Situated on the eastern flank of the Caloosahatchee River on Florida’s Southwest coast, Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) is the gateway to the major tourist attractions of south Florida. Fort Myers Florida, the county seat of Lee County, is a half-hour drive from RSW along Highway 93. Opened in May of 1983, the airport’s attractive exterior looks more like a shopping mall than it does a transport hub. In 2014, the airport served nearly 8 million passengers. Operating international flights to Germany and Canada, the airport services a large number of domestic airports, making it possible to fly to many other countries.
What few people know about the area is that it formed the winter vacation bases of operations of two of America’s best known creative spirits: Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Their two estates, The Mangoes (Ford) and Seminole Lodge (Edison) are right next to each other on the shores of the Callosahatchee River. Together, they encompass an historical museum situated on more than 20 acres of botanical gardens.
While Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, which inspired generations and generations of silly jokes and changed the course of history. His actual contribution was to develop an economical and safe system for distributing light and power. He was a compulsive inventor, and held more than one thousand patents in his lifetime.
It was 1885 when Edison and his friend, Ezra Gilliland, agreed to a joint venture to develop a parcel of land in a little village in the area. They fell in love with the place for its tranquillity, isolation from hectic cattle trails and the fact that the people walked around as if they were in a dream world.
Henry Ford (1863 to 1947) was born near Dearborn, Michigan. He is famous for starting the Ford Motor Company and inventing the Ford automobile. He also funded the development of the assembly line technique for mass production of automobiles and other products that were too complicated to produce individually without needing to charge prices that were not palatable to the customer.
The two awe-inspiring men met early in the 20th century. They took their families on joint camping trips and eventually settled as next-door neighbors. Ford was a lover of entertaining, dancing, fishing and seeing the sights. When his friend passed away in 1931, Ford stopped going to the Mangoes and eventually sold it.
The Mangoes is sitting on a parcel of land, purchased by Henry Ford, adjacent to Seminole Lodge. It is a craftsman-style bungalow built in 1911 by Robert Smith of New York. It was opened to the public in 1990.
The climate in Fort Myers is officially recognized as tropical savannah. It enjoys brief, warm winters and hot, humid summers. Thunderstorms are frequent. The biggest annual event in Fort Myers is the Edison Festival of Light, which lasts for two weeks and includes a Coronation Ball and a parade, among other festivities. The Fort Myers area is a great place to enjoy some challenging golf in tranquil, Audobon-sanctioned surroundings. There are courses and plans to suit every budget.
It is inspiring to think of these two geniuses, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, as being normal family men doing normal family things, like camping and fishing. Although the sandy beaches are a huge temptation, try to get away and get a glimpse into their lives.