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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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Treasured Maps Of Early Florida

TAMPA - Panfilo de Narvaez and some 400 conquistadors came to Florida looking for gold in the spring of 1528. Eight years later, four survivors arrived in Spanish Mexico. They were the remnants of the first European expedition into the interior of America. So the European experience in America began not at Jamestown or Plymouth Rock, but more than 75 years earlier at Boca Ciega Bay - near Tampa. When J. Thomas Touchton points that out, people ask him, "Why didn't I know that?"
"Because history is written by the victors," he explains. "And the English were the victors in America - not the Spanish." The story of Narvaez's brutal arrival - he lopped off the nose of the chief of the Tocobaga Indians and loosed his war dogs to kill the chief's mother - will be part of the Spanish exploration exhibit at the $52 million Tampa Bay History Center, which is scheduled to open in December in the Channel District. The Spanish era is but one of the fascinating facets of Tampa history illuminated by Touchton's historical maps. Touchton, president of the Witt-Touchton Co., an investment firm, has collected some 2,000 maps of Florida, from colonial Spain to early 20th century road maps. "Just by accident, I have put together over 25 years what dealers tell me is the largest collection of Florida maps in the world not in a museum or library," says Touchton, the history center's founding president who led the fundraising campaign to build and endow the new 60,000-square-foot facility. A prized possession is a 1622 edition of a 1601 Spanish map. "It's the first known printed map in history with the name 'Tampa' on it," he says. Over the next several years, Touchton will donate most of his collection to the history center. A number of unique items will be on display at the map center, which will have an adjacent map library so people can study them. The three-story history center has been under construction since September on the downtown waterfront near the St. Pete Times Forum. Workers are about to pour the third floor, and the roof should be completed by mid-May, says C.J. Roberts, the center's president and CEO. Check on the progress at tampabayhc.com. The preview center at 225 S. Franklin St. will close Monday so workers can stage the exhibits going into the new structure. The museum will rely on the power of storytelling to capture Tampa's past, says Roberts, who managed the planning and construction of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Exhibits will cover the Seminole and Civil wars; the arrival of the railroad; the vibrant culture spawned by the cigar industry, World War II and the postwar boom; the rise of the modern city; and more. The Narvaez expedition recently stepped ashore again, this time for a Virginia company shooting still pictures of re-enactors portraying conquistadors and Tocobaga Indians. The images, captured in Bradenton and Pinellas County, will be incorporated on-screen in what curator Rodney Kite-Powell describes as a "superlandscape" projection to help explain the Spanish era. The actor depicting Narvaez captured the explorer's expression of indifference and cruelty, Kite-Powell says: "He is phenomenal - how good he looks!" The real Narvaez and many of his men drowned during the expedition. Indian attacks, disease and starvation took most of the rest of the force. Visitors can get a sense of the world as the explorers knew it from Touchton's maps. His collection also sheds light on other eras. A map from about 1836 shows the middle section of the state during the Second Seminole War. Along a military road, which runs from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to Fort King (Ocala), the map marks the spot near Bushnell where in 1835 Seminoles led by Chief Micanopy ambushed Maj. Francis Dade's force of 108. Dade and all but three of his men were killed. The incident sparked the war. "To me, maps tell stories," says Touchton, explaining a fascination that began 25 years ago, when he bought his first old map of Florida during a visit to London. He likes to trace the progression of settlements - the corrections and adjustments - through a series of old maps of the same area. An 1840 map, for example, erroneously shows the Tampa Bay area still being part of Alachua County, as it was before 1834. The correction to Hillsborough County comes on an 1841 map. Some maps present mysteries. The earliest map Touchton has, created in 1513 by a German cartographer, depicts an area that looks like the Gulf of Mexico, showing Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula. But since Juan Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain that year, historians question whether Florida could have appeared so quickly on a map. "From the sublime to the ridiculous," Touchton says as he points out a 1961 plat map of the plans for sprawling Sun City Center. Another acquisition is a 1916 road map put out by the B.F. Goodrich Co., just three years after Henry Ford started mass-producing cars. And there's a colorful, illustrated map of Tampa from 1988 - ephemera, Touchton calls the category. "Put on the same table with the 1513 map, it doesn't fit," he says. "But it tells a story about this area." Reporter Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 259-7609 or [email protected]


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