There’s a new exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center, and it is called Key West and the Florida Keys: Mapping the History of the Conch Republic. The exhibit is on display now through Sunday, October 15 in the Saunders Foundation Gallery.
Key West and the Florida Keys have played an outsized role in Florida’s history. The Keys first appeared on a Spanish map in 1511, and they had been home to the Tequesta and Calusa for thousands of years. In modern times, Key West was at one point the largest city in Florida. It was home to wreckers, cigar makers, fisherfolk and other colorful characters.
The exhibit features historical and modern maps and charts. There are nearly 50 maps and charts in the exhibit. The oldest map is the 1511 Peter Martyr map of the Caribbean, and the newest is a 1988 map showing different locations of shipwrecks and (potential) sunken treasure. The History Center may add a 21st-century tourist map.
Every map in the exhibit is from the Tampa Bay History Center’s Touchton Map Library Collection. Rodney Kite-Powell, director of the Touchton Map Library, explained, “The Touchton Map Library and Florida Center for Cartographic Education is the only cartographic center in the southeastern United States and is one of only 14 cartographic centers in the country.”
The Touchton Map Library holds approximately 8,000 maps, charts, atlases and other cartographic materials. All of it focuses on Florida.
Kite-Powell said, “Because of Florida’s unique geographical location and its very long political and military history, the collection includes hundreds of maps of the Caribbean and the southeastern United States. The Touchton Map Library encourages research within the collection and hosts two temporary exhibitions each year. Those exhibitions are held within the Saunders Foundation Gallery.”
Kite-Powell added, “The exhibit showcases the important and interesting history of Key West and the Florida Keys. Key West, in particular, was the most strategic and economically important city in Florida in the latter half of the 19th century. Its isolation and the lack of a reliable and continuous source of fresh water hampered its continued growth and development, and the island city was eventually eclipsed by other coastal cities, particularly Tampa. Shifting to tourism, the Keys and Key West became a playground for Floridians and Americans in general, and today it is one of the largest tourist destinations in the country.”
The Tampa Bay History Center is located at 801 Water St. in downtown Tampa. For more information, please visit www.tampabayhistorycenter.org.