For history lovers, nothing beats the old-time charm and architectural wonder of America’s oldest towns.
These settlements are hundreds of years old, dating back before the founding of the United States in 1776.
Whether you’re looking for a quaint place to tour, planning a weekend getaway, or studying up on U.S. history, you’ll enjoy this glimpse into our nation’s past through four of the oldest towns in America.
Santa Fe, New Mexico (Then)
The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe was originally colonized by Spanish settlers in 1607. The United States gained possession through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, and the desert city now serves as the capital of New Mexico.
Santa Fe, New Mexico (Now)
Santa Fe remains famous for its Pueblo-style architecture, which is showcased in the San Miguel Mission and the entire Barrio de Analco Historic District. The area’s natural beauty has long attracted artists of all stripes, making it a multicultural creative hotbed. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road is a magical half-mile of over a hundred galleries, artist studios, clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants.
San Antonio, Texas (Then)
On June 13, 1691, Spanish missionaries named an area of south-central Texas for St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest and friar. San Antonio was officially settled 25 years later. Then, in 1836, Mexican troops initiated a 13-day siege at the Alamo Mission, and the settlers were brutally slaughtered. While San Antonio was further decimated by the Mexican-American War, it rebounded as the center of the cattle industry after the Civil War.
San Antonio, Texas (Now)
With a population of around 1.3 million people, San Antonio is now the second-largest city in Texas. Visitors flock to the Alamo historic site and the popular River Walk, which is lined with bars, shops, restaurants, and public art.
Charleston, South Carolina (Then)
Originally named Charles Town for England’s King Charles II, Charleston adopted its current moniker after the American Revolution. The first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston, but despite the ravages of war—not to mention a massive earthquake in 1886—the city still abounds with elegant antebellum houses.
Charleston, South Carolina (Now)
Today, cruise ships come and go from the Port of Charleston, and a harbor-deepening project is underway to advance business. Charleston’s downtown neighborhoods display a spectrum of classic Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian homes.
Newport, Rhode Island (Then)
Settled by a group of former Puritans, the harbor city of Newport became the center of the whaling industry by the mid-18th century. One hundred years later, America’s wealthiest families began building summer homes there. But while the rich came to Newport to escape the heat, the U.S. Navy was, and continues to be, a full-time presence, although the closing of a naval base in 1973 caused the local economy to plummet.
Newport, Rhode Island (Now)
Recent years have seen the construction of new malls, condos, and upscale hotels in downtown Newport. The town’s lovely beaches, mansions turned museums (including an Italian Renaissance home of the Vanderbilts and a Gothic Revival masterpiece called Kingscote), and events like the Newport Jazz Festival make it an ever-popular vacation destination.
History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.