On 20 acres in Fort Myers, the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford open their gates to historic sites and holiday lights
Famous for its beaches and warm winter climate, Fort Myers, Florida, draws snowbirds to the area’s many RV parks. The Gulf Coast city also attracted two of the most influential men of the 20th century, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The inventors and captains of industry were good friends, so much so that they purchased adjacent properties in Fort Myers for family winter retreats.
In 1947, 16 years after Edison’s death, his wife, Mina, deeded their Florida estate, Seminole Lodge, to the City of Fort Myers. After Edison’s death, Ford rarely visited his winter home, the Mangoes, and in 1945 he sold it to a local resident, whose family later sold it to the city. Today, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, with more than 20 acres of historic buildings and spectacular gardens, is on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public.
Best known for inventing the phonograph and the incandescent lightbulb, Edison first visited Fort Myers in 1885. He bought 13 acres along the Caloosahatchee River and built two identical homes and a laboratory. Ford, who devised the assembly line and “made America more mobile” with his phenomenally successful Model T, met Edison in 1896. Edison encouraged Ford’s idea for an internal-combustion engine, and a friendship was forged.
The two men, along with tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs, enjoyed numerous camping trips together, calling themselves the Vagabonds.
Ford created an elaborate chuckwagon from a 1918 Model T for that purpose. It’s on exhibit at the estate’s large museum along with many of Edison’s and Ford’s inventions.
If you visit, we recommend staying at Red Coconut RV Park, a Good Sam Park in Fort Myers Beach, with 450 feet of beachfront. The beach side has 53 RV sites, plus showers and laundry facilities. The rest of the park’s total 267 sites are a short walking distance across Estero Boulevard. All provide full hookups, cable, internet service and a picnic table.