I recently spent a week on the upper east coast (in March) where temperatures were still frigid, snow was falling, and ice covered more than it should in what I would consider a springtime month. I know, I know… I’m spoiled rotten here in California, but I couldn’t help to wonder just how the local people deal with the seemingly endless winters. Thick skin would my first guess. Then, I figured people probably just travel to escape – or for the more fortunate, possibly have a second home. It reminded me of my parents who permanently left the midwest for Florida, and their many snowbird friends who continue to make the best of both worlds. Not such a bad idea when you start think about it.
A “snowbird” is a term used to describe someone who vacations in or moves to a warmer climate during cold weather. Lots of retirees fall into this category, but who knew Thomas Edison was one of these people? Although, from what I learned during a visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estate in Fort Myers, Florida, Edison didn’t seem to ever stop working… even when spending time at this winter home.
While most of Edison’s time was spent in Michigan and New Jersey, in 1885 he purchased the Florida property. He quickly designed the home and grounds, and turned them over to architects and builders who completed his vision by 1886. Situated on the Caloosahatchee River, the expansive property was enjoyed by Edison, his wife Mina and their family up until 1947 when she finally deeded the property to the City of Fort Myers. The estate is now a historical museum and botanical garden that showcases Edison’s personal and professional interests.
An expansive porch wraps the entire perimeter of the house…perfect for enjoying the Florida weather without being in the direct sun.
Next door, is the winter home of Henry Ford – close friend, business partner and fellow inventor.
Behind the house in the river is a skeleton of the original pier. This was actually the first structure to be built once Edison acquired the property. Building supplies were brought via boat to the estate and unloaded here. Later, a sitting room was constructed at the very end of the pier – a peaceful place to read and relax… or in Edison’s case, probably to daydream and brainstorm about his many ideas (if he actually ever took a break from work).
Most of the property (including the guest house where much of their entertaining took place) still contains original furniture from the Edison family, which is on permanent loan from the Charles Edison Fund. You can walk the property with either a live or audio guide… we chose the audio version, where posted numbers throughout your personal tour que a story or tidbits of information when punched into an audio piece. Often, sound effects even brought the scene to life, like that of a dinner party in the guest house dining room.
The grounds surrounding the house and various other buildings are covered with over a thousand varieties of plants and trees from around the world, all chosen and planted purposefully by Edison as specimens for scientific study. The enormous, impressive banyan trees throughout the grounds were part of a search to find a natural source for rubber. Of course, his wife Mina did have her rose garden too – strictly for the beauty of it.
Across the street from the main house and grounds are Edison’s greenhouses and laboratory. Further testament that this “summer home” was no vacation for him. He was always thinking, working and experimenting. In his lifetime, he accumulated over 1,000 patents in the US, and over 2,000 worldwide! In addition to the well-known incandescent lightbulb, he is also credited for contributing to the phonograph, dictaphone, alkaline battery, and greatly improving the telephone by inventing the carbon microphone. He even discovered and implemented a better way to create and manufacture cement.
History is certainly impressive on many levels. From the way people lived, to the impact on progress such dedicated individuals such as Edison had. What seemed to be a summer home to relax and escape, for him was just another place to invent and create… with nicer weather, of course. While I do love to keep busy with my own interests and creativity, if I had a summer home you’d definitely find me at the end of that pier with my feet in the water, daydreaming at the clouds.