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A Visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

January 16, 2018 by · Comments Off on A Visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates 

A similar article first appeared in the Florida Newsline publications on September 29, 2017 at the link below.

http://www.floridanewsline.com/creekline-st-johns/travel-edison-ford-winter-estates-worth-drive/

Edison and Ford in Florida sign.

I’ve lived in Florida since 1997, but a certain light bulb never went off in my head until recently. I’m a travel writer, yet I never visited one of Florida’s most noteworthy historical landmarks: the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.

I revved up my motor and headed down to Fort Myers. The winter homes of the two titans of American industry sit side-by-side on 20 acres of lush botanical gardens bordering the Caloosahatchee River. The property straddles McGregor Boulevard, a street lined with tall palms. Edison planted more than 2,000 Royal Palm trees along McGregor Boulevard, offering to maintain them for two years if the city would care for them thereafter. Today, Fort Myers, “City of Palms,” boasts hundreds of the trees more than 75 feet in height.

The amazing Banyan tree.

A walk from the parking lot to the entrance winds past an amazing Banyan tree, planted by Edison around 1925. That four-foot tree now covers almost an acre of the grounds.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) is considered one of America’s greatest inventors. He developed many devices that became part of everyday life, such as the phonograph, a motion picture camera, and of course, the electric light bulb.

Statue of Thomas A. Edison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison holds 1,093 US patents including a stock ticker, a mechanical vote counter, a battery for an electric car, and recorded music. He developed a system of electric-power generation and distribution allowing homes, businesses, and factories to enter the age of industrialization. Manhattan, N.Y. became the site of the Edison Illuminating Company’s first power station.

As a young man, Henry Ford worked for Edison, who encouraged the young engineer’s ideas. Ford later became the founder of the Ford Motor Company, revolutionizing transportation by making affordable cars widely available. Although Edison was 20 years his senior, the two became good friends. Ford made trips to Florida to visit his mentor, eventually buying the house next door.

Ford & Edison Houses

 

Guided tours of the property are rich in information about the two and about the research that interested both — like tires for example. The tour includes a peek inside Edison’s home, guesthouse, the Ford home, and other outbuildings. A knowledgeable guide offered memorable stories about the lives of Edison and Ford families and their friendships.

The guide explained that Edison arrived in Fort Myers in 1885 and decided to purchase the property. At the time, Fort Myers was virtually inaccessible by land. The few visitors who arrived came by boat from the Gulf of Mexico and then up the Caloosahatchee. When widower Edison married Mina in 1886, Fort Myers became their honeymoon haven and winter home.

Three decades later during WWI, Edison, Ford and another entrepreneur, Harvey Firestone, built a Botanical Research Lab. They hoped to find a cheap method to obtain rubber. As a result, Edison and his researchers established many of today’s estate plantings. (I did not take the guided tour in the laboratory, but a look inside gave the feel that it might come alive when Edison got back after the weekend.)

Early Ford auto in the museum.

The museum houses many interesting artifacts developed by Edison and Ford. Visiting auto enthusiasts will find the displays of old Ford cars satisfying. Those wishing to spend a full day at the Ford & Edison Winter Estates can stroll to the marina and board a newly built passenger vessel for a cruise on the Caloosahatchee River. The boat trip includes certified naturalists or historians from Pure Florida and the Edison Ford Estates.

Fort Myers is located in Southwest Florida.  A weekend getaway can include a night on nearby Sanibel Island or some time exploring Sarasota, St. Petersburg or Tampa along the Gulf Coast.

Birthplace of the Model T: Ford Piquette Plant

July 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Birthplace of the Model T: Ford Piquette Plant 

Yesterday television and media sources reported a sad tale about the city of Detroit facing bankruptcy. The news made me reflect on a visit,  and specifically to a place in Detroit that profoundly impressed me.  The Piquette Plant continues to stand out as one of those magical ah-ha moments.

So, to honor the Motor City, I offer a revised story, similar to the one  I wrote for Automotive Traveler back in 2011.  I sincerely hope the Piquette Plant will continue to thrive as a museum, even as the city around it struggles.

