This floating castle appears to be from an enchanted fable, but in actuality it is Europe's best preserved Renaissance water castle.
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Holding court amongst the palm trees, this bright yellow mansion is a remnant of the bygone era when Fort Myers was a sleepy hideaway for America’s affluent. The lone survivor of what was once dubbed “Millionaire’s Row”, this stately Georgian Revival home is not as unique as one might think—it was actually made-to-order from a Sears-Roebuck catalog.
Shipped in over 137 crates by rail and sea, the house was pieced together in 1901, but spared no luxury. Included in the crates were everything from a large winding staircase and multiple fireplaces to 11 foot ceilings, a study with a Palladian window, and even a wrap-around porch.
Nelson and Adeline Burroughs purchased the mansion in 1918 as an escape from the harsh Midwestern winters. Amassing a fortune from cattle ranching, the Burroughs began a migratory tradition of heading south for the winter — effectively influencing the trend of “snowbirds” taking flight from the blizzards of the north for the sunny southern tropics. But their trips were far from quiet hibernation.
The Burroughs and their children were the “it” family of Fort Myers, hosting spectacular parties and moonlit balls in their gardens. Always teeming with guests, they would place a mirror at the foot of the grand staircase, allowing them the ability to choose who to greet. However the decision was easy when it came to many of Fort Myers elite with the likes of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and even Thomas Edison gracing the doorstep and dance floor numerous times as they made their mark on the area.
Edison actually preceded the Burroughs by a few decades, settling in Fort Myers around 1885. So enamored with the region, he built his Seminole Lodge and Laboratory here as his winter estate. But what’s more, Edison would cement his status as a champion of the small town by donating hundreds of royal palms to Fort Myers, giving the city its nickname “City of Palms.”
A great friend of Edison’s, Henry Ford was also taken by the beauty of the region (and maybe swayed by the friendly company). He and his family purchased property right next door to Edison’s home, building their own estate: The Mangoes.
For what must have felt like time away at summer camp, Edison, Ford, and their friend Harvey Firestone would travel, explore, and work in Edison’s lab on exciting new ideas and prospects. A 1920’s version of the Rat Pack, the group, along with their equally renowned friend John Burroughs, dubbed themselves “The Four Vagabonds”, going on trips to explore the Everglades, Adirondacks, and Catskills together.
Following in the footsteps of his fellow companions, John Burroughs came often to the Burroughs’s home on First Avenue—though their last names were only a mere coincidence.
Now a museum owned by the city, the Burroughs Home (not John’s) is a gateway into Fort Myers’ history. Docents take the role of host to the many parties of curious visitors who enter its doors, and luckily for guests, they don’t rely on staircase mirrors.
Written by: Seamus McMahon
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