One of the best-known landmarks and tourist spots in Fort Myers is the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford historical site.
The winter estates of the inventor and the car man, now part of a museum on the Caloosahatchee River, survived the onslaught of Hurricane Ian, which flooded parts of the city and destroyed buildings and roads on nearby barrier islands.
“All of our historic homes and the other structures have weathered the storm just fine,” Lisa Wilson, public relations director for the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, told the Fort Myers News-Press. “We got really, really lucky.”
The Southwest Florida homes survived river flooding because of their elevation. But while prized trees planted by Edison in the 1920s stayed up, other trees went down. Crews are cleaning up the mess.
“The iconic Banyan and Mysore Fig trees also survived the storm,” the museum reported on Facebook. “Debris is being cleared from the site and administration is waiting for power to be restored. Once the power is on and the debris is cleared, the site will reopen to the public.”
Here’s a look at the Edison and Ford estates in a 2007 travel article from the Miami Herald archives:
By Jay Clarke
FORT MYERS — They were famous all over America, but when they came here, they were just good buddies.
Inventor Thomas Edison and automobile maker Henry Ford enjoyed each other’s company so much that they had adjacent winter homes here on the Caloosahatchee River.
They hung out together, even went on camping trips into the Everglades with another famous friend, tire maker Harvey Firestone. And between them, they entertained such prominent guests as naturalist John Burroughs and Presidents Coolidge and Hoover.
But there was more to Seminole Lodge, Edison’s home here, than socializing. The inventor set up a laboratory to test bamboo filaments for his light bulbs and embarked -- with the help of Ford and Firestone -- on a years-long quest to find a substitute source of rubber.
Visitors touring the Edison & Ford Winter Estates today can step inside that laboratory and see its array of chemical beakers, vials and flasks, testing equipment, electric motors and machines.
In the botanical garden are hundreds of varieties of trees and plants Edison gathered from over the world in his search for a source of rubber.
As for Edison’s inventions, a visitor can spend fascinating hours examining the astonishing variety of them on display in a large museum on the grounds. They include the stock ticker, phonograph, mimeograph, storage battery, waffle iron, portland cement, kinescope (motion picture camera), hair curler, miner’s lamp, talking dolls and rubber made from hybrid goldenrod plants 12 feet high. Of particular interest are his early light bulbs -- the 1879 invention that first brought him fame. With them is a commemorative 75,000-watt bulb almost three feet high, built by General Electric.
Advised by doctors to get away from the harsh New Jersey winters, Edison came to Fort Myers in 1885, but really didn’t spend much time here until the turn of the century. Ford visited often, and the two would sit on the 14-foot-wide covered porch enjoying the breeze and the view of the broad Caloosahatchee River.
In 1915, Ford bought the house next door, which he named “Mangoes.” Up until Edison’s death in 1931 he spent many winter days there.
A new full-sized statue of Ford now greets visitors as they approach the home. Visitors can tour the ground floor of the home with its cypress ceiling, pine floors, built-in seating and brick fireplace. Ford sometimes used his living room for one of his favorite pastimes, square dancing.
Ford rarely visited Mangoes after Edison’s death in 1931 and eventually auctioned off its original furnishings and sold the home to a private party. It was bought by the City of Fort Myers in 1988 and is now furnished with representative antiques and collectibles, including furniture similar to the original Bar Harbour wicker. One item, the grandmother clock in the living room, is understood to be from Ford’s collection. Its time is stopped at 11:40 p.m., the time of Ford’s death on April 7, 1947.
A popular photo-op for visitors is Ford’s garage, where they can focus on two old Ford cars -- a 1917 Model T and a 1929 Model A.
For men of such prominence and wealth, the Edison and Ford homes are surprisingly modest, nothing like the ostentatious “cottages” built by industrial barons in Newport, R.I.
Visitors are not permitted to enter the Edison home, but they can look into it from the porch doors and windows.
Edison’s home had four bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs that he and his wife Mina shared. When the inventor worked late at night, however, he went to an upstairs bedroom he called the “dog house.”
To house his guests, the inventor had a mirror-image home constructed next to his own. He put the estate kitchen and dining room in that house because he didn’t like the odor of cooking food.
Edison’s home and the grounds have just undergone a $10 million restoration, bringing them back close to their condition in 1929, during Edison’s lifetime.
Opened for the first time is the renovated caretaker’s home, possibly the oldest house in Fort Myers. Also rebuilt are Mina’s Moonlight Garden, with its reflecting pool and colorful bougainvilleas, and her bridge and arbor near the pier. (After Hurricane Charley in 2004 took out some non-native tree, the estate replaced them with mango trees festooned with orchids, a replica of the “Orchid Lane” that Mina and Ford’s wife Clara had created.)
The inventor built the first above-ground swimming pool in Florida and constructed a river pier with a large pavilion at its end. Today’s pier, not nearly as long, is a replacement. A replica of Edison’s electric launch, which used to take visitors on river tours, has been retired because it could not cope with the heavy river traffic.
A statue of Edison stands at the entrance to the complex, under a striking feature of the estate complex - one of the largest trees in the country. When Harvey Firestone gave this banyan tree to Edison in 1925, it was just four feet tall. Today it spreads over an acre of land.
About 225,000 people visit the estates annually, making it one of the 10 most visited national historic homes in the country.
The complex also hosts Elderhostel programs, week-long summer camps for young inventors in Grades 3 to 6, school and group tours, university internships and special projects.