Ellison and I went along with Trevor to a work event he had in Bonita Springs last week. Just north of Naples and south of Fort Myers, it turns out that Bonita Springs is a great location for exploring southwest Florida. So in an effort to combine our love of history, old houses and the outdoors, we first opted for a trip to the Edison and Ford Winter Residences.
Relatively unassuming by the standard of living we associate with today's rich and famous, the houses and grounds of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. You get a glimpse into what is arguably one of the most intriguing and influential time periods in American history and you can eat one of the best pulled pork sandwiches outside of Pearl's BBQ. Anyone who knows Pearl's in Micanopy knows that this is the highest praise. If you're lucky it will be served by the World's Nicest Woman, who just happened to be manning the cafe cart the day Ellison and I visited. There is also a small museum that traces the lives of both men and discusses more in depth their attempt to find an alternative to foreign rubber sources, which was a major focus of Edison's lab in Fort Myers. He apparently tried over 17,000 different types of plants in this quest to create a domestic rubber trade. This all sounds super boring in retrospect, but I swear it's not! Or maybe it is and Ellison and I are just into this sort of thing. But I have to think we're not alone.
In our opinion, the two highlights of the Thomas Edison's house are the banyan trees and the Edison Botanical Research lab. The banyan trees and their root systems are incredible, even if they do drop figs at even the slightest provocation by a light breeze. They're all over the property and, while there are a ton right at the entrance, the largest ones are across the street surrounding the two houses and down by the Caloosahatchee River waterfront.
Ellison and I both agreed that the research lab was fascinating. Thomas Edison created the Edison Botanical Research Corporation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1928 and while they never did create a natural alternative to rubber, they did further the research on plant hybridization and renewable resources. While you can only walk through the lab in its entirety on Tuesday mornings with a docent, you can get a close enough look from various arranged vantage points to get a real feel for what it must have been like for Edison and his assistants. I think it helped that we had toured the museum and read about the work being done in this lab beforehand - mainly because there was a thunderstorm and apparently you can't be outside if there has been a lightning within 10 miles of the grounds. So go ahead and scratch every summer day off your list of possible visitation dates.
So in our opinion, the Ford house was not nearly as interesting as the Edison house. Neither of us could actually think of a real reason why other than we just found Thomas Edison and his legacy to be more intriguing than that of Ford's. The house is aptly named 'The Mangos' and mango trees (and falling, and fallen, mangos) are everywhere. The grounds, particularly the palms, are beautiful and it is easy to see why both of these men would want to spend their time here. Ellison liked the style of Ford's house the best, but the furnishings of Edison's house better.
When you buy your tickets you also get those little handheld recorders that allow for a self-guided tour, which are great, but Ellison and I finally gave up after like the 5th or 6th stop. I think we were just worn out from the heat and from having to wait an hour in the museum because of the weather before we could go back across the street to the houses. Below is Ellison at the end of the tour. She would like you to know that our visit was way better than this picture suggests, but that it was really, really hot out and we'd been looking at houses for hours. I would like you to know that I agree with both of those sentiments and probably looked very similar.
Despite the heat, it was an afternoon well-spent. I picked up a copy of this Edison biography in the gift shop and have since finished reading it. Thomas Edison was interesting man in his own right, but it is the story surrounding the public perception of Edison and his rise to media fame in the late 1800s that is also so fascinating. 'The Wizard of Menlo Park' definitely makes it on to my recommended reading list. I think Ellison and I will listen to it as an audiobook during the next long car ride. A ride made possible in large part by Henry Ford.
See you back here soon!
My family and I love to get outside and explore every chance we get. My daughter and I started this blog as a way to chronicle not only the places we have visited, but also as a way to preserve our time together. We hope you enjoy it and will make a little time for a hike with friends!