The Tampa Bay History Center is Charting a Course for the Future

Thanks to the ongoing support of the Tampa Bay community, the History Center is growing. Since opening our new facility in 2009, we have offered dozens of temporary exhibits and hundreds of programs for adults, children, and families. When it came time to expand our permanent exhibit offerings, you spoke, we listened.

Opening in 2018,

An 8,500-square- foot expansion will include the all-new Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks gallery and the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education, expanding the History Center’s exhibition space by almost one-third its current size.


Though often identified in text books as “Spanish,” the individuals who journeyed to the New World came from a wide variety of countries and had diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. While many were from Spain or sailed under the Spanish flag, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, North African, French, German, Dutch and English sailors and explorers ventured across the Atlantic Ocean in search of fame and fortune. After crossing the Atlantic, Hernando de Soto set sail from Cuba bound for La Florida on the 18th of May 1539. His 570-person crew, consisting of soldiers, priests and women, along with livestock such as pigs and horses, mad landfall in the Tampa Bay area on May 25th.


The image of swashbuckling pirates is as popular today as it was more than 100 years ago when the stereotype was created. The real picture is more complicated than most would suspect. They were often seen as a dirty, bloodthirsty group of criminals that scoured the sea, but they also understood the importance of democracy and equality among their crew members. They were at times employed by governments like the Spanish and French, to disrupt enemy shipping routes and at other times left to their own devices. The numerous bays, inlets and islands around Florida and the Caribbean were their homes, where they could hide from the world’s navies.


During the Age of Sail, there was only one way to travel across the oceans – by ship. The Spanish had dominion over vast territories that produced immense wealth in the form of gold and silver. The relatively uncharted Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, along with the unknown nature of weather systems – particularly hurricanes – and the ever-present threat of pirates, made sailing around Florida very dangerous. Hundreds of ships, some laden with treasure, sank along the Florida coast and in the Caribbean. Recovery efforts started almost immediately and continue to this day – centuries after the ship went to the bottom of the sea.

The History Center’s expansion includes the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education, in partnership with the University of South Florida. The Touchton Map Library will be home to more than 6,000 original maps, charts and other documents dating back to the discovery of the New World. The Map Library’s partnership with USF will provide access to thousands of maps housed at USF LibrariesThe Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education will be the only cartographic center in the Southeastern United States, one of only nine in the U.S.

Map Gallery

The collection includes thousands of maps and documents spanning five centuries. Here are a few examples.

Meet the people behind the expansion

Meet the Team

The Expansion

  • Construction is scheduled to begin in January, with completion scheduled for Spring 2018
  • Will add 8,500 square feet on TBHC’s third floor, increasing gallery space by one-third
  • New “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery will tell the story of the “Age of Discovery,” roughly the 16th century through the early 18th century
  • Includes the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education (TML/FCCE), in partnership with USF. See a list of other map libraries and cartographic centers here.
  • (TML/FCCE) will be the only cartographic research center in the Southeastern U.S., one of only 9 in the nation, and will house more than 6,000 maps and documents dating back to 1493.
  • TBHC has raised more than half of an $11 million fundraising effort

Other funding for the History Center comes from earned revenue such as admission tickets and memberships; private donations from members of our community; the City of Tampa; Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners; and the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

Quick Facts – Tampa Bay History Center

  • Opened in 2009, the Tampa Bay History Center tells the stories of the Tampa Bay area and “historic” Hillsborough County.
  • Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums
  • Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums 
  • Smithsonian Affiliate
  • Visitation has increased steadily to more than 100,000 annual visitors, including 10,000+ students from bay-area schools
  • Southern “anchor” of the Tampa Riverwalk 

The History Center hosts dozens of programs and events throughout the year. Our Florida Conversations Lecture Series welcomes scholars and writers on Florida history and culture, while our History Adventure Camps offer a fun, educational experience for kids during the summer break. For a list of our upcoming programs and events, click here.