Top 5 Historic Homes in Southwest Florida

There’s no better way to experience local history than by touring a historic home. Southwest Florida has its share, including the last surviving antebellum plantation home in South Florida, the Italianate Ca’ d’Zan, the extraordinary Planetary Court in Estero, and the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Take a guided tour and you’ll be surprised at what you learn!

Tour five top Southwest Florida historic homes located in Ellenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Estero. Plan your visit. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Gamble Plantation, Ellenton

Built by Major Robert Gamble Jr. of Tallahassee, the Gamble Plantation home is a grand pillared Greek Revival mansion with a broad balcony on the second floor. It has 10 rooms including a grand parlor and a kitchen annex, all filled with antiques and furniture typical of the mid-19thcentury.

Visit one of 5 top historic homes in Southwest Florida. The Gamble Plantation in Ellenton is an easy day trip from Sarasota, Florida. The antebellum mansion is the only surviving plantation home in South Florida and was once the headquarters of an extensive sugar plantation. Must Do Visitor Guides | Photo by Nita Ettinger

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Gamble lived here from 1844-1856 when it was the center of a thriving 3,450-acre sugar plantation prior to the Civil War. Stroll around the grounds as part of your visit and see the old cane presses and sugar kettles. There’s also a small Visitor Center and museum of artifacts recounting the history of the home and its famous visitors. Learn more about Gamble Plantation Historic State Park here.

Ca’ d’Zan, Sarasota

Home of John and Mable Ringling and now part of the Ringling Museum Estate, Ca’ d’Zan reflects the Ringlings’ love for Italy. Even the name is derived from the Italian “House of John”.

The Ringling Ca' d'Zan Mansion from Sarasota Bay. Sarasota, Florida is one of the top historic homes in Southwest Florida. Photo by Nita Ettinger. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

The magnificent Venetian Gothic exterior with its colorful glazed tiles overlooks beautiful Sarasota Bay. Inside the 36,000 square-foot palatial mansion are a host of architectural features and fabulous furnishings that will take your breath away. Whole rooms were purchased from wealthy American families such as the Astors as the Great Depression took hold. Highlights include the Grand Ballroom with its gilt carved doors and Pogany ceiling fresco, the grand central court, and an English Tap Room complete with bar.

Entrance to The Ringling Ca' d'Zan Mansion Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Jennifer Brinkman. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Jennifer Brinkman

The Ringlings were avid collectors of world-class artworks which are part of the Ringling Museum of Art, now separately housed within the estate. There’s also the fun and informative Circus Museums, restaurants, and gardens to explore as part of your visit to this Sarasota, Florida world-class attraction.

Burroughs Home and Gardens, Fort Myers

Small and cozy, the Burroughs Home was purchased from a Sears-Roebuck catalog. It was delivered by railroad and steamboat to Millionaire’s Row. Located on the banks of the broad Caloosahatchee River in downtown Fort Myers, Florida this family home is filled with authentic furnishings typical of any wealthy family in the early 20thcentury. Guided tours take you through each room, telling humorous anecdotes of the two daughters, their friends (the Firestones, Edisons, and Fords) and their social lifestyle. Highlights of this historic home include old photographs, the hemline mirror in the wood-paneled hall, the Butler’s Pantry with its icebox refrigerator, and a collection of letters and photos commemorating Charles Lindberg’s first trans-Atlantic flight. He was a regular visitor to the home.

After the tour, stroll along First Street to the shops and restaurants in downtown Fort Myers.

Tour the historic Burroughs Home and Gardens downtown Fort Myers, Florida. The home is one of the top historic homes in Southwest Florida.Photo by Nita Ettinger. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Edison Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers

Also in Fort Myers, the neighboring estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Food are an award-winning attraction. Edison and Ford Winter Estates includes the two furnished historic homes, beautiful 20-acre gardens, a museum of Edison’s inventions and personal life, and a replica of Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory.

Edison arrived in Fort Myers in 1885, at a time when McGregor Blvd. was a dusty cattle trail and the town was in its infancy. He and his wife Mina were hugely influential in the developing city. They donated the first 200 palm trees which were planted along the boulevard and gave rise to the nickname “City of Palms”.

The estates are among the most visited historic homes in America and on the National Register of Historic Sites. The best way to learn more about this incredible complex is by joining one of the informative guided tours. See early Ford motors in the garage, Edison’s experimental plantings, and the swimming pool. Look inside the homes before heading to the Gift Shop in the former caretaker’s cottage.

Tour two of Southwest Florida's top historic homes at Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida USA. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Tour two of Southwest Florida's top historic homes at Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida USA. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Planetary Court, Koreshan State Park, Estero

The 135-acre Koreshan State Park was once a religious community led by Dr. Cyrus Teed. There are several surviving buildings from the 18thand 19thcentury along with the grand Planetary Court. This three-story home was built for seven “sisters” who funded the community.

Guided tours take you inside this beautiful example of Georgia Foursquare architecture. The ornate staircase showcases the outstanding craftsmanship within the community. Other buildings include the Founder’s House which has a documentary movie of the sect and a collection of original furnishings and photographs. The beautiful Art Hall nearby was where the community performed concerts and is still used for fundraising concerts and art displays.

These historic homes all offer a different perspective on Southwest Florida history making it a great day out for both visitors and folks interested in local history.

Explore five top Southwest Florida historic homes located in Ellenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Estero. Plan your visit. Must Do Visitor Guides |

Written by:

Nita Ettinger is Co-publisher for Siesta Publications Inc. and the Editor in Chief for Must Do Visitor Guides. Must Do Visitor Guides provides Southwest Florida visitor information through printed magazines and the website Must Do magazines are published bi-annually and are available at no cost in Sarasota, Lee, and Collier County Chamber of Commerce, visitor information centers, select Southwest Florida hotels, and wherever free publications can be found.

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