Thomas A. Edison arrived in Fort Myers for the very first time on March 6, 1885. But had the weather been nicer in St. Augustine that year, it's likely Edison would have never come to Fort Myers at all.
In 1885, St. Augustine was the top tourist town in Florida. But the weather that year was wet and miserable, as Edison discovered to his disgust when he arrived there expecting to recharge his batteries in the warm Florida sunshine after a period of especially arduous labor in his lab in Menlo Park. But that was not to be. Greeted by rain, fog and chill winds blowing out of the northeast, the inventor was ready to pack up and go home when a friend told him about the idyllic weather on the lower West Coast. Dubious but intrigued, Edison set out to find out for himself if what his buddy told him could be true.
Edison hopped the train to Cedar Keys and then boarded a sloop called the Jeannette for the cruise down the Gulf Coast. He arrived on March 4 in Punta Rassa, where he and telegraph operator George Shultz instantly became fast friends. "The next day, while sitting on the veranda smoking cigars, Shultz told Edison about the village up the river located on the site of old Fort Myers, where the long Seminole War had been brought to a close by the surrender of Chief Billy Bowlegs and his tribesmen," reports historian Karl Grismer.
The next day, the Jeannette moored at the wharf of the Keystone Hotel, where owners Sara Titus and Daniel Kantz made him feel most welcome. But it was the stroll through town that evening that really sold Edison on the town. "He was deeply impressed by [the town's] tropical beauty, its solitude, and the friendliness of the people," Grismer adds. "It appeared to be an ideal spot for a winter home."
And the rest, as they say, is history. It was the first day of Thomas Alva Edison's 46-year love affair with the city of Fort Myers.
You can discover more about Thomas Edison at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates on McGregor Boulevard, just west of the downtown Fort Myers River District. And you can learn more about the early development of downtown Fort Myers on one of True Tours' historic, public art or downtown revitalization walking tours. For reservations or more information, please call 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net.