History of Fort Myers Walking Tour
This tour is a work in progress; more entries will be added soon.
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are two historic adjoining homes that, along with a botanical gardens and other buildings, constitute one museum that celebrate the lives of inventor Thomas Edison and automobile manufacturer Henry Ford. The homes are listed separately on the National Register of Historic Places. The site features twenty botanical gardens, the Edison and Ford Museum, and seven other historic buildings. One of these is the Edison Research Laboratory where Edison tested thousands of tree samples to try to find a good source of rubber (he thought the country was too dependent on foreign sources of rubber during WWI; he did eventually finally discover a suitable rubber plant). The museum features several of Edison's inventions and other artifacts including a Model T car that Ford gave to Edison as a present. The gardens feature 1700 plants and one of the largest banyan trees in the country.
Formerly known as Edison Park School, Edison Park Creative and Expressive Arts Elementary School is one of the oldest public elementary schools in southwest Florida. Built in 1927, the school is named after the subdivision it is located in, which itself is named after American inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931), whose historic winter estate is located just to the west. The school is also significant for its Mediterranean Revival architecture and the role it played in the community in the immediate years after its construction. It had the city's largest auditorium (500 seats) and operated as the city's main entertainment venue. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
Named after one of the key figures in Fort Myers during the late 18th and early 20th centuries, the William H. Towles House is one of the city's most historic homes. It was built in 1885 and significant for its architecture and association with Towles, who was a successful businessman and prominent civic leader of the period, serving as both county commissioner and town and city councilman. However, he is perhaps best known for a successful campaign to build what is now known as the Old Lee County Courthouse. As for the house's architecture, its design combines the Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival styles. Its most interesting feature is the wraparound porch with arches on the first floor. Today the house appears to be the location of a law office.
Opened in 1982, the Southwest Florida Museum of History is housed in the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot. It is dedicated to the natural, cultural, and military history of southwest Florida, from ancient times to the present. Exhibits feature information and artifacts related to the Native American cultures that inhabited the region, the Spanish and other early explorers, the gradual settlement of the area, and the mining, agriculture, boating, and fishing industries. Visitors can also learn about the Seminole Wars and the old WWII military airfields. Other highlights include a 1926 La France fire pumper (an early version of a fire truck) and a 1929 Pullman railroad car.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Lee County Courthouse is one of the more important landmarks in Fort Myers. It was built in 1915 and is an excellent example of Neoclassical Revival architecture. Interesting features include a buff-brick exterior and a grand main entrance with fluted Doric columns. The building is also significant for its role as the seat of county government from 1914 until 1984. Today, it houses the offices of the state legislature representatives and the Lee County Board of Commissioners. It is located next to the modern courthouse building.
Originally a Native American Calusa settlement, the Sydney and Berne Davis Art Center has become a proud fixture in Fort Myers, FL. This institution prides itself in continuing the work of founder Sydney Davis and her vision of providing access to the arts for all members of the community. (The History of SBDAC)
Now a house museum and event venue called Burroughs Home and Gardens, the Murphy-Burroughs House is one of the oldest homes in the city and among the few remaining from the early 20th century. It was built in 1901 by wealthy cattleman John T. Murphy, who first arrived in Fort Myers in the winter of 1899 from Montana. The third owners were Nelson and Adeline Burroughs, who bought the home in 1918. Murphy, and especially the Burroughs, were prominent figures in Fort Myers in the early 20th century. The 2.5 story-house is also historically significant as an excellent example of Georgian Revival architecture. The exterior features a veranda that wraps around on three sides, a large "dancing" porch on the east side, bay and stained glass windows, a widow's walk on the roof, and decorative woodwork. The inside of the house features 11-foot high ceilings, decorative woodwork, a grand winding staircase, and fireplaces. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Visitors can take guided tours of the house. An organization called the Uncommon Friends Foundation manages the house as well as the Burroughs family records
Erected around 1925, the Alderman House is one of the many historic homes on First Street, which also goes by the nickname "millionaire's row." Famous local architect Addison Mizner designed it in the Mediterranean Revival style. The house is also significant for its association with the man who built it, Frank Alderman, who was a prominent Fort Myers businessman and banker in the 1920s. In terms of architecture, notable features of the house include a front patio of Italian blue and white tile, a covered space (similar to a porch) with twisted columns, and a two-story square tower with coved friezes (the decoration along the top of the walls). The house is now called the Mizner Estate and three rooms are available to rent on Airbnb. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The Gilmer Heitman House is one of the largest homes built in Fort Myers in the early 20th century. Named after prominent businessman Gilmer Heitman (1881-1960), who built the house in 1908, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its association with Heitman and its architecture. Heitman served in a number of roles, including as president and director of a bank, that contributed to the economic development of Fort Myers. The fourteen-room house is a fine example of the Queen Anne style. It features a wraparound porch with paired Ionic columns that encircles most of the first floor, a rounded southeast corner, and decorative interior woodwork. The house today operates as a wedding venue.