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Newspress July 7, 2006 press release

What: Edison Caretaker’s House opens to public
When: Monday, July 10, 9:00 a.m.
Where: Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers
Who: General public, media
Photos: Caretaker’s House 1929 & 2006

FORT MYERS, FL (July 6, 2006) – On Monday, July 10th the Edison & Ford Winter Estates opens the Edison Caretaker’s House for viewing, gallery exhibits and meetings. The House has never been opened to the public.
Visitors purchasing Estates Tour tickets will be able to view the house.

The Edison Caretaker’s House is the oldest building on the Edison Winter Estate and thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Fort Myers. The center gable roof section of the house existed on the property when Edison bought it from Samuel Summerlin in 1885. The “Florida Cracker” style house was a stopover for Summerlin’s cattle drovers down the old Wire Road, now named McGregor Boulevard.

Samuel Summerlin was the youngest son of Jacob Summerlin, one of the largest cattle owners in Florida. In the early 1860’s, Summerlin had a crude road constructed from Fort Ogden to Punta Rassa south of Fort Myers. He built shipping pens and a dock where boats to Cuba departed with cracker cattle and returned with commodities like flour and sugar.

By 1878 Jacob bought the wharf at Punta Rassa from Captain F.A. Hendry, as well as 1,000 acres of land for cattle holding. He moved to the site with his son Samuel. By 1880 Summerlin owned or controlled cattle shipping throughout southwest Florida. In 1883 the Spanish government placed a high tariff on imported beef and Summerlin sold all of his south Florida holdings to several sons, including Samuel who stayed to continue the family business.

Samuel sold the current Edison Estate parcel to Edison in 1885 for $2,750 (Summerlin had initially purchased it in 1879 from Francisco Abril for $500).

Edison had planned from the outset to retain the “Summerlin House.” Although he was prepared to move it if necessary, he was able to convert it for employees at its original location and in 1903 made the first round of additions to enlarge it. In 1928, he added the L-addition with a staff apartment above and car and tool storage below as the home is seen today.

The Edison Caretaker’s House underwent extensive restoration in 2002-2006. With its newly painted gray exterior and bright red shingles, the Caretaker's House at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates doesn't look like one of Fort Myers' oldest buildings.

But after a year of restoration, the cottage that served as a stopover for cattle drivers in the 1800s and a home for inventor Thomas Edison's chauffeur in the 1920s added a new identity to its historical roster Monday: public attraction.

"Most of our visitors just want to see Edison's house when they come, but this building tells the story of Fort Myers when the city was just a cattle town, before Edison arrived," said Estates president and CEO Chris Pendleton. "That's why we felt the great need to have the entire thing restored and made available to the public."

The Wheeler Brothers Company, who enlarged the building for Edison in 1929, completed the almost $3 million restoration of the building in 2006 (now known as Christel Company). Funding for the project was provided by the State of Florida, Lee County, City of Fort Myers, private donors through the Edison-Ford Foundation and a Bicentennial Grant from the Fort Myers Rotary.

"This old building's been around for a long time, and we're fortunate no one decided to tear it down, even though a lot of people wanted to do just that," Parker said.

This old house features some modern-day amenities — Internet connection, for one. It also has been fitted with fans and concrete floor supports. Repainted rooms on the second floor will be used as offices.

The downstairs room will be used as exhibit and meeting spaces. A current exhibit features the works of local artists Leoma Lovegrove and Nadine Miller, who will give presentations in the house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Estates is open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Sunday Noon – 5:30. Beginning July 16th the Estates will be open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. The Estates is a National Trust for Historic Preservation site and Florida Historic Landmark. For additional information call 239-334-7419

Submitted by Norita Shepherd Moss

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