 My Visit to the Piquette Plant

The Ford Piquette Plant, Detroit

The Ford Piquette Plant, Detroit

Experiencing emotional consciousness from global wonders should come as no surprise for me, a seasoned traveler. Places like the Tower of London are so steeped in history, you cannot help but literally feel the presence of the past.  But, I was caught quite off guard by the tingling sensations that overwhelmed me as I stepped in to the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit. You see, I wasn’t expecting the place to be much more than just another old brick building packed with vintage cars.

Henry Ford 1919

As I entered the factory from a secured rear parking lot, the original wooden stairs suddenly came alive—they creaked and groaned and I swear I could hear the footsteps of America’s automotive pioneers. Henry Ford, John and Horace Dodge, Harvey Firestone, Earl and George Holley, William Durant and Walter Flanders trod here. Mr. Ford’s gossamer ingenuity hung in the air making me wonder if perhaps he is a ghost.

The three-story wood and brick factory resides in a semi-abandoned section of Detroit. Still, 411 Piquette Avenue is National Historic Landmark and home of the Experimental Room where Henry Ford and his team designed the Model T. The corner lot remains one of the 100th most significant industrial sites in the 20th century.

 

In 1904, Henry Ford began his third attempt at automobile production here –his first Ford Motor Company factory. By early January 1907, Mr. Ford had the corner of the third floor walled-off for use as his dream-team’s brain storming emporium. Here, R&D projects thrived, like race-car driver Spyder Huff’s work on the fly wheel magneto. This important innovation delivered high voltage energy to fire spark plugs. Ford was unrelenting toward his goal of producing a simple, affordable “universal car” that could be easily mass produced.

 

The “T” was jointly designed in 1908 by Henry Ford, C. Harold Wills and Joseph Galamb at the Piquette Plant. The early black painted models were assembled at stations, with workers and parts moving around the factory as the car came together. Completed vehicles were taken down from the second floor by elevator, test driven on the streets around the Plant and parked in the courtyard where engines were fine-tuned. After passing final inspection the “T’s” were driven to the shipping room at the rear of the building, cleaned and provided with tags and then placed on the railroad freight platform to await shipment.

Inside the Piquette Plant

 

Prior to 1907 all parts used at Piquette were out-sourced, such as the Dodge Brothers’ (original shareholders) engines and transmissions, while Earl and George Holley supplied carburetors and Harvey Firestone delivered the tires.  Eight different models were produced between 1904 and 1920: the B, C, F, K, N, R, S, but it was the1908 Model T that put everyday drivers around the world behind the wheel.

 

Of the 15 million Model T’s eventually made, the first 12,000, produced at the astounding rate of 175 vehicles per day were built at the Piquette plant. In the factory’s early years, cars took eight to twelve hours to assemble—prompting experimentation with faster assembly lines. Instead of having workers move from car to car to do their work, Ford used a rope to pull the car frame on wheels past the workers as they attached their assigned parts.

 Move to Highland Park

This process continued until 1910 when the company moved out of the overcrowded Piquette Palant to the Highland Park Plant and began the more sophisticated moving assembly line work. By 1913, this innovative approach dropped the time needed to construct a Model T down to twelve minutes. Wow, four cars produced in under an hour!

 

The Studebaker Corporation bought ownership of the Piquette property in 1911 and over the years multiple owners used the building. Amazingly, little changed from the landmark 1904-1910 Ford production days, which is itself a marvel. Visitors can easily slip back in time to envision sweating workers riveting parts, men contorting into awkward positions to screw bolts and others inhaling fumes while painting the vehicles.

 

They meander displays of  vintage cars arranged within the naturally sunlight space, some in restored condition and others well-used. The building includes 355 towering windows—most with original glass. Thick wooden columns and beams graced with the patina of peeling paint and exposed pipes adds to the authenticity of old work arena.

 

 

Imagine riding in “Miss Elizabeth,” a 1909 Ford Victorian red beauty or as the chaperone in the whimsical 1911 “Mother-in-law’s T” with a rear seat to observe the dating couple. Take in the intriguing cleverness—such as a 1922 Model T’s snowmobile adaption–a chassis with skis replacing the front wheels and chains on the rear tires. Best part, the car could be converted back to regular use in non-snowy months.

"Miss Elizabeth"

“Miss Elizabeth”

 

 

A Model T Snow Mobile

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If you are even slightly interested in America’s automotive history, then the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant–Detroit’s only pioneer automobile factory–is a definite must for your bucket list.

