Fort Myers Downtown Walking Tour, Fort Myers

Fort Myers Downtown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Fort Myers

Fort Myers, Florida is widely known for its beautiful beaches and proximity to popular islands. The city proudly shares its history as the winter home of inventor Thomas Edison and industrial pioneer Henry Ford. However, the interesting and complicated history of the city goes much further back than the late 19th century.

The area, like much of southeastern Florida, was the home of the Calusa people. The Calusa did not survive the emergence of European settlers to the region, having been driven out by disease and relocation. Florida became a state in 1821, after which time Ft. Myers was established and named after Colonel Abraham C. Myers.

Florida joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union in 1861. Though Florida rejoined the country after the Civil War, the connection to the confederacy remains through the county's name, which is controversially named for Robert E. Lee.

After the war, farming became important to the growth of Ft. Myers. The arrival of Thomas Edison and his new lab in 1885 encouraged even more visitors and new residents. Today, the city itself has roughly 66,000 residents, but it is part of a metropolitan area of more than 700,000.

Visitors to Ft. Myers enjoy the historic buildings and the beauty of nature. Water sports, beach walks and shopping are all popular pastimes in this beloved Florida city. Some of the most visited spots include the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the Old Lee County Courthouse and the Burroughs Home and Gardens.

Take this self-guided walking tour to see the best of Ft. Myers.
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Fort Myers Downtown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Fort Myers Downtown Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Fort Myers (See other walking tours in Fort Myers)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: Cathy
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Edison and Ford Winter Estates
  • Centennial Park
  • Old Lee County Courthouse
  • Edison Theatre
  • Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center
  • Yacht Basin
  • Murphy-Burroughs House
  • Gilmer Heitman House
Edison and Ford Winter Estates

1) Edison and Ford Winter Estates (must see)

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, long-time friends, purchased adjoining estates in Ft. Myers. These were considered their winter homes where they could each relax with their families. After Edison's death, his widow donated the property to the city. The same was done with Ford's property, though not until 1988.

Edison's home, Seminole Lodge, was completed in 1886. Twenty years later, the Edisons remodeled the home and purchased a nearby property to be used as a guest house. The grounds also include the caretaker's house, pool house, and a private study.

After having spent time in the Edisons' guest house, Henry Ford bought the nearby estate, The Mangoes. He and his family lived in the house until 1945. The grounds of the Ford estate also include the caretaker's cottage, which has been transformed into gift shop for visitors.

A unique feature of the Edison and Ford Winter Estate's is the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory. Edison and Ford, along with Harvey Firestone, created the lab in order to find a source of rubber that could be easily produced in the United States. It is designated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

The Edison Ford Museum is a favorite among visitors. The 15,000 square foot museum includes thousands of artifacts from both of these innovative men. Tourists will also see the research gardens, which include year-round blooms, ficus trees and plants from across the world.

Visitors can now explore the estates in all of their grandeur. Tourists can walk through the 20-plus acre estate, historical buildings, botanical gardens, the laboratory and the museum. There is also a research library onsite that is open by appointment only.

The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are open daily from 9 AM through 4:30 PM. There are a number of tour options available, including a self-guided tour.
Centennial Park

2) Centennial Park

Centennial Park is a 10-acre green space on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. Visitors will find a playground, sand volleyball courts, boat docks and fishing pier. There is plenty of space for picnicking, including covered pavilions for rainy days.

The park has been rated as one of the top 10 attractions in Ft. Myers. This is largely due to the expanse of the green space and winding sidewalks that are perfect for a leisurely stroll.

The park includes a fountain that features Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. It is a popular space for outdoor events and concerts. A farmer's market is hosted at Centennial Park every Thursday.

Those tourists wanting to take to the water can rent a boat with appropriate ID. Fishing rods and bait are also available for purchase at the park.

Centennial Park is easily accessible by foot thanks to ample sidewalks that connect the park with downtown Ft. Myers and the River District.
Old Lee County Courthouse

3) Old Lee County Courthouse

The Old Lee County Courthouse was built in 1915. Architect Francis J. Kennard designed the courthouse in the Classical Revival style. The Neoclassical architecture is enhanced by Doric Order fluted columns that flank the building's entrance.

