Edison / Ford Estates and a New Chapter

Edison / Ford Estates

By the mid- 1880’s, Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, and frankly, was doing very well for himself.  He came to Fort Myers, Florida, not only for relaxation but for a tropical location for his research.  He was an avid botanist, and was seeking (among many other things) to find plants that could be a source for rubber.  He tested over 17,000 plants, and finally settled on Goldenrod.  Who would have guessed it?

Anyway, he purchased some riverfront property, and built it into a beautiful estate.  The only existing structure was enlarged to become the caretaker’s house and garages.  He built a pier extending almost a quarter mile into the river to a spot deep enough for ships bringing building supplies.  A beautiful two story home was built, a large lab building, and even a pool and pool house.  Not surprisingly, the estate had electric power, supplied by his own generators.  He was hoping to electrify all of Fort Myers, but that didn’t happen for another decade.

Here is the caretaker’s house and the garages:


The remains of the pier; used first for supplies, then sports boating:



The main house:


The “Midnight Garden”, originally featuring flowers that looked best at night:


Even some original wicker furniture from Edison’s time:




Henry Ford was one of Edison’s employees as a young man. Later on they became strong friends, and Ford often visited Edison in his Florida estate.  The owner of the house closest to Edison’s property decided to sell, and he knew Henry Ford was a friend and frequent visitor of Edison.  He told Ford he’d really like to sell only to him, so the friends could be close.  Ford bought not only the house, but all the furnishings, ready to move in. Edison would spend a few months a year in his southern estate, but Ford usually only came down a couple of weeks, mostly around Edison’s birthday.

Ford’s house:


Ford’s estate had been named “The Mangoes” for the huge number of very fruitful mango trees, but there were plenty of oranges and other “exotic” fruit trees. The properties have beautiful views of the river, and plenty of Palm Trees and flowers.  An astounding variety of orchids grace the property.








Ford tried a few times to start automobile companies before he got it right… he left one of them, the Henry Ford Company, after only three months, because he didn’t like where the company was headed.  After he left, it was restructured, and renamed “Cadillac”.  The  first Cadillac was a 10 hp car, pretty much a Henry Ford design.


Edison’s large lab has been moved to Ford’s Museum of American Innovation, but a “smaller” lab is still here:


The museum is fabulous.  Thomas Edison was going deaf as he grew older, but still insisted on listening to and approving all music to be recorded and sold on his phonographs.  He found if he could bite the wooden frame holding the phonograph, he could hear the music.  It made me think of my favorite deaf jazz singer! (Love you Mandy!)



Of course the Model T is what made Henry Ford famous: he literally changed the world with this car! This particular car was a gift from Ford to Edison.



Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone liked to go camping and explore the Everglades.  They built a “Motorhome” on a Ford Model T.  It had a tank for water, and a few drawers for supplies, and when the drawers were removed there might have been a bit of space inside! Notice the stove and picnic basket beside the motorhome:



Speaking of motorhomes… that brings me to:

Our Next Chapter…

We have sold our beautiful boat, GRACE.  We had an awesome time living on the water, but it was causing the dollars to flee my retirement account too rapidly.  We decided it was time to change the adventure a bit…  So our next nomadic home has wheels!  We have now moved aboard a big ole’ motorhome.  Quite different from Henry’s Model T.

Last week I talked about Frank Lloyd Wright’s design principles for his Usonian Houses. Our motorhome mimics these concepts in some ways:

He loved long horizontal lines.  The motorhome is very linear, and all the air conditioners and antennae are hidden from view so the lines remain clean. The entryway is rather tight, making you slightly uncomfortable and compelling you to go farther in.  When you round the corner and see the living area, it is much wider and far more open, almost making you say “Wow!”  This is where you are supposed to relax and feel like staying.  This is both the living and dining areas, with the kitchen right opposite. The kitchen area is small, but at least the cook is close to others in the living area.  The home has most of the furniture built in, so there’s little room for rearranging it! There is lots of indirect lighting, and the attempt is to let the nature outside be the focus. The bedroom is smallish (but still has room for a King Sized bed).  Does that sound like my description of Wright’s design? Yes, because I almost copied it from last week’s blog!

