In Ft. Myers, FL, you enter from a grand boulevard lined with royal palms. Who knew Thomas Alva Edison would be there to greet us, a standing statue? (Edison was the great inventor of the light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera.) We had wanted to see the winter home of the Edison family. The houses and gardens were stunning. The buildings were restored beautifully and furnished with antiques of their time, and the well maintained grounds invited rambling through the shade along the Caloosahatchee River. Was this really how it looked when Edison lived there?
We had not known that Edison’s good friend, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co., had bought the property next door and that his estate was now also part of the museum, collectively called the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.
We concentrated on the grounds first thinking these would be designed gardens from that era. We walked first to a lovely Moonrise Garden of night blooming plants, designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman. We could imagine sitting by the little rectangular reflection pool on an evening.
Looking to other areas, we learned that bamboo had attracted Edision to this place. Some of the bamboo predated Edison buying the property; he used bamboo in filaments of early light bulbs and some of the plants we saw were planted for his scientific experiments. Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., were good friends and finding a source to replace rubber imports from Asia was of great interest to all of three of them. So, it was not exactly the formal gardens we were expecting. Some of the plants were used in their search for new sources of rubber.
Two trees were of particular interest. Harvey Firestone gave Thomas Edison a 4 feet tall banyan tree (Ficus beghalensis) that was planted in 1927. That same tree is now the largest banyan tree in the continental U.S., measuring 84 feet tall and 31 feet in circumference. It’s so big we couldn’t really photograph the total tree! The other tree, a Mysore fig (Ficus drupacea), was near the river behind the Ford house. Another Champion tree, it stands 102 feet tall and spans over 25 feet in circumference.
A number of cyads were planted near Edison’s workshop. We had never heard of cyads and found them quite fascinating – particularly in size and leaf design.
The heat of day signaled us that time had come to tour the houses. At the Edison & Ford Winter Estates all the buildings have half-doors for visitors to look in to the restored rooms. Of course, it’s always interesting to see how others live, and this was no exception.
Edison’s laboratory display disappointed us a little. The dim light and wire dividers fenced us off at such a distance from the work areas that we couldn’t see much.
Last on our excursion through the estates came a museum with a well presented little exhibit on the many camping trips Thomas Edison took with his friends Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and the naturalist, John Burroughs.