Uncommon Friends is a sculpture depicting a seated Henry Ford, kneeling Harvey Firestone and reclining Thomas Edison gathered around a campfire on a 20-foot island set in the center of a 40-foot diameter pool. In the water around the island are life-size sculptures of a mother alligator and her five babies, a mother manatee and her calf, otters, 16 fish, four floating lily pad groups that are piped as fountain heads, and 12 frogs sitting on 6 small protrusions of land that similarly double as fountain heads.
The campfire scene possesses special significance for the City of Fort Myers. Not only were Edison, Ford and Firestone three of Fort Myers earliest and most famous winter residents, they made Fort Myers the birthplace of recreational travel. The threesome began making camping trips into the Florida Everglades in 1914. Calling themselves The Vagabonds, they pioneered recreational travel over the next decade. Many of their trips were chronicled by James D. Newton, a close friend of the three inventors and author of the book Uncommon Friends, from which the sculptural installation takes its name.
Centennial Park’s entrance is located at 2150 Edwards Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33901. Its coordinates are longitude 26d 38′ 42.7128″ N and latitude 81d 52′ 21.4962″ W.
Artist: Don "D.J." Wilkins
Sculptor Don “D.J.” Wilkins was “discovered” by the Fort Myers Beautification Advisory Board in 1983, when they engaged him to reassemble the Tootie McGregor Fountain at its current location in the parking lot of the Fort Myers Country Club and conserve The Spirit of Fort Myers, popularly known as Rachel at the Well. In the ensuing two decades, the Beautification Advisory Board and other benefactors commissioned him to create 23 original sculptural installations throughout the city of Fort Myers, including chronologically:
- The Florida Panthers (1988);
- Uncommon Friends (1988);
- The Great Turtle Chase (1990);
- The Harborside Collection, consisting of busts of Chief Billy Bowlegs, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Thomas Alva Edison, Capt. Francis Asbury Hendry, Connie Mack Sr., James D. Newton and Tootie McGregor Terry (1990);
- The USCT 2nd Regiment Monument (1998);
- Wes Nott Memorial (2000);
- Standing Thomas Edison at the entry to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates (2005);
- Seated Mina Edison at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates (2009); and
- Standing Henry Ford at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates (2009).
Wilkins also played an instrumental role in restoring the Felix De Weldon Iwo Jima Memorial in Eco Park on Veteran’s Parkway in Cape Coral.