Ok, our new home differs significantly from a Usonian House, starting with the fact that it has wheels!  It has a large diesel engine to push it around, so the view always changes.  We actually have a bath and a half, which is more than Wright put in the Florida house.  It drives beautifully, and gets pretty good mileage for a house!


So the months of research into portable housing has finally culminated in a 2017 Newmar Dutch Star.  Maybe I’ll put up a page about it like I did about Grace, in case folks have questions.  Like the boat, it sometimes feels VERY LARGE, like when you back into a tight spot… and sometimes it feels SO SMALL, when you try to fit everything you own inside!


We get Library Cards!

When our dear friend Giny asked how nomads get library cards, we replied that we still had our cards from Colorado, and would use them till they found out we don’t live there anymore.  But we got to thinking… what if they did find out (don’t tell!) – we could have our library cards revoked!  So we stopped by the library in Green Cove Springs, where our mailing address is, and got shiny new Floridian library cards!  Of course we can only use them for eBooks and Audiobooks, but that is a great asset.  We also got to pose as Astronaut and Space Alien, and had the librarian take our picture.  What a day!



Chasing the Next Horizon

From now on, we will be searching for our next horizon on land… we hope you will follow us there!

Cypress Trail

Highest Point in Florida?

For ages I’ve heard jokes about the tallest mountain in Florida – Mount Dora. Sitting in view of 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado, we’d laugh at the something like 500 foot Mount Dora.  So when we were driving along and saw the turnoff for this famous mountain, we had to take it!

With an elevation of 184 feet above sea level, Mount Dora is hardly nosebleed inducing.  In fact, it’s hardly a hill.  This is the name of a town.  There is no mountain or hill in sight.    But cease your laughter, because there is a taller place in Florida – Britton Hill, with an elevation of 345 feet!  It almost doesn’t count, because it is just a couple inches south of Alabama.  If the guy drawing the dotted line between the two states hiccuped, the hill might have been in Alabama.  From our intensive internet searching, this intersection is the highest point in Mount Dora:



Midweek Move

We’ve had a great time in Manatee Hammock, but it was time to head a little farther south.  So we left this beautiful, natural campsite…


The morning we were leaving, a little lizard climbed the tree right outside our window and watched us eat breakfast.  He must have liked what he saw, because he did some showing off for us, puffing out his brilliantly colored throat !



Cypress Trail RV Resort

We’ve moved to a fancy RV spot just south of Fort Myers, Florida.  The “campsites” are paved, the grass is neatly trimmed, and there are a few billion dollars’ worth of RV’s here.  The sites are sold like condos… most owned by folks who spend the winter here in their RV and then head back north when it gets this hot.  We will head north next week, without buying a spot here!  It really is beautiful, with lots of flowers, gorgeous skies, plenty of birds, a few rabbits, and I even saw an armadillo! The Nine-Banded armadillos, like so many people, aren’t from here, but have moved in to stay.

I put together a very short little overview of the Resort:


McArthur Arts

I have had quite a few folks ask about some of my photography, especially if they’d seen the prints in my former Dental Office.  I had a lot of pictures printed on metal, which makes them look really great.  So I have finally put together a Photo Website!  It is a work in progress, and hopefully will have more photos added frequently – both new pix and some from the archives.  Feel free to check it out at www.McArthurArts.com


Space Shot!


Saturday morning we got up a bit earlier than usual… to watch a 2:11am launch of  the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  It was to deliver tons of stuff (literally TONS) to the International Space Station.  They’ve postponed it several times, and this time it actually went!

