America wasn’t built in a day, or by a single set of hands. So many incredible people, cultures, and experiences have helped to shape this country into the place it is today. From coast to coast, the country’s oldest towns stand as evidence of a vast array of amazing historical events and influences that still impact our lives today. Our historic cities are beautiful, interesting, and totally unique.
Note: this is NOT a list of the nation’s oldest towns, listed in chronological order. We’ve sought to highlight some well-known historic sites, as well as introduce you to a few lesser-known historic towns that deserve some attention.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
15. Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg got its start when French settlers built Fort Saint-Pierre in the area. Officially established in 1811, this town is best known for being the site of one of the largest battles in U.S. history. Today, visitors can explore Vicksburg National Military Park on a 16-mile tour that showcases the park's forts, batteries, attack sites, historic structures, the Vicksburg National Cemetery, and the U.S.S. Cairo Museum.
14. Idaho Springs, Colorado
Birthplace of Colorado's delectable Beau Jo's, Idaho Springs was also the site of the first significant gold discovery during the Colorado Gold Rush. Today, visitors can check out the Argo Gold Mine and Mill, which is a mammoth structure that was instrumental in extracting and processing gold found in the area.
13. Wethersfield, Connecticut
Established in 1634, Wethersfield is actually Connecticut's second-oldest town (the oldest is Windsor, established in 1633), but this town is home to three designated national historic landmarks. The town's motto is "Ye Most Auncient Towne in Connecticut", so you know it's serious about its history. The historic district, known as Old Wethersfield, is actually the largest such historic district in the state.
12. Eureka, California
This town's name is derived from a Greek word meaning "I have found it!" Optimistic gold rush miners flooded this area around 1856, and the town of Eureka sprang up from their hopeful hunt for riches. Filled with gorgeous antique architecture and picturesque, winding streets, Eureka is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland.
11. Bellevue, Idaho
Bellevue is Idaho's only remaining chartered city. It was established between 1880 and 1882, and quickly expanded due to the thriving local silver mining trade. It's proximity to the Wood River Valley corridor meant that it was a popular spot for trappers, traders and Native people traveling through the region. Today, Bellevue is a colorful community that takes great pride in its history.
10. Lincoln, Nebraska
Founded in 1856, Lincoln was originally known by the name of Lancaster. When the territorial legislature voted to move the state capital from Omaha to a city south of the Platte river and as far west as possible, Lancaster was chosen as the new capital. Seeking to prevent the switch, Omaha officials decided to change Lancaster's name to "Lincoln" before the final vote on the new capital was cast. As many of the people south of the Platte River were sympathetic to the Confederate side in the Civil War, Omaha officials hoped that they would not vote for a state capital that bore the name of former President Lincoln. They did not succeed in preventing the switch, and Lincoln remains the capital of Nebraska to this day.
9. Edgefield, South Carolina
Edgefield was established in 1785, and is one of South Carolina's hidden historical jewels. This old town is packed with monuments, traditional eateries, a bustling downtown shopping district and a thriving art scene. The story of Edgefield's "Devil in Petticoats," Becky Cotton, remains a popular folk tale in the town. The account goes that Cotton murdered several of her husbands for various reasons, and threw them into a murky section of the Beaverdam Creek, which is now known by the colorful name of "Becky's Hole."
8. Old Salem, North Carolina
Located in Winston-Salem, this town has an old-fashioned feel that is accentuated by the original 18th century architecture and vibrant celebration of Salem's Moravian history. Visitors can check out the town's living history museum where they can snack some Moravian cookies, admire the horse-drawn carriages and period dress, and be taught to make their own authentic candles.
7. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Early settlers of this area were drawn to legends of the healing properties of Basin Spring. In 1856, European explorers discovered the spring and the town of Eureka Springs promptly sprung up. The whole city of Eureka Springs is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town continues to be a place of pilgrimage for those looking for a little relaxation and sightseeing.
6. Plymouth, Massachusetts
Plymouth is the oldest town in New England. It's home to Plymouth Rock, the stone that supposedly saw the first steps of the Pilgrims in 1620. Today, the town is home to Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that features a full-scale recreation of the original Plymouth settlement, as well as a replica of a 17th-century Wampanoag homesite. Plymouth is also home to many beautiful beaches and delicious seafood dining spots.
5. Albany, New York
Albany is the oldest settlement in the United States north of Virginia. It was established in 1614 by Dutch colonists who constructed Fort Nassau-Fort Orange for fur trading. It's the oldest surviving town out of the 13 original British colonies, and many consider its town charter to be the longest-operating instrument of municipal government in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Albany is a center of technology development, and hosts the headquarters of many Fortune 500 companies. Besides all the history and commerce, Albany is also a truly beautiful urban locale.
4. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the country. Established in 1610 by Spanish colonists, the city's full name is actually La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís ("The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi"). The main building principle in Santa Fe was and remains that the town should be oriented around a central plaza. This means that the town is filled with radiating grid streets that flow away from the plaza containing the Palace of the Governors and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Santa Fe is definitely one of the most picturesque towns in New Mexico.
3. Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. While it's no longer a recognized town in its own right, Jamestown is one of the most recognized and romanticized historic towns in America. Established in 1607, it served as the capital of the colony of Virginia for 83 years. One of the most significant periods in the history of Jamestown is called the "Starving Time." After relations with the native Paspahegh people soured in the early 17th century – largely due to English colonists devastating the Paspahegh population through warfare – over 80% of the population of Jamestown died during the winters of 1609 and 1610. Some of the deaths were due to disease, but most were the result of starvation. Without the guidance and resources of the native people, the settlers were poorly equipped to handle the harsh Virginian winter. Today, visitors to Jamestown can visit Historic Jamestowne, which is the original site of the town, and Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum that brings the settlement's past to life.
2. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in America. Established by by Spanish admiral and Florida's first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, this city still retains much of its historical architecture and ambiance. It was actually the capital city of Florida before Tallahassee was established.
1. Acoma Pueblo (Sky City), New Mexico
The oldest continually occupied communities in the United States are Acoma Pueblo and Taos Pueblo. Acoma Pueblo is located about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, and was established around 1100 A.D. by the Pueblo people. Today, Acoma Pueblo is known as Sky City. The town is situated on a 365-square-foot mesa, a located that has contributed to its longevity. Though the invading Spanish settler burned most of the town in 1598, killing 600 people and enslaving 500 more, survivors would go on to rebuild the community. Today, their descendents still reside in Sky City.
Have you visited any of these amazing towns? Is one of them your hometown? Let us know!