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March 9, 2011
Thomas Edison Winter Estate, Fort Myers, Florida

Thomas Edison Winter Estate, Fort Myers, Florida

Is it possible to experience culture shock having never left the country, or even the state of Florida? The answer seems to be yes.

While driving to Naples from the Everglades on US 41 we were shocked by the sudden change in scenery. Gone were the unspoiled wetlands, dotted with lazy alligators and colorful wading birds. In their place sprung congested intersections, crowded with shopping malls and big box retailers. “Historic” downtown Naples offered more of the same, only the retailers were higher-end and the cars crowding the streets had Italian accents (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati) instead of Japanese ones. It was all rather depressing.

Our excursion to Thomas Edison’s estate should have been a highlight, but it was fouled by the commute. Locals probably know better, but we relied on the wisdom of our GPS to navigate the 36 miles between Naples and Fort Myers, where Edison built his winter retreat. For whatever reason our usually stellar GPS system decided to punish us by charting a course along the same US 41 that soured our mood originally. What should have been an easy forty minute trip (and is on I-75) took over an hour and a half. Stop lights every quarter-mile directed traffic into the jam-packed parking lots of endlessly homogenous retailers. It was like driving on a treadmill with the same stores – CVS, Publix, Best Buy – scrolling slowly past, mile after frustrating mile, on a continuous loop.

Thomas Edison Garden, Fort Myers, FloridaBy the time we got to our destination, neither of us was in much of a mood for sightseeing, which is too bad, because the Edison home and estate deserves more time than we felt like giving that day. Located along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, the grounds are landscaped with over a thousand varieties of plants that Edison imported for his experiments. Hulking banyan trees, originally cultivated as a potential source of rubber, dominate the estate. Visitors will also find 50 types of palms, 13 varieties of citrus trees, 12 types of bamboo and other exotic tropical plants that Edison found useful.

Thomas Edison Winter Estate Interior, Fort Myers, FloridaThe house is of relatively modest size and decor when compared to other estates of the day. But what it lacks in opulence, it more than makes up for in comfortable practicality. The semi-tropical environment likely dictated the open and airy architecture, with some rooms connected only via overhead enclosure, and nearly all exhibiting large windows that provide unobstructed views, and airflow, from one side of the house to the other. It’s a building style that air-conditioning made obsolete, which is too bad, because it is far superior in many ways to the hermetically sealed boxes that are often built today.

In addition to the house and grounds, visitors can explore the 15,000 square foot estate museum, displaying examples of the great inventor’s work, Edison’s botanic research laboratory, and the neighboring winter home of Henry Ford. So there is plenty to do and see here, and by all means, make the trip. Just avoid US 41 from Naples.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2011 8:36 am

    so what you are telling us is that even though the economy kicked Florida’s butt there are still plenty of people living in the area… sigh…

    • March 9, 2011 9:10 am

      Hey, heyduke.
      It’s true. Florida is crowded in the winter, especially with all of us RVers who are trying to get away from the cold. But most of it hasn’t been too bad. Naples kind of drained us, though. To be fair, it probably wasn’t Naples’ fault. We’re from Northern New Jersey, and it doesn’t get much more crowded than that. So you’d think the Naples area would be like a walk in the park. It was probably just the stark contrast from where we had been, that did us in.

      Happy travels, and congrats on ER!


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