From our campground we can look over the water to the peninsula where the launch site is.  I didn’t know what to expect in the way of noise… and it really wasn’t loud at all!  We could see the brilliant fireball as it rose in the sky, and then it went dark.  A moment later, the stages separated with a beautiful fireworks show, and the missile zoomed off.  Then the first stage booster came back and landed on its barge, just over the horizon.  I attempted to document this whole adventure on video… I will warn you – If you want to see great footage here, check it out on YouTube.  But this little video was fun for me, because I saw and filmed it!  The focusing and aiming was hard to do in the dark, and some of it looks like I was shooting with one hand while trying to watch with binoculars in the other.  Can’t imagine how I know that.  So watch at your own risk…

Don’t Judge a Sub by Its Cover

We had lunch near the campus of Florida Southern College, in this funky little place called “Subs and Such”.  It looked delightfully tacky and kind of run down, but had awesome food, and the proprietor was great fun to talk with.  Really glad we decided to step out of the comfort zone a bit and try it!


Frank Lloyd Wright

Florida Southern College has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.  I’ve alway loved his work, and to find this great “collection” only an hour and a half from our campsite – well, we had to see it!



He designed a lot of the college campus, and had grand plans for many faculty homes to surround the campus. He called them “Usonian Houses”; his take on new all American architecture unburdened with traditional designs.  On this campus, he envisioned them sort of symbolically surrounding and supporting the students.  In the late 30’s and early 40’s he estimated the houses would cost about $20K each to build, and you could buy an existing home in the area for about $5K.  The college didn’t have money for that sort of extravagances, so none of the faculty homes were built.  He designed and built many of the classrooms, labs, administration buildings and two chapels.  He loved locally sourced building materials, so most all the walls are made from concrete incorporating local sand.

This is the largest of the two chapels:



As with most of the structures he designed on campus, there are little panels of brightly tinted cast glass that add bright spots of color in the sand colored walls.


The campus is connected with “Esplanades” – covered walkways with the roof low and cantilevered off interesting pillars with angular geometric shapes.  It’s very important to watch where you are going, because if your head was in a book (or iPhone??) you could easily bonk your head on fascinating architecture!


If you were running down the esplanade, you could leave your scalp on one of these zig-zag rooflines!


The college had some more conservative buildings before Wright got started:




More traditional architecture often had a dome as the focal spot of the building.  He felt pressure to add a dome or two, and he really disliked them.  He was all about long, low, flowing horizontal lines. Wright finally gave them two domes… One in the planetarium, and one made of water!  I think he designed the Water Dome with a wry smile to shut up those who tried to influence his designs!



All the unsightly vents and A/C ducts on the buildings have been added to bring the buildings up to current standards.  Frank would turn over in his grave if he could see them!




The Usonian House

A few years ago the Wright foundation decided to build one of the faculty houses that Wright had designed and not been able to build.  It cost them over $1.2 million to do it exactly as Wright had wanted, with a couple of enhancements like air conditioning (unheard of in Wright’s time).



Wright loved to “Bring nature inside”.  He loved designs that seemed to grow out of the site, and using materials native to the surroundings.  He also was a serious control freak… He designed all the furnishings for the house, and dictated where they would be placed.  He built a lot of the furniture into the house – it looked cool, fit well, and couldn’t be moved elsewhere!  In this house the couch and the dining room table were built in.  It is said that he visited as a house guest some homes he’d built a year or two earlier, and in the morning the hosts would be surprised to find some non-Wright furniture that they’d added, moved out to the street!

The design incorporates some psychological tricks; the most interesting is “compression”.  The entry is a bit tight… the ceiling is low and the area is fairly dimly lit.  He wanted you to feel slightly uncomfortable there, and feel compelled to move onward.  When you enter the main living area, you almost want to say “Wow!” because it is so wide open.  This is where you are supposed to relax and feel like staying.  One large open area, higher ceilings, and a whole wall of glass giving the impression the room extends outside.  This is both the living area and dining room, with seating areas dictated by the built-in furniture.  The kitchen is right off the dining area, and is quite small and utilitarian.  He felt that was a “Service Area”, and really just a necessary evil.  At least he put it where anyone “slaving away” in the “service area” would be fairly close to others who were in the living room.






