“Old” is kind of a relative term. This both applies to
children who refer to people in their 20s as “old” and to
Americans who refer to anything built before World War II as
“old.” Our country is pretty young, by global standards, but
even though we may not have been around for millennia, every state
has at least one city that’s been around for over 150 years.
That lends itself to some pretty fascinating history, so the
folks at Netcredit
did some digging and found the oldest city in each state. For these
purposes, we mean oldest in terms of European settlement, as we
Native Americans have been living in these places for far
longer. But all that, and a little bit about how each place was
founded and developed, makes for an educational and entertaining
look at some of the oldest cities in the United States.
Few people know this port city that joins the Mobile River to
the Gulf of Mexico dates back nearly 75 years prior to the founding
of the United States. But in its day, it was second only to
New Orleans as a major regional port and was once home to the
same cast of characters that make the Big Easy so interesting.
Mobile even had its own dialect called Mobile Jargon, a sort of
patios of French and Native American languages.
You think living on an island in the middle of the Gulf of
Alaska is hard now? Try in the 18th century when stuff like
“waterproof jackets” and “heat” weren’t really a thing.
This was when Russian fur trappers established a settlement on the
island of Kadiak (Inuit for “island’), which had seen Inuit
habitation for nearly 8,000 years. It was the capital of Russian
Alaska, then later was incorporated as a US city in 1940. Sea
otter furs have been replaced by commercial fishing, and the city
is now one of the most valuable fishing ports in America.
Though the city was officially established on August 20, 1775,
Native American tribes had been living in the area for thousands of
years before Spanish missionaries arrived, making Tucson one of the
oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America. In the 1600s,
the Presidio San Agustin de Tucson and the Mission San Xavier del
Bac were established, beginning European occupation. It became part
of the United States in 1854 and was a Wild West outpost well into
the 19th century.
The oldest continuously inhabited settlement in
Arkansas traces its roots back to 1789, when Francis Francure
arrived on the banks of the White River with a 1,361-acre land
grant from the Spanish crown. It was known as Francure Township
until 1909 when three men — all named George — bought and
redeveloped the land. It resulted in a venerable population
explosion and the newly named Georgetown now boasts 124 people.
California: San Diego
The native peoples known as the San Dieguito occupied this area
as early ay 9000 BC, but it was in 1542 that Spanish explorer Juan
Rodriquez Cabrillo first set foot here. In the 1700s, Spain
reluctantly colonized the area, using
San Diego as a midpoint between the southern tip of
Baja California and
Monterey Bay. In 1769, Junipero Serra founded the first of his
21 missions here — San Diego de Alcala — but it wasn’t until
1847 that it became part of the United States after the
The oldest city in the first state was discovered by Henry
Hudson on a voyage up the Delaware River in 1609. Nearly 22 years
passed before the Dutch settled the area, and a year later the
settlement was wiped out by a tribe of Lenni Lenape Indians in a
dispute over a stolen coat of arms. The town roared back in 1658
then welcomed a Mennonite colony in 1663. That was destroyed by the
English, who subsequently established the town of Whorekill.
Knowing that name might someday have a slightly serial-killer-y
connotation, the name was changed to Lewes in 1664, and the town
still boasts buildings that date back to the seventeenth
Florida: St. Augustine
Anyone who’s played three weeks of bar trivia knows this city
Florida is the oldest in the US. Unexpected, in a state best
known for rampant condominiums, but a fun trivia question all the
same. The settlement was originally founded by Don Pedro Menéndez
de Avilés, and save for about 20 years of English rule, it was a
Spanish holding until the US took over in 1821. It was heavily
attacked for its strategic importance by the French, English, and
native tribes, which is why it’s also home to the Castillo de San
Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the contiguous United
It wasn’t until the railroads came in that
Atlanta saw its rise and became the most important city in
Georgia. Before that, this port city along the Savannah River
was king, settled by General James “Ogie” Oglethorpe and 120
others when they landed on a bluff over the river. It was the first
city in the new colony of Georgia, and the first planned city in
America with a meticulous system of grids and squares that exists
to this day.
Those who haven’t ventured to the northeast side of the Big
Island will be surprised to find a downtown full of buildings that
date back over 100 years and homes from the 19th century.
Polynesian natives have been here since about 1100, but the
missionaries who arrived in 1822 were the first European settlers.
They were followed by whaling and trade ships who used Hilo as the
major port to the islands. And later by tourists who came to see
the island’s active volcanoes, who still arrive
by the boatload today.
Interestingly, the oldest town in
Idaho was thought to actually be part of
Utah until 1872, when a land survey found it to be squarely
within Gem State lines. The small settlement of Mormon pioneers
along the Cub River was an agricultural community at the time, then
later a launching point for carriages on their way to Yellowstone
National Park. Visiting today, you can still find original stone
buildings like Relic Hall, the ZCMI Stone, and the Hatch House. Its
population at the last census was 643.
According to archeological finds, human habitation here dates
back as far as 10,000 BC, and the Illini Indians had settlements as
late as 1650. In 1763, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet
explored the area, and in 1680, Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle
and Henri de Tonti constructed Fort Crevecoeur on the east bank of
the Illinois River. It was largely under French control until the
War of 1812, when the village was burned by American forces and the
French inhabitants were taken prisoner and moved. In 1845, Peoria
was officially incorporated as an American city.
Originally founded as a military outpost to protect the French
fur trade along the Wabash River, Vincennes was actually the
original capital of the
Indiana Territory when it was established in 1800. It is also
the home of Indiana’s first Catholic church, newspaper, Masonic
lodge, Presbyterian church, bank, and medical office.