Visitors are welcome to tour the courthouse and its grounds. Tourists will see historical markers and artifacts as they explore. For example, a WWI plaque was added in 1926 to honor those Lee County residents who fought and died during the war. In addition, the 1967 Veterans Memorial Plaque serves as a memorial to all those lost in war during the last two centuries.

The grounds include the Lee County Justice Center, which is home to the courtrooms and county jail. The Old County Courthouse is still in use, but tourists can explore on their own. They will learn the origins of the county name, as an homage to the confederate general Robert E. Lee. The commission chambers includes a painting of Lee and various artifacts. Along with the Lee portrait, visitors can see other nods to the segregated history of Lee County, including the balcony where black citizens were relegated during trials.
Edison Theatre

4) Edison Theatre

The Edison Theatre is a landmark in downtown Ft. Myers that is reminiscent of the early days of cinema. Built in 1941, the Edison Theatre is an example of Streamline Moderne architecture, which is an offshoot of the Art Deco movement of the 1920s.

Little is known about the construction of the Edison Theatre. What is known is that the theatre was very popular when it was founded. With 800 seats, the Edison replaced older theatres that featured silent films. Florida residents traveled from near and far to watch the latest movies and newsreels.

Though it was named after Thomas Edison, the theatre has no relation to the famous inventor other than the location. The theatre was operated by E.J. Sparks, which was a subsidiary of Paramount Theatres. It remained in operation through the 1980s. It still stands today, but has been converted into law offices.

Visitors to Ft. Myers can find the Edison Theatre in the historic downtown district at the corner of Hendry and Main Streets.
Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center

5) Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is a venue that hosts performances, films, special events and art exhibits. Visitors can expect to see something new each time they travel to Ft. Myers as the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center changes exhibits the first Friday of every month.

Themes of upcoming exhibits can be found on the venue's website. Previous exhibits have focused on world-renowned artists as well as local talent. They are held in the venue's Grand Atrium and the Capital Gallery.

Musical performances are regularly featured at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Chamber music, jazz and even bluegrass are found throughout the year.

Tourists will also see special events like book talks, film screenings and fashion shows. Workshops and yoga are also offered. Visitors can register in advance or at the door.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is located in downtown Ft. Myers about two blocks from the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.
Yacht Basin

6) Yacht Basin

The City of Ft. Myers owns and operates the Yacht Basin. This marina is located on the Okeechobee Waterway at mile marker 135.

Construction on the Yacht Basin began in 1936 as a way to employ those who were left without work during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1939 and has been in operation since that time.

Boats are available for rent at the Yacht Basin. Visitors are also welcome to partake in water sports like floating towables, kneeboards and skis.

The facility includes boat docks and ramps, food service and concessions, a marina, a gift shop, picnic tables and public restrooms. It is open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Visitors are welcome from 8 AM through 10 PM daily.

Those on walking tours will find the Yacht Basin to be an easy stop along the way. Nearby sites and landmarks include the Edison Theatre, Centennial Park and the Murphy-Burroughs House.
Murphy-Burroughs House

7) Murphy-Burroughs House

The Murphy-Burroughs House is a three-story, Georgian Revival style home. It was built in 1901 for cattle rancher John T. Murphy. In 1919, the home was sold to businessman Nelson Burroughs. It was then gifted to the City of Ft. Myers by Mona Burroughs, the man's eldest daughter.

Since 1978, the Murphy-Burroughs House has been open for weddings and other events. The interior continues to be adorned with most of the same furnishings from the home's genesis, which makes it an ideal spot for special occasions.

The home is open for guided tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Reservations must be made in advance for these docent-led tours.

Visitors on walking tours can stroll by the home to see one of the most historic residences in Ft. Myers. They can use the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks to gain the perfect view of the home and gardens. The home is only steps away from the Ft. Myers Yacht Basin and Look Out Pier.
Gilmer Heitman House

8) Gilmer Heitman House (must see)

The Gilmer Heitman House is one of Ft. Myers, Florida's most historic homes. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, visitors often include the Gilmer Heitman House on their list of must-see locations in the city.

The home was built in 1908 by prominent businessman and hotelier Gilmer Heitman. The Queen Anne-style home has 14 rooms, a wraparound porch and ionic columns. Though it was originally a home for the Heitman family, today it is a popular wedding venue.

The house is not open for interior tours, but it is ideally located for those who are on self-guided walking tours of Ft. Myers. It is a close walk from the Burroughs Home and Gardens, another historic home in Ft. Myers.