Rare Florida maps on display at the Tampa History Center give residents of the modern age a glimpse into the early settlers’ perceptions of Florida and all its mysterious contours.
Rodney Kite-Powell, the curator of history at the center, 801 Old Water St., Tampa, said some of the original maps are on loan from the Library of Congress, the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and the University of Florida. The center also was able to obtain copies of one-of-a-kind maps held by European institutions.
“Some 16th, 17th and 18th century maps show mountain ranges in the middle of Florida,” Kite-Powell said. “It’s interesting to see the early perceptions of Florida. A lot of what they knew was word-of-mouth. Most of the early European map makers never set foot in Florida.”
He said some maps portray Florida as being broken up into different islands.
Kite-Powell said the “Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 Years of Florida Maps,” exhibit opened Sept. 21 and will close Feb. 16, 2014. He said the center always keeps a small gallery of about 25 maps, but is using the third-floor gallery space to display the largest and most comprehensive exhibits of Florida maps anyone has put together.
“Many people will find it surprising how old the awareness of Florida is in the European mind,” he said, adding the exhibit includes the first printed map to use the name, “Florida.”
He said another fascinating map on display is an early Florida road map. The 1917 American Automobile Association map is one of the first travel maps of Florida showing the principal towns, cities and roads.
“In 1917, the road conditions were terrible,” he said. “There were very few paved roads. The cities had paved streets, but the roads that connected the cities were in bad shape. After WWI, the states starting passing road construction laws.”
Many of the maps also give some insight into how Florida evolved into a tourist destination.
Kite-Powell said he expects a lot of fourth- and eight-grade students studying Florida and American history will view the maps as well as geography and other students.
Kite-Powell said he hopes to turn the exhibit into a traveling exhibit after it closes in Tampa.
Manny Leto, the director of marketing for the center, said other maps featured in the exhibit include the earliest known map of the City of Tampa, the earliest plat of St. Petersburg, the first map of Miami Beach and the first map of Ybor City.
One of the most prized maps is a hand-drawn sketch by a historian named Pieter Martyr, who, in 1511, labeled the unknown land north of Cuba “Isla de Beimeni,” the native Indian name for what is now Florida.
For more information, visit the center’s website at tampabayhistorycenter.org.