Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford made an unprecendented impact on the small town of Fort Myers, Florida when both chose it as the location for their vacation estates. Learn about the people and places that put Fort Myers on the map.

Thomas Edison Arrives in Fort Myers

One of the earliest photos in our archival collection depicts "Seminole Lodge" as it appeared in 1901.

Among the rich and famous, wintering in Florida became a popular pursuit during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. World-renowned inventor Thomas Edison and his friend and business partner Ezra Gilliland traveled to St. Augustine, Florida in the winter of 1885 looking for rest and warm weather.

The two encountered unseasonably cold temperatures, took a carriage to Jacksonville, and then a train across the state to Cedar Key. From there they boated down the Gulf coast to Punta Rassa, near Sanibel Island, where they overnighted at the rough and tumble Schultz Hotel. From Punta Rassa, Edison and Gilliland took a boat upriver to the frontier town (population 349) of Fort Myers.

While in Fort Myers, Edison and Gilliland met with a local realtor who showed them a 13 acre piece of land on the Caloosahatchee River owned by famous cattle baron Samuel Summerlin. Edison purchased the land, which included a cracker cottage used by cowboys herding cattle to Punta Rassa for shipment to Cuba, for $2750.

Soon after, Edison sketched out his plan for the layout of the grounds of his winter retreat, including houses, a laboratory, and extensive gardens. Between 1885-87, "Seminole Lodge," the Gilliand home (later the Edisons’ Guest House), and a laboratory were constructed from spruce purchased from Maine. The homes and their furnishings cost both men about $25,000. Edison spent an additional $16,000 outfitting his laboratory.

Family Fun in Fort Myers

Thomas Edison and his young son Charles show off their catch from a day fishing the Caloosahatchee River, circa 1901.

The Edisons enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle that balmy winters in southwest Florida afforded. Much of this recreation centered around the beautiful Caloosahatchee River, which ran along the Seminole Lodge property. The Edisons spent many hours boating, swimming, and sporting in its waters.

One of the family’s favorite pastimes was fishing, and Edison enjoyed many hours fishing off of the Seminole Lodge dock. Indeed, by the early 1900s, southwest Florida was a world-famous tarpon fishing spot. Edison himself once boasted that the best tarpon fishing in the world was available “right in front of my house in Florida.”

The Edisons also enjoyed outdoor excursions, traveling by boat up the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee and camping in the Everglades with famous friends Henry Ford and John Burroughs. Trips to the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands also became part of the Edisons’ winter experience.

From their own backyard the Edisons dabbled in bird watching, and were continually fascinated by the pelicans, herons, and cranes that call the waters of southwest Florida home. Mina Edison, a prolific letter writer, often noted the songbirds that graced the Seminole Lodge property. In a letter to Henry Ford’s wife Clara she wrote of the “sparkling atmosphere and birds filling the air with music.”

Henry Ford Visits Fort Myers

"The Mangoes" as the estate appeared around 1925.

Thomas Edison developed a personal friendship with automobile magnate Henry Ford by the early 1910s. In 1914, Ford and his family camped in the Everglades with the Edisons, and in 1916, Ford purchased the property next door to Seminole Lodge for $20,000. "The Mangoes," Ford’s Craftsman bungalow estate, was built by New Yorker Robert Smith in 1911 and included lush grounds brimming with citrus on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. Ford took a few weeks out of his busy schedule to vacation at "The Mangoes" for several winters, often around Edison’s February 11 birthday celebration. Ford enjoyed fishing, sightseeing, dancing, and entertaining during his time in Fort Myers. After Edison’s death in 1931, Ford discontinued his visits and sold the home in 1945.

Mina Edison’s Gift

Mina Edison hands the keys to "Seminole Lodge" to Fort Myers Mayor David Shappard, March 7, 1947.

Mina Edison deeded the Edison Estate to the City of Fort Myers in 1947 as a “shrine” to the memory of her husband, Thomas Alva Edison. “My faith and belief in the sincerity of the people of Fort Myers prompts me to make this sacred spot a gift to you and posterity … in the memory of my honored and revered husband … who so thoroughly believed in the future of Fort Myers,” Mrs. Edison said. The Edison Estate opened to the public in November 1947 and became one of Florida’s most beloved attractions during the second half of the twentieth century. Today several hundred thousand visitors from locations all over the globe visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates annually to learn about Thomas Alva Edison and his life and work in southwest Florida.

"The Mangoes" Opens to the Public

"The Mangoes" after the completion of our 2009 restoration, which included a new roof, fire system, and electrical updates.

"The Mangoes," a beautiful example of Craftsman bungalow-style architecture, was purchased by Henry Ford in 1916. The home features cypress and pine wood work, built-in window seats, and a magnificent fireplace mantel.

In 1928 Ford added north and south wings to his vacation estate, which increased its size to approximately 3000 square feet. These wings feature an additional bedroom and bathroom along with two exterior rooms most likely used by the staff who traveled with the Fords during their visits to Fort Myers.

In 1945 Thomas and Gladys Biggar purchased The Mangoes from Henry Ford and made it their family home for more than 40 years. In 1988, Mrs. Biggar sold the home to the City of Fort Myers. After restoration to its 1920s appearance, the home opened to the public in January 1990.