Thomas Edison's Boyhood Home

Photo above: Not the House in the Grove

The famed American inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, lived for nearly a decade in a home located just west of this sign – in the gap between the fourth and fifth buildings of the Edison Shores development.

A prolific inventor, Edison held 1,093 U.S. patents including the light bulb, phonograph, motion picture camera, and a battery for an electric car.

Edison was 7 in the spring of 1854 when his parents moved from Milan, Ohio, to Port Huron, where they bought a house on southeast side of the 614-acre Fort Gratiot military reserve.

The two-story, white-frame house had been built circa 1838 by Edgar Jenkins, the fort's sutler, with financial help from his father-in-law, Reuben Walworth, the chancellor (chief justice) of New York State and an unsuccessful nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1844.

"The house possessed considerable pretensions to architecture for the times," recalled William Bancroft, the first mayor of Port Huron. “It was a finer dwelling than any hereabout.”

The Edison's home, a 42-foot by 42-foot rectangle, encompassed 3,300 square feet of living space as well as an unfinished cellar that young Tom converted into a laboratory. His father, Sam, erected a 100-foot observation tower in the yard and let people climb it for 25 cents. Edison later remembered it as "the folly that paid."

No photographs of the house are known, but Caroline Farrand Ballantie, who lived in the house as a child (her father sold it to the Edisons), sketched it from memory in 1920. She said the house faced north, and "large windows gave charming views of lake, river and woodland."

Sam and Nancy Edison owned the structure but leased the 10-acre parcel from the Army. They were paid $500 and evicted on the evening of Jan. 31, 1864, at the urging of Maj. Gen. George Hartsuff and his brother, Col. Bill Hartsuff, who despised Sam Edison as a "Peace Democrat" and Southern sympathizer. The Hartsuff brothers promptly moved their aging parents into the home.

Fire destroyed the house on Nov. 13, 1870. A century later, an archaeological dig uncovered the cellar and evidence of Edison's lab. State investigators examined the site and concluded that the 1870 fire was almost certainly caused by arson.

The cellar was reburied to protect it for future study. It is located in the gap between the fourth and fifth buildings on the southern end of the Edison Shores residential development.

Mike Connell Article

Depot Museum

National Park Service