DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Steve Harris' home is filled with models of ships.
Building models has been a hobby of the Dothan doctor since he was a kid. But Harris' attention to detail and extensive knowledge of early ships led to an opportunity to help Florida celebrate its history.
Harris was asked to build ship models of the vessels used by the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon as part of the Viva Florida 500 celebration marking the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's expedition to Florida in 1513. The models are currently on display in St. Augustine, Fla.
"Ponce de Leon, even though he discovered Florida, never made any kind of land exploration into Florida - he had intended to," said Harris, a doctor with ENTcare. "His first expedition was entirely by ship . but a few years later he came back thinking he was going to establish a colony."
The native Indians of Florida, however, attacked. Ponce de Leon was wounded and later died in Havana. But, the explorer's discovery led the way for other Spanish explorers - Hernando de Soto, Tristán de Luna y Arellano and Pánfilo de Narváez.
And the ships that brought them all across an ocean - and Columbus before them - have fascinated Harris for years.
"These early Spanish and Portuguese ships were important to the archeologists because they represented the ability now of Europe to go everywhere in the world and come back," Harris said.
Ponce de Leon sailed under the Spanish flag with three ships - the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, the Santiago and the San Cristobal. The Santa Maria de la Consolacion and the Santiago were bigger caravels while the San Cristobal was believed to be a smaller ship known as a bergantin. Harris also built a fourth model to show the hull frame of the Santiago.