot (120 m) banyan tree given by Harvey Firestone in 1925. It was originally an experimental garden for industrial products. Later Mrs. Edison gave the garden an aesthetic turn with plantings of roses, orchids and bromeliads.
At present the collections include: Acalypha hispida, Arenga pinnata, Artocarpus heterophyllus, Billbergia spp., Blighia sapida, Bougainvillea glabra, Bougainvillea spectabilis, Calliandra haematocephala, Cananga odorata, Cattleya hybrid, Cattleya spp., Chorisia speciosa, Citrus spp., Clerodendrum speciosissimum, Cordyline terminalis, Cycad spp., Dendrobium, Dombeya spp., Epidendrum ciliare, Ficus auriculata, Ficus benghalensis, Ficus saussureana, Hibiscus schizopetalus, Holmskioldia sanguinea, Ibosa riparia, Ixora chinensis, Kigelia africana, Leea coccinea, Malvaviscus arboreus, Musa spp., Parmentiera cereifera, Plumbago auriculata, Solandra nitida, Spathoglottis plicata, Tabernaemontana corymbosa, Tecoma stans, Thunbergia erecta, Tibouchina semidecandra, and hundreds more.
During the period of 1914-1918 (World War I), Edison became concerned that the cost of rubber was going to drastically rise. He was aware that the cost of production and transportation of this good would, over time, go up, so he began to work with Harvey Firestone and his already good friend Henry Ford to try to find a crop that could grow quickly and, above all, contain enough latex to support his research endeavor. In 1927, the three men contributed $25,000 each and created the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in an attempt to find the "solution" to the rubber crisis. In 1928, the final location of the EBRC was constructed and was the predominant laboratory utilized in this corporation. It was in Fort Myers, Florida that Mr. Edison would do the majority of his research and planting of his exotic plants and trees, sending any results or sample rubber residues up to West Orange, New Jersey, to his large Thomas A. Edison "Invention Factory".
It was not until later in Edison's life (around 1928) that they finally deduced that the weed Goldenrod (Solidago leavenworthii) was the best producer of latex. Much work would be conducted for months on this plant after this conclusion came about. From distillation of chemicals, to the vulcanization of the wet residues produced, anything and everything was attempted by Edison and his workers.
Although herculean efforts were put forward to the EBRC (both financially and physical labor from the workers), the project failed to find the solution they were looking for. The office/laboratory in Fort Myers shut down in 1934 and the remaining laboratory in West Orange diminished in 1936. Despite Edison's desires, the research was not able to produce rubber from a plant on a large enough scale to deem it economically feasible or commercially successful.
View of the Caloosahatchee River from the estate
Edison, John Burroughs and Ford at the estate in 1914
- Albion, Michele Wehrwein. (2008). The Florida Life of Thomas Edison. ISBN 978-0-8130-3259-7.
- Smoot, Tom (2004). The Edisons of Fort Myers. ISBN 1-56164-312-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Edison and Ford Winter Estates.|
- Lee County listings at National Register of Historic Places
- Florida's Office of Cultural and Historical Programs