Edison & Ford: at Home on the Caloosahatchee River

Thomas Edison famously said “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”  I can’t help but wonder if the ratio was altered during his time in Florida.

He left the cold New Jersey winter of 1885 for some relaxation and warm weather in Jacksonville.  Finding it unseasonably cold, he took a train across the state and headed south by boat.  In Fort Myers he came across a 14-acre property on the Caloosahatchee River.  There was a stand of bamboo, the fibers of which he could use as filament in his incandescent light.  He could spend all his winters here, fishing off the dock and growing plants for research.  He purchased the property from Samuel Summerlin, one of my ancestors, for $2,750.   He built a home with wide porches and breezeways surrounded by tropical gardens and called it The Seminole Lodge.  

His friend Henry Ford visited often, and eventually bought the modest American bungalow next door to Edison.  He dubbed it “The Mangoes.” 

They spent their winters fishing and swimming in the Caloosahatchee, and camping in the Everglades.  Their families had dinner together on the dock in the evenings.

Sometimes they strolled around the moonlight garden after dinner. Edison’s wife Mina commissioned landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman to design the garden behind Edison’s little office.  

The reflection pond is surrounded by begonias, jasmine, and sweet almond.  To supplement the moonlight, the garden is illuminated by strings of lightbulbs overhead.  An appropriate touch for an Edison garden.

The homes and gardens of this 20-acre property are well maintained.  You can also visit Edison’s botanical lab, the museum, a garage of antique Fords, and Samuel Summerlin’s cracker cottage, which became the caretaker’s home of the Edison estate.  It’s the oldest building in Fort Myers.

My grandmother loves visiting the estate, sharing our family’s connection to it.  She reveres Edison and Ford as great American innovators, and she holds them dear for their love of this place on the Caloosahatchee River.  

For more information:  Edison & Ford Winter Estates 

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