Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford kept adjacent winter homes nestled beside the Caloosahatchee River in southwestern Florida. Their two homes, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, are open to the public daily and house an historical museum and 17-acre botanical garden. Thomas Edison first visited Florida in 1885, or so the story goes, and decided that he would build a vacation home there. He purchased a piece of property on that first trip and two years later, and named his winter retreat Seminole Lodge, which he used up until his death in 1931. Fifteen years prior to Edison’s death, his friend Henry Ford purchased the adjoining property called “The Mangoes,” a craftsman-style bungalow built in 1911 by Robert Smith of New York. As a youth, the motor company founder worked at an Edison company in Detroit. The budding auto magnate used his spare time tinkering with gas-powered engines. The two entrepreneurs met at a convention in 1896, and Edison encouraged the younger man. The two proved to be kindred spirits and became great friends, leading to the automaker to purchase the adjoining property next to Edison. The entrepreneurs spent hours sitting on their porches, discussing projects, planning trips to the Everglades, listening to Mina play the piano and perhaps playing Parcheesi, Edison's favourite game.

Edison and Ford on the porch of Seminole Lodge

Edison, of course, is more extensively associated with his inventions. He held more than 1,000 United States patents, and submitted patent paperwork for a record 65 consecutive years. Among his lesser known creations: the talking doll, the electric train, alkaline batteries, a fruit preserver and a stencil pen, the grandfather of today's tattoo stylus. Among hundreds of items and documents in the museum is Edison's original custom Model T, a gift from Ford. A more personal artifact is the frame Edison built for the phonograph he was devising. Hard of hearing, Edison rigged the phonograph to the frame, which he would bite to feel vibrations and "hear" the music. 
Edison was also an avid botanist and his gardens contain more than a thousand varieties of plants from all over the world. Edison saw the gardens as an experimental bed for industrial products and imported African Sausage Trees and a 400-foot banyan tree. Over the years, Edison built light bulb filaments from bamboo and turned goldenrod into rubber. Later, Edison’s wife added roses, orchids, bromeliads, and other more traditional flora. Today, fifteen historic buildings stand in graceful repose, including the Edisons' home and guest house, a botanic research laboratory, an artesian-fed swimming pool dating to 1911, and Ford's winter home. In 1947, Mina Edison donated the property to the City of Fort Myers in the memory of her husband, and was opened for tours three years later in 1950. However, it took another four decades before the Henry Ford estate was purchased and opened to the public for tours. In 2003, a non-profit was established - the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates - in order to protect and preserve the sites. Today, it is the most popular historic attraction in southwest Florida and looks exactly as it did back in Edison’s lifetime.

Small wooden bridge to the pier on the Caloosahatchee River which the Edison used to bring building materials from barges to construct the Estates, which at one time was outfitted with boathouses, benches, and a summerhouse

The recently restored Caretakers House is the oldest structure on the property and was used by various estate workers during the time Edison wintered in Fort Myers

The restored garage beside the Caretakers House decorated with garlands and bows 
for the Christmas season

Edison's pool was constructed in 1910 and now reflects the 1928 remodel with addition of an adjacent Tea and Bath House used by both families in the hot humid Florida months

Towering palms and flowering shrubs blanket the property 

The Thomas Edison Main House originally included a kitchen and dining room in the north wing,
but in 1906 the Edison's had this part of the house remodeled to serve as family bedroom suites, and now includes a Library, Study and Edison's Den

Thomas and Mina Edison's bedroom

The Edison House Den with doors opening onto the wrap-around porch 
with views overlooking the Bay

The Edison Guest House

Flowering shrubs beside the Ford House porch

Enormous bromeliad

The tiny kitchen in the Guest House 

The adjacent Dining Room set for Christmas Dinner

The Edison Estate comprised of 2 houses sits beside The Mangoes, the property Henry Ford bought in 1916 providing him the opportunity to vacation with Thomas Edison

The Mangoes — The Henry Ford Estate

The Main Room in the Ford House

The Ford's Bedroom

The Guest Room

Ford's vintage garage with one of his original Model-T's

The enormous Mysore Fig Tree between the Ford Estate and Caloosahatchee River 

Fresh pomellos growing on the property

Edison's Laboratory looks just like it did during his time

Attached to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates is Pinchers,
a casual seafood restaurant overlooking the Marina

Pinchers menu

Pinchers overlooking the Marina at Edison Ford

An iced cold Margarita 

Red Sangria garnished with a slice of orange, lime and a Maraschino cherry

Conch Fritters appetizer

Plump, hot and quite yummy

Grilled Grouper Tacos topped with a touch of chipotle aioli, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and served with a side of coleslaw and french fries

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake 

Pinchers Fish and Chips served with a side of coleslaw 

Pinchers Crab Cakes
Makes 8 cakes

1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 lb lump crabmeat
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp yellow mustard
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp parsley
1 1/2 tsp Old Bay
4 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups crushed unsalted Saltine crackers

Sauté the celery and onions in butter until soft, then drain the excess butter and chill. In a mixing bowl, add the yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, and well-beaten eggs, black pepper, parsley and Old Bay and mix well. Add the chilled onion and celery to mixing bowl and mix well, then slowly mix in the crushed crackers.

Pour the fresh picked crabmeat onto a plate and sift through checking for shell fragments but be careful enough to not break up the meat. Place the crabmeat into the mixing bowl and gently fold the stuffing around the crabmeat, avoiding breaking up the meat as much as possible. Form the mixture into patties 4 oz patties and sauté in butter until lightly browned on both sides and serve with tartar sauce or chipotle mayonnaise.

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