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The Birds of Southwest Florida Exhibit opens at Edison and Ford Winter Estates Aug. 21

By Staff | Aug 13, 2021

The Birds of Southwest Florida exhibit will open in the Caretaker's House at Edison and Ford Winter Estates on Saturday, Aug. 21. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Birds of Southwest Florida exhibit will open in the Caretaker’s House at Edison and Ford Winter Estates on Saturday, Aug. 21. The exhibit features multiple panels containing detailed illustrations from John James Audubon, along with quotes from the Edison and Ford families. Antique spy glasses, books on birds, and shell art will also be featured. The exhibit is included with admission to the site and will run until mid-January, 2022.

The exhibit is a tribute to Mina Edison (Thomas Edison’s wife) and her love of birds. A dedicated conservationist long before the word entered popular vocabularies; she was an ardent supporter, advocate, and unofficial spokeswoman for several organizations, including the Chautauqua Association (where she served as President of the Bird, Tree, & Garden Club), the National Audubon Society, and School Garden Association of America. As an integral part of the Chautauqua Association, she was one of many who helped establish the foundation’s arboretum, a botanical garden dedicated to trees, which in affect created more potential nesting and breeding grounds for Chautauqua’s indigenous bird population.  

As a member of the National Audubon Society, she helped bring awareness to issues that had a negative impact on birdlife and was essentially involved in a national movement that would help spur vital legislation protecting wild North American bird species, as well as the creation of America’s first real system of waterbird sanctuaries along the east coast. Members’ collective efforts facilitated the implementation of scientifically-based conservation efforts.

Mina was also good friends with Jay N. “Ding” Darling, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist and conservationist who was President Franklin Roosevelt’s director of the United States Biological Survey, which was the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On a couple of occasions during the early 1940s, Mina invited Darling to be an honored guest for lunch at her Fort Myers estate. His signature bird drawings can be seen in Mrs. Edison’s official Seminole Lodge Guest Book located inside the museum.   

In 1928, she co-founded and served as the first President of the Fort Myers Round Table, an influential group of community leaders that advocated for civic improvements, such as beautification of the city’s landscape, cleaning up vacant lots, removing dilapidated buildings, refurbishing the Fort Myers railroad station, and planning new parks. A few years later, she took an active role in personally advocating for bird-friendly landscaping as part of a larger campaign to establish neighborhood gardens.    

Mina’s fascination with birds compelled her to create a safe-haven and refuge for several different species at Seminole Lodge. She had Purple Martin houses installed over the Caloosahatchee River near the property’s seawall and pier, small feeding tables were created by staff in order to watch a variety of birds from her porch, and birdboxes were built and mounted around various parts of the property. She had a pet peacock named “Beauty” that roamed the estate and according to support staff, would open its feathers if spoken to in a gentle manner. “Beauty” was later preserved and can now be seen as part of the Mina Edison exhibit located in the museum at the Estates.  

Mina deeded the Edison winter estate to the City of Fort Myers in February of 1947 for one dollar, with the purpose of serving as a tribute to her late husband and a botanical garden for future generations of visitors. She died shortly thereafter on Aug. 24, 1947, at the age of 82. She was fondly remembered by those who knew her best for her kindness, generosity, and community activism.  

For more information about Edison and Ford Winter Estates visit www.edisonfordwinterestates.org/.

Edison and Ford Winter Estates is at 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.