The Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Our internet access failed to reliably connect us to the world this morning and we found out just how dependent we’ve become. No blogging, no e-mail, no bill paying, no researching our next stop: nothing. How quickly the technologically-endowed crumble! After a morning of phone calls, we were directed to the Verizon store in Fort Myers for a software update. Not exactly convenient, but they solved the problem and I hope we’ll be able to fix it ourselves in the future.

Problem solved, we went to the Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. We opted for the self-audio tour of the estates, gardens, and laboratory, punching the numbers displayed on small green signs into little hand-held speakers which would have delighted Edison.

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Arriving at Fort Myers by boat from St. Augustine in 1885, Edison saw a stand of giant green bamboo on a cracker cattleman’s property along the Caloosahatchee River and decided to purchase the place on the spot for $2,500, as he’d been experimenting with green bamboo fibers for his light bulbs and needed a reliable source.

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He and his wife Mina built ‘Seminole Lodge’ and guesthouse of post and beam timbers, pre-cut in Maine, carried by ship to Fort Myers, and unloaded at their 1600 foot dock. The main house and connecting guest house have simple but elegant rooms with lots of French doors and 20’deep surrounding porches that made an airy, relaxing environment for sewing, reading, and socializing. Exotic trees and shrubs graced the grounds and comfortable benches faced views of the passing boats on the river. Young Henry Ford was a favorite guest, an Edison employee, who eventually purchased an adjacent property he called ‘The Mangoes’: so named for the many mango trees on the property.

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After WWI, Edison, Ford, and Harvey Firestone formed The Edison Botanic Research Foundation, completing a laboratory on the property in 1928, to research a quick-growing domestic source of natural rubber. They planted and tested hundreds of exotic trees and plants from around the world for their ability to produce latex and had success (but not commercially) with Edison’s hybrid goldenrod which grew to twelve feet. One of the studied plants was a four-foot tall banyan sapling which Firestone had brought Edison from his India. Today, that same tree covers more than an acre, with its hundreds of branch-descended root hairs touching the earth and eventually forming massive support columns for the tree’s branches. It’s the second largest tree of its kind in the world. It holds pride of place on the estate, but dozens of other spectacular fig, palm, and pine trees hold their own framing vistas of the river. Orchids, night-blooming cereus, crotons, ferns, and a delightful Moonlight Garden designed by Ellen Biddle Simpson, provide well-documented horticultural detail.

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A grand day, in which we solved our internet access problem and really enjoyed our visit to the Edison and Ford Estates. Quite a contrast in technologies. I wonder what Edison’s e-mail address would be–maybe tedison@edison.online.com? I’m sure he’d have jumped at the chance to lead the internet revolution! It couldn’t have even begun without him.

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