Both bedrooms are small, because they are only for sleeping!  Awake time should be spent in the living room!  Each bedroom has a wall of floor to ceiling windows, which when opened with the similar windows in the front of the house, would let breezes cool as well as could be expected in pre-A/C Florida.  None of the windows had curtains or drapes; he hated those.  Privacy was expected to be provided by planting bushes and trees as needed.  Again, the bathroom is somewhat small, and has almost no storage areas compared to current standards.  He hated clutter, so thoughtfully presented no surfaces to collect junk.


Flowers Everywhere

Lots of gorgeous flowers are found in the shady gardens.  I believe this is called a “Peace Lily”


Let Down vs. Lift Off


SpaceX was supposed to launch a Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket a week ago. The purpose is is to send several TONS of supplies to the International Space Station – this being the 17th such resupply flight!  We moved to the Manatee Hammock Campground thinking we’d be in a good spot to watch the launch.  It was rescheduled for Tuesday.  Then Wednesday.  Then Friday (today).  As of late last night it was still scheduled, so we got up and walked to the shore from our campsite at 2:45am.  There were maybe a dozen or two others gathered to watch it.  About 10 minutes before the scheduled 3:11am launch, they scrubbed it due to a problem with the drone landing site boat (named Of Course I Still Love You!).  So it is now scheduled for tomorrow at 2am.  I was hoping to have a cool picture or two, so I had to shoot something!  Here is a 3am shot of NASA’s VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).  SpaceX leases space from NASA, and the launch should be visible just beyond the VAB.  We get to try again tomorrow morning!



Running into Weather

I have the privilege of doing a morning run around the camp area here, and it takes me right along the shore for a bit.  One morning it was rather cool where our trailer is, but when I got to the clearing near the shore, it was dramatically warmer and more humid.  The breeze off the water made such a difference that my glasses fogged over!  I ran in the fog until I hit the trees (Ok, I didn’t hit them; my glasses weren’t THAT foggy) where it was shady and cooler and the glasses cleared.  I don’t remember ever seeing climate change that dramatic in just a few feet.  (Except in the islands where it may be raining like crazy on one side of the street and dry on the other.)  Most of the campsites are in heavily wooded areas, and they block more wind than I’d have believed possible.  Sometimes we don’t even notice the wind, and we walk to the shore to find it quite windy there and significant wave action.

Morning run site:



Forest Lake Academy

I’ve had a bit of a grudge against Forest Lake Academy, ever since it stole a girlfriend from me in high school. (MJ you know who you are!) OK, so it wasn’t really the school, but I had to be upset with somebody.  But I’ll admit I’ve always wanted to see it.  After I posted about us being at the Space Center last week, I got an email from a gal I went to high school with, and haven’t seen or heard from since then – Karen Cockrell. (Not the same girl…) We agreed to meet, and we spent the day with her today.  She gave us the long awaited tour of FLA.  It’s really beautiful!  A HUGE campus, looking like maybe a small college!  And just inside the front gates were a couple beautiful Sandhill Cranes.  Awesome!  There is a Robotics competition going on this weekend, and we got to see some very impressive robotic projects that these clever lucky kids are working on.






They have an equally impressive elementary school:



So here’s to catching up with friends from long ago!



Bird Watching

I’ve been wanting to just go wandering and shoot some birds, so I finally got a chance.  In the campground we see Ibis all over, Pelicans often, an occasional Osprey, and plenty of Gulls.  Here are a few pix of all but the Pelicans:





Who knew an Osprey could turn his head around like an Owl?


It’s almost like he was upset at me for taking his portrait from the wrong end…



We even enjoy the elegance of the seagulls: