The towns that sprung up in St. Augustine’s wake have something to say about the fascinating story of the Americas, with even the town names – from Santa Fe to Cheyenne – speaking volumes about the part each one played in the making of a super-power.
We decided to delve deeper by creating our own illustrated list of the American towns that have been lived in the longest.
In the spirit of our guide to the oldest building in every state, we’ve put each state’s oldest town into a temporal context by animating the settlements in the order that they appeared. Are you ready to go on a journey through time?
1. St. Augustine, Florida (1565)
Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles established the States’ first permanent settlement when he landed on the Florida coast on September 8, 1565. He planted the Spanish flag and named the fledgling town after the patron saint of brewers – he probably needed a drink after that historic journey.
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico (1607)
Upon settling in the area that would become Santa Fe in 1607, Spanish soldiers and Franciscan missionaries set about converting and ruling over the local Pueblo Indians. The Pueblos revolted in 1670, burning every building except the Palace of the Governors, and held the area until 1692.
3. Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620)
The pilgrims, religious dissenters from England, set sail for America on September 16, 1620, on the promise of a private plantation in Virginia. Poor conditions at sea led them to wash up considerably north of their intended destination; only half the settlers survived the first winter, but come harvest time a year later they were upbeat enough to establish and celebrate the first Thanksgiving Day.
4. Kittery, Maine (1623)
Once known in the Algonquin dialect as Amiciskeag – meaning “fishing point” – Kittery took its new name from the English family home of an early settler, Alexander Shapleigh. English and French colonists and Native Americans would later fight fierce battles over control of this and the surrounding land.
5. Dover, New Hampshire (1623)
Before becoming part of the United States, Dover was known as Northam and passed between various colonial authorities while settlers argued about how the colonies would be run (including the idea of a hereditary aristocracy). The town proved to be perfectly placed to weather the centuries, thriving by turns on water power, cotton, bricks and shoe manufacturing.
6. Albany, New York (1624)
Previously home to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Native Americans, the area that Albany now sits on was established as a settlement by Henry Hudson as he searched for a water route to the Far East. In addition to being New York’s capital and oldest city, Albany is the site of the first perforated toilet paper.
7. Lewes, Delaware (1631)
Lewes, the oldest town of America’s first state, is another area stumbled upon by Henry Hudson and colonized on behalf of his Dutch sponsors. Many older buildings have been preserved so visitors can still get the feel of the 17th century today.
8. Williamsburg, Virginia (1633)
The first settlement in Virginia and the whole of the States was, of course, Jamestown in 1607. But after a fire started by a condemned prisoner in 1698, the government moved to Middle Plantation, which they renamed Williamsburg after the king of England. Although it remained inhabited, Jamestown was no longer populous enough to be considered a town, and today it is a national park.
9. Windsor, Connecticut (1633)
Colonists bought this land from the resident Native Americans and established it as a trading post, originally where the Farmington and Connecticut Rivers meet. It was named after the town on the River Thames where Windsor Castle stands.
10. Green Bay, Wisconsin (1634)
French explorer Jean Nicolet named ‘La Baye Vert’ for the color of the water when he landed there in 1634. The name was anglicized when the British took control of the area after the French and Indian War of 1754–63.
11. Providence, Rhode Island (1636)
It was a ‘renegade preacher’ on the run from religious persecution in Massachusetts who founded Providence, naming it in gratitude for his safety. He bought the land from the Narragansett Indians, and it flourished due to the seaport’s position in relation to the burgeoning New World.
12. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (1641)
Michigan’s oldest town traces its name to its establishment by French missionary Jacques Marquette in 1668; Europeans had been settled on that land for over a quarter of century by that point. The town would grow to be commonly known in English as “The Soo,” which is more or less how to pronounce the French word “Sault.”
13. Annapolis, Maryland (1649)
The “Athens of America,” Annapolis was a booming social and cultural hotspot from its beginnings as a settler capital. It even has a European-style street layout rather than a grid, in deference to the English Queen Anne for whom the city is named.
14. Jersey City, New Jersey (1660)
Delaware Indians have lived in this area for at least 10,000 years, but Dutch, Swedish and Finnish colonists arrived in the 17th century when Henry Hudson claimed it as ‘New Netherlands.’ Jersey City sprouted from the first village around Bergen Square.
15. Charleston, South Carolina (1670)
Charleston is a veritable hotbed of American history, regardless of its being South Carolina’s oldest town: it’s where the first ‘official’ shot of the civil war was fired, the first successful submarine attack happened, she-crab soup was invented, and America’s first golf course, museum and playhouse were sited.
16. Peoria, Illinois (1680)
The Peoria Indians were one of five Illinois tribes who lived in this area long before the immigrants came. French colonists and Native Americans lived in settlements around the lake until 1812, when U.S. troops burned much of the village and moved the French to other areas.
17. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1681)
Philadelphia was a Quaker town, founded by William Penn when King Charles II gave him the province of Pennsylvania – the “brotherly love” reflecting Penn’s ideals. Religious tolerance and a democratic approach soon gave the city a good name, and numbers swelled to make it one of the most important cities in the land.
18. Mobile, Alabama (1702)
The first capital of French Louisiana, Mobile even had its own language for the first century or so – a trading language between the French and Native Americans, known as Mobile Jargon. Along the way, the town passed through French, English and Spanish control as a result of local and remote wars.
19. Bath, North Carolina (1705)
French Protestants settled here from Virginia, lured by access to the river and, by extension, the Atlantic just 50 miles away. However, this early promise soon turned sour as proximity to the sea meant trouble with pirates. Additionally, the Tuscarora Indians – who suffered enslavement and disease at the hands of their invaders – waged a four-year war with the Europeans, bringing terrible bloodshed to the town before Bath was even ten years old.
20. Natchitoches, Louisiana (1714)
Natchitoches was built just four years ahead of nearby New Orleans, so it is no surprise that parts of the respective towns closely resemble each other. It began as a mere outpost from which the French could keep an eye on challenges to their territory along the Red River.
21. Natchez, Mississippi (1716)
The oldest city on the Mississippi River was founded by the French in 1716 and later ceded to the Spanish. Sadly, the fortunes of Natchez are founded on its status us a slave-trading hub serving the nearby cotton and sugarcane empires.
22. Vincennes, Indiana (1732)
Vincennes was established by Francois Marie Bissot–Sieur de Vincennes to protect the thriving local fur trade from the British. Along the way, the town became home to Indiana’s first bank, first Presbyterian and Catholic churches, first newspaper and first Masonic Lodge.
23. Savannah, Georgia (1733)
Most of the towns that emerged before Savannah were informal developments of forts or chance settlements, but Georgia’s oldest town was purposely designed as a founding stone of the state. It became known as ‘America’s first planned city’ for its meticulous grid of streets, buildings, parks and meeting places.
24. Westminster, Vermont (1734)
So fundamental was Westminster to Vermont that it first appeared in records as ‘Township No. 1.’ However, the town has flipped between various counties over the years due to its position on Connecticut River and in Cumberland County.
25. St. Genevieve, Missouri (1735)
The original settlement of Sainte Genevieve was, with some foresight, named Le Vieux (“the Old”) Village, but its precise location shifted slightly after flooding in 1835. Floods again threatened the historic center in 1993 and 1995, but improvised levees were constructed and most of the older buildings were saved.
26. Fort Pierre, South Dakota (1743)
Fort Pierre became a thriving fur trade town soon after its establishment, with one 1880 visitor describing its population as “. . . a strange mixture of Americans, English, Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, Russians, Poles, French, Canadians, half-breeds, Indians and what not… Protestants, Catholics, Spiritualists, Moralists, Liberals, Freelovers, Ingersolites, Nothing-arins, and how many others I do not know… Nearly all the people were in hot and eager pursuit after the almighty dollar!”
27. Shepherdstown, West Virginia (1762)
Thomas Shepherd took a land grant for a patch by the Potomac River in 1734 and, in the years leading to the town’s official establishment, the settlement there took wonderful Wild West names such as Pack Horse Ford and Swearingen’s Ferry. It later became Shepherd’s Town and, after the civil war, Shepherdstown.
28. San Diego, California (1769)
For thousands of years, this area belonged to San Dieguito and Diegueño Indians. Although the Spanish claimed the area in the mid-16th century, it wasn’t until two centuries later that missionaries arrived and the Old Town became the first Spanish settlement on the West Coast.
29. Harrodsburg, Kentucky (1774)
The explorer and soldier James Harrod took 30 men to the area near the Salt and Kentucky Rivers in 1774 and divided the land between them. Today, it has become a quaint little old town with a population of not much over 8,000 people; both the living areas and the preserved historical spots retain that frontier look.
30. Tucson, Arizona (1775)
‘El Presidio San Agustin del Tucson’ was founded as a walled fort by Hugo O’Conor in 1775, although Native Americans lived in the area for more than twelve millennia beforehand. Missionary work intended to convert and subdue the locals often led to rebellions by tribes such as the Pima Indians in 1751.
31. Jonesborough, Tennessee (1779)
Jonesborough was formed 17 years before Tennessee became a state – it was under the control of North Carolina at the time and briefly became the capital of the unofficial 14th ‘State of Franklin’ along the way. Today, many historical buildings are still in use, making it a town of ‘living’ history.
32. Nacogdoches, Texas (1779)
Time hasn’t stood still in Nacogdoches. Previously occupied by Caddo Indians, the area has passed beneath nine different flags since the Spanish missions arrived – three more than the rest of Texas: Spanish, French, Gutierrez-Magee Rebellion, Dr. James Long Expedition, Mexican, Fredonian Rebellion, Lone Star, Confederate Stars & Bars and the United States.
33. Marietta, Ohio (1788)
The “Adventure Galley” landed at the joining of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers on April 7, 1788, where General Rufus Putnam and 47 pioneers established the first permanent colony northwest of the Ohio River.
34. Georgetown, Arkansas (1789)
Just 126 people live in Georgetown today – keeping it alive as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Arkansas. And no, they are not all called George. George was the surname of three men who bought and redeveloped the town some decades after it was founded.
35. Kodiak, Alaska (1792)
The first capital of Russian Alaska, Kodiak was established by Russian fur hunters and traders keen to exploit the North Sea otter. Today, the city is one of the largest fishing ports in the US.
36. Pembina, North Dakota (1797)
Pembina was first inhabited by Chippewa Indians. When the French began to arrive in the late 18th century they intermarried with the Native Americans, forming a Métis (mixed-blood) community. But it wasn’t until 1797 that Charles Baptiste Chaboillez established a trading post here and the settlement began to grow.
37. Astoria, Oregon (1811)
Astoria is named after America’s first millionaire, John Jacob Astor, who founded the town as a fur trading post. Of course, today it is most celebrated as the shooting location of 1980s classic The Goonies.
38. Hilo, Hawaii (1822)
Polynesians first arrived in Hilo nearly a thousand years ago, but it wasn’t until 1822 that Christian missionaries and European whalers and traders would appear.
39. Bellevue, Nebraska (1822)
Bellevue – “beautiful view” – was relocated to cliffs over the Missouri River in 1835, where it thrived as a fur trading point between colonists and the local Omaha, Otoe, Missouri and Pawnee tribes.
40. Fort Gibson, Oklahoma (1824)
Original 19th century buildings still dot Fort Gibson, which grew from the settlement of military families, local Native Americans, and freed slaves. The fort had originally been established to protect both European and migrating Cherokee settlers from indigenous tribes such as the Osage Nation.
41. Wabasha, Minnesota (1826)
Before 1826, the area that became Wabasha was occupied by the Sioux. The nephew of Chief Wa-pa-shaw set up a trading place, and the town took his uncle’s name – becoming officially established in 1830, four years later.
42. Leavenworth, Kansas (1827)
Fort Leavenworth was established to protect the fur and other trades in 1827, but the settlement’s position meant that a great deal of traffic would come through on its way west. As such, the city of Leavenworth was established in 1854 and quickly boomed – despite regional uprisings by local and forcibly relocated Native Americans whose land treaties were trashed as whites expanded into the area.
43. Dubuque, Iowa (1837)
Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian fur trader, arrived in the region in 1785, and formed close friendships with the local Mesquakie Indians, who revealed to him the location of valuable lead deposits nearby. After Dubuque’s death, the government opened up the area for settlement. The city named Dubuque was established in 1837 as immigrants from the east coast rushed to take advantage of the land’s resources.
44. Stevensville, Montana (1841)
Jesuit missionaries formed St. Mary’s Mission at the site that would become Stevensville, on the request of representatives of the Salish tribe – who wished to learn about European methods of agriculture and medicine and the Jesuit’s unique religious ways. White settlers would drive the Salish out of the area within half a century.
45. San Luis, Colorado (1851)
San Luis was established in 1851 by Hispano farmers on land that had previously been inhabited for thousands of years. With its Spanish town layout and adobe architecture, this small town of just a few hundred people retains its eclectic historical atmosphere today.
46. Genoa, Nevada (1851)
Separated from much of America by hostile traveling conditions – including bandits on the trail to Salt Lake City – Genoa developed almost in isolation after being established by Mormons. They formed a “squatter’s government,” divided the land and were bolstered by the occasional visitor who might choose to stay on a while. Today the town feels like a step back through time.
47. Ogden, Utah (1851)
The Great Salt Lake Fremont Indians occupied the area of Ogden for almost a thousand years from around 400 A.D., with the Northern Shoshone and Goshute tribes following in their wake. Established as a quiet Mormon town in the late 1840s, it would soon become a ‘junction city’ with the arrival of both the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific rails, and as the population swelled so did its reputation as a wild frontier town of chancers, gamblers, gunslingers and crooks.
48. Steilacoom, Washington (1854)
Having originally been settled by British sailors, for a brief period in the 1850s-60s the waterfront colony glistened with promise as a timber town serving San Francisco – and aspiring to rival it. The civil war and the superior ports of Seattle and Tacoma arrested the town’s development, and today it is a quiet residential community.
49. Franklin, Idaho (1860)
This Mormon town, named after an Apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was for some time believed to be in Utah, where it would not have been the oldest town. Thankfully, an 1872 survey revealed that Franklin was actually a mile within Idaho state lines.
50. Cheyenne, Wyoming (1867)
Nicknamed the “Magic City of the Plains” for the speed at which it flourished following the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad, Cheyenne took its proper name from an Algonquian tribe that had previously lived in the area.
The animation and images we’ve created help tell the tale of European settlers and the towns they founded. By watching the animation or reviewing the dates in the map below you can see how the routes that the settlers took influenced where the oldest towns are found.
Our researcher was tasked with finding the oldest known settlements in each state. We were looking for towns that still exist today and defined “town” to mean the oldest continually inhabited, independent area in each state.
We looked for towns that were chartered, founded, established, or incorporated, but we based our choices on when people arrived and created settlements rather than the date a town was officially designated.
In some cases, there is debate around which areas were settled first. In those cases, we conducted additional research and made a decision based on the most trusted sources that we could find.
For the full research behind this visualization visit http://bit.ly/OldestTowns
Babs is Lead Content Strategist and financial guru. She loves exploring fresh ways to save more and enjoy life on a budget! When she’s not writing, you’ll find her binge-watching musicals, reading in the (sporadic) Chicago sunshine and discovering great new places to eat. Accio, tacos!
St. Augustine, founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States – more commonly called the "Nation's Oldest City."Where are the oldest towns in the USA? ›
The oldest US city founded by settlers is St. Augustine, Florida. In the 1600s, Newport, Rhode Island, and Charleston, South Carolina, were founded. Meanwhile, Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Savannah, Georgia, were settled in the 1700s.What is the oldest town in the western United States? ›
1811. Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, due to its founding in 1811 by John Jacob Astor, the nation's first millionaire.What is the oldest living town? ›
According to research studies and historical evidence, Damascus was first inhabited in the second half of the seventh millennia B.C. It is the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and is a prominent cultural centre of the Arab world.What are the 5 oldest cities in the United States? ›
- St. Augustine, Florida (1565) ...
- Jamestown, Virginia (1607) ...
- Santa Fe, New Mexico (1607) ...
- Hampton, Virginia (1610) ...
- Kecoughtan, Virginia (1610) ...
- Newport News, Virginia (1613) ...
- Albany, New York (1614) ...
- Jersey City, New Jersey (1617)
The city of Jamestown is the second-oldest city in the U.S. and the site of the first permanent English colony in North America. It was founded on April 26, 1607, and briefly called James Fort after the English king. The settlement foundered in its first years and was briefly abandoned in 1610.Where is the oldest neighborhood in America? ›
Santa Fe Historic District
Founded in 1607, Santa Fe is America's oldest capital city and also houses the oldest public building in the country, the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors (which was originally the seat of government for the Spanish colony of Neuvo Mexico).
According to a common factoid, there's a community called Springfield in all 50 states, but the U.S. Board on Geographic Names says that's not true: only 34 states have a Springfield. The real champ is Riverside. Unless you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, or Oklahoma, there's at least one Riverside in your state.What is the oldest state in the United States? ›
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1. Taos Pueblo. The Tao Pueblo is an active Native American community that is situated at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. The rich oral history of the Tao expresses the longevity of the Tao people and scientific data dates the oldest buildings as being built between 1000 and 1450 AD.
Çatalhöyük is a city founded 9,000 years ago, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site is well-worth visiting to see the remains of an ancient (like, REALLY ancient) city.What is the third oldest town in America? ›
Santa Fe, New Mexico
However, the third oldest city is actually found much further west: in Santa Fe to be exact. Santa Fe was founded in 1610 by Governor Don Pedro de Peralta. This makes it just a few years older than the first English settlement in Virginia.
Located along the Saint Mary's River, the isolated city became the first European settlement in the Midwest.