If you go:

A visit to the birthplace of the Model T begins with a short video to familiarize visitors with Detroit in the early 1900’s. The worthwhile film explains the creation of the Ford automobile company. Tour guides are extremely knowledgeable.

 

Riding in a Model T at Greenfield Village

Riding in a Model T at Greenfield Village

UPDATE 6/16/2011  PIQUETTE AVENUE PLANT JOINS NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE PASSPORT STAMP PROGRAM

The Piquette Avenue plant is pleased to announce that it has joined with 20 other automotive related sites as partners, working with and through the MotorCities Automotive Heritage Area, in the National Parks Service Passport Stamp program.

The Passport Stamp program is a national program to feature historic sites that define the American heritage, including the National Parks, National Historic Landmarks, and other related venues. Proceeds from the passport stamp program are donated to help protect, interpret, and preserve these historic landmarks. The MotorCities coordinated effort in south and southeast Michigan is promoting automotive related tourism and other visitation to the participating partners agencies, including the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.

 

 

Stopping by Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts

October 1, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Wayside Inn SignOn a crisp, rainy September afternoon I pulled up to the bucolic Wayside Inn, in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The sign post near the road boasts “food, drink and lodging for man, woman and beast.” I hoped I didn’t fit into the last category.

As soon as I entered, a warm welcoming aura enveloped me. The scent of smoky wood burning fireplaces mixed with the aroma of fresh baked bread and pies. The candlelight tavern bustled with activity, as it has for almost 300 years. Patrons were sitting at wooden tables enjoying meals and conversation. A bride and her wedding party stood near the entrance. Waiters and waitresses scooted about with food and drink trays.

The old tap room (part of the original building) overflowed with laughter from guests standing at the colonial cage bar. A cage- bar was standard in 18th-century taverns, used to secure the house whiskey, rum and wine from lodgers unknown to the innkeeper.Wayside Inn Bar

Eight guest rooms lined a wing on the second floor; my room, number seven, rested at the end of the hall. The space was small and rustic, authentic to the colonial era. An antique double bed covered with a white spread filled the room. Two windows were draped with tab curtains. A wooden chair sat in the corner and an armoire awaited guest’s clothing. The end table featured a framed print of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the private bath included standard modern fixtures.

Sadly I did not fully experience the Inn’s New England hospitality as family commitments kept me elsewhere. Nonetheless, I relished a good night’s sleep in a place with much ambiance and history.

Room in the Wayside InnThe following morning I awoke before dawn, hastily dressing for my 6:30 AM ride to the airport. Everyone else was asleep except for a friendly night watchman, who offered me a cup of coffee and a brief history of the place.

Seems the Wayside is the oldest operating tavern in the US on one of the oldest commissioned roads. David Howe opened the establishment in 1716 as Howe’s Inn, offering provisions for men, their horses and cattle. The renovated old barn rests across the road.

Tradition says Colonel Ezekiel Howe changed the name to The Red Horse, when he succeeded his father in 1746. Colonel Howe led Sudbury farmers to Concord on April 19, 1775, the famous battle that started the Revolutionary War.

After Longfellow published “The Tales of a Wayside Inn’ in 1863, The Red Horse became known as Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, as it remains today.

In 1923, auto maker Henry Ford bought the Inn with the intention of creating a living museum of Americana. The property passed through several trusts and is presently administrated by a non-paid board of trustees dedicated to preserving the historic house and surrounding acreage. All of the Inn’s revenue is used for maintenance and restoration.

I highly recommend Longfellow’s Inn as a way to support cultural heritage and experience the days of Paul Revere and Sam Adams.Wayside Inn -6x4

If you go:

The town of Sudbury lies close to Lexington and Concord, suburbs of Boston. Visitors find many colonial sites and museums in the area, as well as the birthplaces of early American poets and authors.

The Inn’s multiple-roomed restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serves traditional Yankee fare like Clam Chowder and pot roast.

Make reservations early for one of just ten guest rooms, all individually decorated with country antiques and discreet wireless Internet access. Breakfast included. Single occupancy $104-125, double occupancy $125-175. www.waysideinn.org, 978 443-1776.

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