This post was written before Sanibel, Captiva, and parts of the surrounding area were absolutely blasted by Hurricane Ian in September 2022. While the intention is to rebuild, the causeway has been fixed, and the island is expected to begin opening to tourism in January 2023, things are not “back to normal” and likely won’t be for a long time. If you’re planning to visit the area, make sure to do plenty of research to find out what’s open, what’s available and what’s just not even there anymore.
While it’s not uncommon to find winter estates from wealthy families of the Gilded Age on Florida’s east coast, Florida’s Gulf Coast usually doesn’t see as much history.
But there’s something special in Fort Myers on the Caloosahatchee River. Thomas Edison purchased land to build a winter estate on the river in 1885 and in 1914 after the Fords came to visit, Henry Ford bought the home next door.
In addition to the Edison and Ford Estates, you can also see the Edison Botanical Research Laboratory where Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone did their research into natural rubber resources and a pretty extensive museum.
Why You Should Visit
If you’re a history buff and interested in learning about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
If you like seeing historic homes.
If you need a break from the beach or something to do while it’s raining.
If you like dreamy riverfront verandahs and trees dripping with Spanish moss.
What I Thought
I LOVE visiting historic homes so this place was right up my alley. It sits right on the river and it’s a charming complex of houses and other buildings. Compared to most of the titans of industry who built estates during this time period, this place is downright quaint.
I loved seeing the laboratory and the museum gives a lot of context into not just Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, but their relationship and the work that they did in Fort Myers specifically.
It’s such a beautiful property right on the river and all of the buildings and rooms are furnished exactly as they were when Edison and Ford lived here. Even if you don’t love history, the site is so pretty (and the audio tour moves along pretty quickly) and I think it would hold just about anybody’s attention (even kids) for at least an hour. How long you spend in the museum is up to you. I spent about an hour inside and definitely didn’t read everything thoroughly.
Highlights of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates
The Historic Homes: There’s the main Edison home and the main Ford home plus a smattering of smaller structures including Edison’s office. You don’t actually go inside any of the buildings though…they have large windows opened so you can look inside while standing out on the porch. Most of the spots are covered though.
Edison Botanic Laboratory: The lab is just a quick in and out from a viewing platform, but it looks just as it did when Edison was working here. If you’re following the audio tour, the lab is the last stop before you go into the museum.
The Museum: The draw here is the homes and the laboratory, but it’s the museum that gives it all context. It’s a pretty large museum that covers both Edison and Ford and their careers but also their friendship. While it covers so much of their innovative contributions to the world and legacies, my favorite part was the room that detailed the decade worth of elaborate camping trips that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone took every year.
Tips for Visiting the Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Tickets are $25/adult (20+), $20/teen (13-19), $15/child (6-12), and children 5 and under are free. The complex is open from 9AM to 5:30PM (last entry at 4:30PM).
There’s a free app you can download that leads you through the estate on an audio tour. But there’s also a handful of guided tours you can take ranging from a basic to tour one that focuses on automobiles, the gardens, and the home interiors. Find more info about tours here.
Plan to spend at least a couple of hours at the complex. With the audio tour, you’ll spend about an hour going through the estate (including the laboratory) and then you can easily spend an hour in the museum.
Would I Go Back?
As much as I loved this place, it’s probably a one and done for me. But if you’re into the holidays, they have special holiday events around Christmas where they put up special decorations and have a light display. It’s a separate evening ticket, but if you celebrate and you’re in the area it could be worth a repeat visit.
Other Things to Do in the Area (& Where to Eat Nearby)
Just a few minutes north of the estates is “downtown” Fort Myers. First Street is a cute, historic area with quite a few shops and restaurants. It’s definitely worth checking out. Lunch or dinner at Ford’s Garage seems appropriate, but The Lodge is also popular. For a great view, head to the Beacon Social Drinkery on top of the Luminary Hotel & Co.
Other Places Like This
Thomas Edison National Historical Park: Located in West Orange, New Jersey, here you’ll find Glenmont Mansion (the Edison family estate) and the Thomas Edison Laboratory Complex. Don’t forget to get your National Parks passport stamped! Find more info here.
The Henry Ford: Set on 250 acres in Dearborn, Michigan, the Henry Ford complex includes the Museum of American Innovation, the Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Find more info here.
More posts about the area:
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