The Birds of Southwest Florida exhibit has opened in the Caretaker’s House at Edison and Ford Winter Estates.
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 are also 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 calling became popular, 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 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.
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.
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 the estate serving as a tribute to her late husband and a botanical garden for future generations of visitors. She died shortly thereafter on August 24, 1947, at the age of 82. She’s fondly remembered by those who knew her best for her kindness, generosity, and community activism.