Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Homes

This was a pretty busy week for us. After our Corkscrew visit on Monday we had a bunch of errands, getting ready to leave maintenance, work, and other generally non-fun stuff to do.

Anyway; after all of that was done we headed out yesterday morning to visit the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford down south of Fort Myers downtown along with a couple of other errands that were out a ways from the park but were generally on either the way there or the way back.

We had previously visited Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, NJ back in the summer; while we were there we learned that he also had a home and laboratory in Fort Myers. It turns out that Henry Ford was a protege of Edison’s back in the late 1800’s and in their late 30’s they came down to southern Florida on a camping trip…Edison liked it so much that he bought a 13 acre property on the southern shores of the Caloosahatchee River about 3 miles downstream from what was then Fort Myers. Ford bought the adjacent property a few years later and both built quite nice winter homes here. When the weather got lousy in NJ Edison (who by this time in his life was pretty wealthy and had a staff to run his companies for him) came down here for the warm weather and to continue his research and inventing. He had a long term project to develop a source of rubber that could be grown in America rather than having to depend on imports…he used rubber in his battery designs and Henry Ford also needed rubber for tires obviously. They were joined in investing in this endeavor by Harvey Firestone who again wanted to make tires.

Edison built a laboratory on his estate…not as extensive as the one in Menlo Park but then it was strictly devoted to botanical research. He imported and planted many exotic plants to see what would grow here and what produced the best/most latex including Mysore Fig trees…which are huge trees that don’t really bear edible figs. Research finally indicated that goldenrod was the best plant for latex except for rubber trees; but by that time the pressing need for a U.S. source had died off a bit so it was never commercially pursued.

We toured both of the estates and grounds including gardens, an advanced swimming pool complex that was ahead of it’s time, and the laboratory areas.

Connie snagged a couple photos of flowers in the gardens.



Then we wandered across the street to see the Edison House.



This is the only professionally designed garden on the property…Edison’s second wife had it done when he was in his late 70’s. The small building is a small puttering laboratory she had built close to the house for him to work in as the main lab is across the street and he was no longer working every day by this time in his life.


The Edison’s also imported hundreds of exotic orchids from around the world and installed them on the Royal Palm Trees that they had also imported.





One of the large Misore Fig trees on the property; they’re setting up a tent for a wedding tomorrow under the tree.


And a row of Royal Palms leading from the house down to the pier; which at one time extended 1500 feet out into the river…it’s very shallow near the bank and the only way to get material to the house was via water back in those days; the road was a dirt track.


And finally a lizard that posed for Neil on one of the benches on the way back across to the main laboratory area.


Neil grabbed a couple of shots of the lab itself; it’s much smaller than the one in Menlo Park is and you are also much more limited in what you can see of the lab…Connie really liked the antique fume hood in the second photo.



And that ended out tour so we headed out for lunch and errands. After a quick stop at McDonalds for a fish sandwich since it is Friday during Lent (although we actually parked in the Burger King parking lot next door as we couldn’t figure out how to get to the McDonalds lot) we made a stop for Connie’s records from the radiology place she went to for her mammogram, Home Depot for a metal plate to make the new flagpole rotate more smoothly, a couple of groceries, and a prescription for Connie we came home. It was in the high 80’s by then and we were hot so we closed up the windows and fired up the A/C units…then headed off to the pool for awhile.

Coming home about 1700; Neil declared it to be rum o’clock and then made Linguini with caramelized onions, garlic, pecans, and basil for dinner topped with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Again, yummy.

TV, nap, and it was off to bed for us.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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6 Responses to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Homes

  1. We must be on the same trip circuit in Florida as we also visited Corkscrew and the Edison & Ford Summer Homes. (Check out our posts which are pretty different but on the same places.) Enjoyed your writeup!

    • Gunther says:

      Yeah, you’ve been several of the same places we have been. Connie and I are full time RVers; we retired at age 57 in August of 2011, sold our house and hit the road in our New Horizons fifth wheel in June of 2012. After meandering through New England to see Acadia National Park and the leaves as they turned…it started to get cold (my goal is to never wear pants again) so we came to Fort Myers; we’ve been staying at Seminole Campground here since mid November and are down to 1 week to go. We’re stopping by Sarasota and Cedar Key for a week each on the way north followed by 2 weeks in Gulf Shores, AL to visit family then headed to Texas for an RV rally then through Colorado Springs to Edmonton, Alberta for a concert and the national parks up there. Current plans are for the summer/fall in the Pacific Northwest and then head down to the Rio Grande Valley in TX for next winter once the temps start turning colder.

      I try to post every couple of days at least with whatever fun stuff we have done.

      • Indeed we are on the same route! We were in Sarasota a few weeks ago; Cedar Key for 6 days (which we are just now blogging about); then on to St George State Park. We are in a lovely efficiency in Panama City Beach for a few days since our little tent might have floated away in all this rain.

        After this we are working our way over to New Orleans, Houston, Austin, Big Bend National Park for starters. Summer we’ll be on the West Coast and in Sept we start our 14-mo round the world trip.

        We love to travel and it’s been a grand start! Florida has been wonderfully scenic. Enjoy!

      • Neil Laubenthal says:

        Cool. When will you be in Austin; we will be there the first half of April and in Plano near Dallas the week after that. We’ll be in Gulf Shores the last half of March. Atet that we’re headed up to Edmonton but will be in WA/OR from July 1 until probably Sep 1.

        I wish you had spotted our blog earlier before you left southern FLwould love to get together for a beer and a chat.

        If our paths are crossing we should get together to talk about stuffI wanted to go on an RTW trip and maybe talking to somebody our age who is also doing it will convince her that it’s a good idea for us as well.

  2. We’ll be in Austin March 16-19 so we’ll miss you there but maybe this summer would work as we’ll be in WA for some days in July (dates still to be determined) and Portland, OR the entire month of August. Yes, if dates work out, it would be nice to get together and talk travel.

    I note on your site that you have a Sea Eagle canoe and wonder if you were on the beach with your canoe in the Keys at Bahia Honda State Park in mid-Jan? We remember having a few brief words with a couple who had one – as we also have one.

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Nope, that wasn’t us on the beach in the Keys. We really like our Sea Eagle, living in the RV we don’t really have space for a hard sided one although there are some places the inflatable isn’t sturdy enough to go. Fortunately we like slack water and easy paddling rather than white water so it works out.

      I’ve added your blog to my daily check list and usually keep mine up to date with our plans; hopefully our paths will cross somewhere along the line. Even if we’re 100 miles apart we can meet in the middle somewhere as I would like to hear about your RTW plans and expectations since this is something I want to do before we get too feeble to enjoy it. I don’t think Connie will rough it in the hostel circuit but we will aim a bit higher on the comfort scale. I figure that as long as we spend less than 50K for a year traveling that is only another 15K or so more than our RV budget and is eminently doable.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.

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