Mapping the Past

Naples author’s map book unveils more on the Florida Keys.

Antique maps are treasures in and of themselves. While the passage of time can change topography, maps illuminate the mysterious pasts of places we thought we knew. Naples marine engineer Todd Turrell unpacks the geographic legacy of one of the state’s most beloved destinations in his new coffee-table book, The Florida Keys: A History Through Maps (Island Map Publishing, $120).

A founding principal at the marine and environmental consulting firm Turrell, Hall, & Associates, Turrell has previously published two other books, Naples Waterfront: Changes in Time and A History of the Bahamas Through Maps. For his Keys tome, which was released in early March, he joined forces with professional map collector Brian Schmitt of Marathon and South Florida archaeologist Robert S. Carr.

In addition to historic photographs and artifacts, the book showcases a mix of modern and vintage maps, some of which have never been published for a wide audience and debunk the common view that Juan Ponce de León “discovered” Florida in 1513. There are six European-made maps known to pre-date de León’s landing, and this compendium features three, including ship pilot Juan de la Cosa’s 1500 map that is regarded as the earliest confirmed representation of the Americas. There’s also one of the Florida peninsula, created in 1502 and called the “Cantino Planisphere,” and Peter Martyr’s circa-1511 map of  the Keys archipelago, which was early on known as “Los Martires,” or “The Martyrs.” The latter is the first printed map devoted to the New World that depicts the lands north of the Bahamas and Cuba.

Another compelling inclusion is a 1778 French map that sheds light on the currents of the Gulf (or Gulph) Passage. Benjamin Franklin helped to publish this important document that aided French allies during the American Revolution. “Here’s an American patriot that did one of the first accurate maps of the Gulf Stream, yet it doesn’t exist in English,” Turrell says.

While the Keys as a vacation hot spot are now associated with spectacular diving, lobsters, Ernest Hemingway, and Duval Street, that hasn’t always been the case. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers called the chain’s southernmost island “Cayo Hueso,” or “Bone Key,” after being greeted by piles of bleached human skeletons—vestiges of the once-mighty Calusa—upon arrival.

With the goal of delving into the Keys’ multifaceted history and sharing little-known information, Turrell, Schmitt, and Carr charted the region’s geological formation and researched its first people, early settlers, shipwrecks, hurricanes, and modern development, exploring each mile marker along the journey. They also looked at the waterways and modes of transportation, such as the Gulf Stream, Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, and the Overseas Highway, that played a huge part in defining the Keys we know today. 

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