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On September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted a new name for what had been called the "United Colonies.” The moniker United States of America has remained since then as a symbol of freedom and independence.What is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States? ›
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The earliest known city is Çatalhöyük, a settlement of some 10,000 people in southern Anatolia that existed from approximately 7400 BCE to 5200 BCE. Hunting, agriculture and animal domestication all played a role in the society of Çatalhöyük.What is the youngest town in America? ›
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Dating all the way back to 11th century BC, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on the River Ganges, and many come to its banks to perform funeral rites, as it is believed those who die here will be granted eternal life.
Levittown in Long Island, New York, is widely recognized as the first modern American suburb. Levitt and Sons, a construction company, purchased a 7-square-mile plot of potato and onion farms in Long Island in 1947.What is the oldest residential street in America? ›
A National Historic Landmark since Oct 15, 1966, Elfreth's Alley is the nation's oldest residential street, with structures built between 1720 and 1830, according to the historic marker designated in 2016. Elfreth's Alley is tucked in between Second Street and the Delaware River, a short distance from Penn's Landing.Where is the oldest residential street in America? ›
Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, enjoys the distinction of being the oldest continuously-inhabited residential street in America. The first homes were built in 1720. House 137 was built by Josiah Elfreth (the grandson of the street's namesake) in 1789.What is the only letter not in a state name? ›
Letter Q is the only letter not used in the US state names. The answer is "Q".What is one city every state has? ›
The name "Springfield" is often thought to be the only community name appearing in each of the 50 states, but at last count it was in only 34 states.What's the most popular street name in America? ›
Overall, researchers say these are the top 10 most common street names in the U.S.:
- Main Street.
- 2nd Street.
- 3rd Street.
- 4th Street.
- 5th Street.
- 6th Street.
- 7th Street.
- 1st Street.
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The Saltford Manor is a stone house in Saltford, Somerset, near Bath, that is thought to be the oldest continuously occupied private house in England, and has been designated as a Grade II* listed building.What town has the most old houses? ›
Founded by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565, St. Augustine ranks number one as the city with the most historical homes – 11,231 registered homes per capita, to be exact. A massive 22% of all homes in St.
Cave houses of Sassi di Matera, Basilicata, Italy
Archaeological evidence shows people lived in the grottoes as far back as 7000 BC.
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An international team of researchers have provided new insight into the burial rituals of Çatalhöyük, considered the “oldest city in the world”. Çatalhöyük is an ancient proto city from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, located on the edge of the Konya Plain near the present-day city of Konya in Turkey.What was the last town founded in America? ›
Jurupa Valley, California - Wikipedia
was 43.5 square miles and, originally, home to approximately 88,000. Jurupa Valley officially became the youngest city in the United States on July 1, 2011.
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Old Town San Diego is the city's oldest settled area and the site of the first European settlement in California. Founded in 1769, it's considered the birthplace of modern-day California and includes many well-preserved historic buildings and museums.Is Paris older than London? ›
Both used to be part of the Roman Empire. Paris is older than London. A Gallic tribe known as the Parisii established what would later be called Paris around 250 BC, while the Romans established London in 50 AD.What is the oldest town in California? ›
San Jose. Technically, the pueblo of San Jose was established as the state's first known civic settlement by Spanish founder José Joaquin Moraga in November 1777, according to Brittanica.Is Kodiak the oldest town in Alaska? ›
Sitka is the oldest city in Alaska, which makes it no big surprise that it was the original capital. Some studies suggest that the city is at least 10,000 years old. Russians settled Sitka in 1799.Which US city has the most history? ›
Augustine is one of the most historic cities in the US. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the nation. A tour of the Castillo de San Marcos is a must.
De Vargas Street House.
|Designated CP||November 24, 1968|
The earliest known city is Çatalhöyük, a settlement of some 10,000 people in southern Anatolia that existed from approximately 7400 BCE to 5200 BCE. Hunting, agriculture and animal domestication all played a role in the society of Çatalhöyük.What does Kodiak mean in Russian? ›
Alaskan island, from Russian Kadiak, from Alutiiq (Eskimo) qikertaq "island."Can you see Russia from Kodiak Alaska? ›
Yes, You Can Actually See Russia from Alaska.Does anybody live on Kodiak Island? ›
Kodiak Island Borough
Total population including the six villages of Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Larsen Bay, Karluk, Old Harbor and Akhiok is approximately 13,000 with the majority of those residents living in and around the city of Kodiak and its road system.
|Rank||State||Population Ages 65+ (percent of state population)|
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In Dover, Delaware, the U.S. Constitution is unanimously ratified by all 30 delegates to the Delaware Constitutional Convention, making Delaware the first state of the modern United States.