Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates - Ft. Myers, FL

"Be courageous! Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation.... Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith and go forward."

~ Thomas Alva Edison ~

Thomas Edison was born in Ohio. I've seen his birthplace in Milan and it's not all that far from where I live. I learned much about him in my Ohio History class in junior high school, but before today, about all I could remember to tell you about him is that he invented the phonograph and the light bulb. Now one of those is not exactly true, but more on that later.

Edison lived in several places, but he spent his winters in Fort Myers, Florida. He built his "Seminole Lodge" home there and his good friend Henry Ford had a home right next to his. Much of his work in Florida was dedicated to botanical research and development to find a plant that could be grown domestically that would produce enough latex for commercial use. This, of course, was of interest to Ford as well, since tires for his cars were made from latex rubber.

When we were about halfway to Fort Myers to tour the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, which were an hour and a half south of us, I remembered that I had forgotten to bring my AHS (American Horticultural Society) membership card along. This was a costly oversight, since that would have allowed me to take the Home and Gardens Tour for free. Instead, I had to pay the $20 fee.

It was a beautiful day that we chose for making our trip here and we meandered through the grounds, which were on both sides of McGregor Boulevard. The Edison and Ford homes, as well as the guest house and cottage, overlook the Caloosahatchee River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

We took the self-guided tour where we were provided with recordings on a device that we wore like a necklace. When we came to a location with a numbered sign, we pressed that number on the device and it would play a short message with information about that location. I found it ironic that Edison was credited with so many inventions that involved telecommunication and here we were, using just such a device to tell us about it.

Edison home - Seminole Lodge

Edison and his second wife, Mina, were both interested in plants and flowers, for different reasons. Mr. Edison was interested in breeding goldenrod for latex production and eventually produced a variety that grew four times as tall as most goldenrod and produced more than twice as much latex. This goldenrod was named for him - Solidago edisoniana - and a specimen of it is mounted in a case on the wall in his laboratory.

Mina loved the beauty of flowers, and grew a variety of them, both for use as a backdrop for her entertaining and as a way to entice birds. She was instrumental in the formation of the Audubon Society.

We visited the Moonlight Garden, where she planted white-flowering plants so they could be seen at night. Today, there are other colors here, but still many with white blooms.

Rosa 'Mrs. B. R. Cant'

The bougainvilleas on the property are impressive, especially the large purple one located just east of the Edison home. Climbing over 20 feet tall, it was covered with blooms, and was simply amazing. Crazy amazing.

And then there were the pink ones across the street where the research labs are located. These are in a row as a hedge and they were a solid mass of blooms - more crazy amazing.

The next part of our visit was a look at Edison's laboratory. Here, he spent countless hours working with four assistants on his research and experiments.

He was a workaholic who once attributed his success to the fact that he had no clock in his laboratory. He often worked such long hours that he took naps on his desk, on the lab tables and even on the floor. His wife had a cot brought in, where he took his naps from then on.

Edison spent his last ten years working almost exclusively on the development of the goldenrod as a viable resource for producing latex on a commercial level, but at the time of his death, he hadn't yet accomplished it. Mina continued to run the lab for five years more, but no breakthrough was ever made and the lab shut down.

There is a museum on the grounds, highlighting Edison's life and his inventions. It was really neat to see some of the things he is credited with inventing and many originals and prototypes are on display there. He invented a baby's high chair and even had a company that produced baby furniture.

"Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best...."

Photo by Jenna DeCraene

One of the most astounding things we saw on the grounds was the gigantic Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis). It was originally brought to Edison by Harvey Firestone from India as a four-foot-tall specimen and it now covers nearly an acre. There are several similar figs throughout the property, as well as many, many different palms.

The largest Banyan tree in the United States is here.

Orchid Lane, which was a path behind the Edison house, had many orchids growing in the trees, but only a few of them were in bloom while we were there. They were scattered throughout the property in other trees, too.

Oh, that light bulb thing? There were others before Edison that had invented various forms of the light bulb, but it was Edison who found a way to produce one that could stay lit for long periods of time and be used commercially. With 1093 patents to his credit, he was always looking for new ways to improve items already invented and to improve life for people in general.

More scenes from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates

The outside of the Moonlight Garden



Friendship Walk

The Herb Garden by the laboratory


Lipstick Tree (Bixa orellana) - its seeds are used for dyes

Just another little lizard...

Mysore Fig

Henry Ford's home was under renovation and not open to the public during our visit. We were given rain checks for a return visit, though it's doubtful we'll do that.

A couple of Ford's cars

Edison's swimming pool

Rain barrel

Pier on the Caloosahatchee River


Tree Crinum

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Flower (Brunfelsia latifolia)

Orchid (?) growing on tree

Unknown Crinum

Staghorn (Platycerium sp.)

L-R: Me, Aunt Kay, Thomas Edison, Jenna, Uncle Bob

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