Home' The River Weekly News : RWN011516 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Gift To The City
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
The Town of Fort Myers was not even an incorporated town
when, in March 1885, Thomas A. Edison bought the 13
acres that became his winter estate.
Who would have guessed that 62 years later, that estate would
be deeded to The City of Fort Myers?
Pictured in this 1947 photo is Mina Edison, widow of the
inventor, presenting the gift to the City of Fort Myers as a memo-
rial to her husband. Deeded to the city were the Edison’s winter
home, Seminole Lodge, as well as the laboratory and grounds,
David G. Shapard is accepting the gift on behalf of the city.
Also pictured are, from left, Frank Carson, Edison Pageant of
Light president; Graydon Jones, Junior Chamber of Commerce president; and Sidney
Davis, Edison family friend who presided at the deed-presentation ceremony.
Edison had ventured up the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers that day in 1885
because giant bamboo grew in the small settlement, he had been told by George
Schultz at Punta Rassa’s Tarpon Inn.
The famous inventor wandered into Edward L. Evans’s store and after an impromp-
tu conversation about fishing, the merchant offered to show him some bamboo grow-
ing at Billy’s Creek.
The next day, Edison decided to buy his land. On the surface, it looks like an
impulse buy. However, the decision probably was influenced by Edison’s passion for
plant research, the location’s unique possibilities for that research, the discovery of
bamboo on the land, and Evans’s encouragement to establish a winter home in Fort
After Edison died in 1931, his wife considered various ways to memorialize him in
Fort Myers. In March of 1939, Mrs. Mina Edison Hughes (she had remarried) made
known her intention to build a public library and a museum of art and natural science
in the great inventor’s memory.
The memorial buildings would be built on the east side of McGregor Boulevard on
property where Edison had conducted experiments with rubber plants.
As the News-Press article reported, she had been considering such a project for
years. She wanted to honor her husband’s memory and simultaneously make a gift to
Her choice to build a library was welcomed by many citizens.
Never in its history had the Fort Myers Public Library had a permanent home. It
had been founded in 1903 with the opening of a small reading room sponsored by the
Woman’s Club. (It could be said, however, that a donation-sponsored public reading
room opened in 1888 was the origin of what became the city-supported library.)
Mrs. Hughes was quoted as saying that a library was “what Fort Myers needed
most.” She thought, given her late husband’s devotion to learning, that such a project
The library would be “a place for grown-ups and children to read and study, learn
about arts and sciences and develop their inclinations along these lines.”
Coincidentally, not long before the announcement, the library had been forced to
move once again when its historic building on Bay Street was destroyed because land
was being prepared for the construction of the Yacht Basin and river front park.
In 1941, plans for the library and museum were well under way; however, that
grand plan came to a standstill because of World War II.
In 1945, the idea of a university founded in Edison’s honor was explored. That
project also was not realized.
Instead, in February 1947, the widow of the famous inventor made a gift of Semi-
nole Lodge and the winter estate to the City of Fort Myers.
The deeding to the city occurred at a very appropriate time, during the annual cel-
ebration of Edison’s legacy and birthday, February 11.
Today’s Edison Festival of Light started in 1938 and was then called the Edison
Pageant of Light. (There was a five-year hiatus for WWII). Precursor celebrations of his
birthday had been held for years before 1938.
The 1947 festival was notable because February 11, 1947 was the one-hundredth
anniversary of Edison’s birth and Mina Edison took part in the coronation ceremony.
Several weeks later, a public ceremony and presentation of the deed was held.
Today, both the Henry Ford and Edison winter estates are officially the Edison &
Ford Winter Estates, Inc. and are gover ned and managed for the City of Fort Myers by
a non-profit corporation, the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates, Inc.
The estates are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stroll down McGregor Boulevard, visit the former winter homes of two of the
country’s most important inventors, and contemplate the profound effect that Mina
Edison’s generosity has had on Fort Myers.
continued on page 7
THE RIVER - JANUARY 15, 2016
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and Ken Rasi
Gerri Reaves, Ph D
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
Cynthia A. Williams
In February 1947, Mina Edison, widow of Thomas A. Edison, presents the deed to their winter
home, Seminole Lodge, as well as the laboratory and grounds, to the City of Fort Myers as
a memorial to her husband. Mayor David G. Shapard accepts the gift, flanked by, from left,
Frank Carson, Graydon Jones and Sidney Davis.
courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society
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