An annual tradition for many Islanders is an evening stroll among 20 acres of land where hundreds of lights and handmade decorations highlight baby rubber plants, sturdy bamboo grass, royal palm trees and more at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates celebration of Holiday Nights.
Recognized as one of the 10 Best Historic Homes for the Holidays by USA Today, this Southwest Florida tradition is celebrating 41 years this year. The Holiday Nights event began November 25th and runs through January 1st at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers. The site is on the Caloosahatchee River and about a 30-minute drive from Fort Myers Beach.
“Thirty thousand people will come during the Holiday Nights alone,” Lisa Wilson, Marketing and Public Relations Director, said. “And 250,000 people visit annually.”
Wilson recommends first-time visitors attend the nightly guided Holiday Traditions tours. The guided tours are offered at 6 and 7 p.m. each evening. Background information and facts of the Edison and Ford’s family homes, research gardens and land are provided. An Inside-the-Homes Holiday Tour is offered on December 6, 13, 20 and 27 at 6:30 p.m. You will likely meet people from different parts of the country and abroad on any of the tours.
“Some come from Germany, China and other places,” Wilson said. “A third of our visitors are from Lee County. A third are international and a third are from Florida.”
Nearly 15 people gathered and listened recently during one of the nightly guided Holiday Tradition tours. A site historian took them back 87 years to when Thomas Edison and Mina, his wife, came to Fort Myers in 1886 for their honeymoon. Stories like these are told including how Edison’s family and friends would visit the now 15 historic buildings. Look through the glass where chandeliers hang and illuminate the room where much of his original furniture is still present today.
“We celebrate Christmas each year, but where does everything come from?” Lisa Sbuttoni, Vice President Community and visitor Relations said. Sbuttoni points to the guided tours that assist with that information and how Edison was involved, including how he was the first person to decorate a Christmas tree with—yes, a string of electric lights about a hundred years ago.
Self-guided audio tours of the estates, that last about 2.5 hours, are available in English, German, French and Spanish, with estate maps available in English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese.
During one of the nightly guided tours this week, people continued to join the group. Others walked along towards the Children’s Holiday Tree Trail where 60 trees stood decorated by handmade ornaments from 50 Lee County school students.
“They make their decorations out of recycled material,” Wilson said.
One tree alone was made only of plastic paper cups with cut out ends to resemble feathers. Each year, the tree trail is given a theme. Birds are this year’s theme compared to last year’s tropical flowers theme.
Other less crowded areas where people can walk around freely is the Moonlight Garden. A small pool is found in the center that reflects the decorated lights around the area.
The Edison Ford Museum and Laboratory is one of the quieter locations at the estates. People can now step on the new rubber floors in an area inside. Cross over to the Botanical Laboratory, next to the museum, to view the area where Edison did his rubber research using a variety of plants, including the estates’ famous banyan tree brought from India, which is now over 200 feet tall.
During opening night Nov. 25, the annual tree lighting ceremony of the banyan tree featured laser lighting this year. The Waltzing Waters is also new this year and continually presents a lighted water display with background music.
A variety of activities are offered at the Edison & Ford Estates during Holiday Nights. Children can see artist Doug MacGregor draw cartoons Dec. 3 and 10 and meet Santa Dec. 6 and 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. The Holiday Nights celebration is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. After Holiday Nights, the estate closes at 5:30 p.m.
Holiday Nights tickets for adults are $20, teens (13-19) $10, children (6-12) are $2 and Edison Ford members get in free. Guided Holiday Tradition Tours are $30 for adults; teens are $25; children $18 and $10 for Edison Ford members. Inside-the-Homes Holiday Tours are $50. Lee County residents will receive $5 off an adult ticket on December 30 and 31 and January 1. For additional information, call 239-334-7419 or visit the website at www.EdisonFordWinterEstates.org.
Photos courtesy of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.