Mapping Florida for 500 years - WFLA News Channel 8

Mapping Florida for 500 years

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On Columbus Day, we celebrate Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492. An exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center chronicles the history of Florida starting from Columbus' time through hundreds of years of maps.

It's called "Charting The Land of Flowers, 500 Years of Florida Maps."  The History Center collected these priceless maps from 30 institutions around the world, including the Library of Congress. Many of these maps are on display to the public for the first time.

"It's one of the largest and most comprehensive map exhibitions ever assembled," said  said Manny Leto, Tampa Bay History Museum's Marketing Director.

The oldest of the 150 maps is from 1493, just one year after Columbus landed in the New World.  By that point, news of the land we call America had not made it back to cartographer.

The next map from a few years later in 1502 shows just a hint of America and Cuba.

"As you walk through the exhibition, it is quite literally like you're walking through time. You're getting to see the evolution of the state of Florida," said Leto.

Once Florida starts to make a rough appearance in the maps later in the 1500s, the outline looks somewhat crude by our standards.

Rodney Kite-Powell, Curator of History, explains how the explorers would map their locations.

"They had sextons. They had compasses. They had other navigational equipment, so they had a really good idea of latitude, where they were north and south. It's just the east and west was kind of tough, longitude," said Kite-Powell.

Some of the maps have the Florida peninsula painted quite wide, but the basic outline is there.

"The accuracy comes from just actual survey," said Kite-Powell. They would sail around a particular place, and they would measure how far they've gone. They would measure those contours," he continued.

In the exhibit, the first map of Tampa from 1838 is displayed. The gridded streets of St. Petersburg are clearly seen in its earliest map from 1888.

The maps are historical documents that clearly show how Florida and the rest of the country was discovered and viewed by the rest of the world. That alone makes this exhibit worth the trip. The startling part is the beauty of these documents.

"A lot of them being done by hand are so detailed and so intricate. Just think about the artistry and the craftsmanship that had to go into created a document like that," said Leto.

It took the History Center 2 years to compile all these maps.  The exhibit will stay on display until Febr. 16.  Admittance to the center is $12.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors and students, and $7.95 for kids.

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