One of the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi, Dubuque
was originally settled by French-Canadian fur trader Julien
Dubuque. He made a liaison with the local Mesquakie tribes, who
showed him where massive lead deposits sat nearby. Together they
mined the area known as the Mines of Spain until Dubuque died in
1810. The US government then opened the area to settlement, and it
officially became the city of Dubuque in 1837.
Fort Leavenworth was established along the Missouri River in
1827 to protect the local fur trade and other commercial interests
Santa Fe trail. It’s still the oldest Army post west of the
Mississippi and has had an illustrious history as everything from
the base of operations for wars against natives to the home of the
black regiments who became known as “Buffalo Soldiers.”
This town near the Salt and Kentucky rivers isn’t just the
oldest town in the Bluegrass State — it’s also the oldest
English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was once a
crucial conduit between settlements in the East and West and still
maintains a downtown with buildings from the late 19th century.
This area was originally settled along the banks of the Red
River by a native tribe of the same name. The French first
colonized it for Europeans in 1714 as an outpost for watching its
nearby holdings, but eventually the river changed course and the
city now sits on what’s known as Cane River Lake. The 33-block
downtown is still choc-full of historic homes, many of which have
similar architecture to what you’d find in nearby New
What began as a pastoral town for English settlers from
Kingswear became one of the most important cities for the US Navy
during its early years. Many warships used during the Revolutionary
War were built here, and in 1800, it opened the Portsmouth Naval
Shipyard, the oldest continuously operating Navy yard in America.
Many of the submarines used to win World War II were also built in
Kittery, and it continues to produce nuclear subs today.
The recreational sailing capital of the world was originally
founded in 1649 by Puritans who’d been kicked out of
Virginia. It went through a series of names before landing on
Annapolis to honor Queen Anne in 1694. The city was home to the
Annapolis Convention, generally considered the precursor to the
Constitutional Convention, in 1786, and was selected as the site
for the US Naval Academy the following year.
If you know the story of Thanksgiving, you know all about
Plymouth Rock and the pilgrims who first landed there. What many
don’t know is they were originally aiming much further south to
Virginia, where they’d acquired plantation land. Bad weather
forced a landing in far-less-hospitable
Massachusetts, and nearly half the already malnourished
settlers didn’t survive the first winter. Today it’s a city of
over 58,000, and you can visit the allegedly famous “rock” at
Memorial State Park.
Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie
“The Soo,” as it’s known, was initially settled by natives
along the St. Mary’s river, as the abundance of fish traveling
between Lake Superior and Lake Huron made it prime fishing
territory. In the 1600s, French explorers came to the area, and in
1668, missionary Jacques Marquette named it Sault Ste. Marie after
the Virgin Mary. Over the next 150 years the British and French
fought over the strategically crucial outpost until it was finally
turned over to US control in 1820.
Mostly inhabited by the Sioux prior to 1820, this town in the
Mississippi River Valley began to explode with settlers in the
mid-19th century. Farmers, lumberman, and river traders were among
its earliest inhabitants, and later it became an important city for
clamming. It retains much of its old river town charm and may have
inspired the setting for Grumpy Old Men as the film’s writer had
a grandfather who lived here.
old plantation homes and thick southern charm of this city on
the bluffs above the Mississippi are mostly from its heyday as a
slave trade post in the 19th century. But the city itself was
founded by the French over 100 years earlier, as Ft. Rosalie by
Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. It was later renamed Natchez
— after the local natives who sacked the fort in 1729 — and
stood under English then Spanish control until the US made it the
capital of the
Mississippi Territory in 1798.
Missouri: St. Genevieve
The French originally settled this area to exploit the nearby
salt springs in Saline Creek. As agricultural needs became larger,
St. Genevieve became a rich growing area with deposits from the
Mississippi River. The town moved locations in 1785 after massive
flooding, now standing at a higher elevation than its original
riverside locale. It was again threatened in the early 1990s, but
during both the floods of 1993 and 1995, emergency levees saved the
city’s historic structures.
Stevensville was once the big open lands of the Bitterroot
Valley, where the Salish tribe lived for centuries and ultimately
helped Lewis and Clark find trails to take them further west. The
Salish learned of Jesuit missionaries who could teach them skills
like farming and medicine, and invited them to come settle in the
early 19th century. The Jesuits established a mission here in 1841,
and as other settlers followed, the Salish abandoned the area. It
fell into relative disrepair until after the Civil War, when it
became the Fort Owen trading post, a hub of expansion during the
era of western migration.
Named “beautiful view” for its clifftop vistas over the
Missouri River, Bellevue was, like many Midwestern river cities, a
fur trading post initially settled by the French. It later became
the site of Ft. Crook thanks to the availability of large swaths of
land, then later evolved into Offutt Air Force Base. The base is
home to the Martin Bomber Plant, who most notably manufactured the
Enola Gay and Bockscar. AKA the planes that dropped atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As the Mormons moved west from
New York in the middle part of the 19th century, a group of
them opted to settle in the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada,
Lake Tahoe. The area became known as Mormon Station, and the
Overland Emigrant Trail ran right through what is Main Street in
downtown Genoa. Today, it’s a full-blown Old West theme town with
buildings dating back to near its original founding.
New Hampshire: Dover
Dover isn’t just the oldest settlement in
New Hampshire — it was initially its own separate colony
called Northam until joining the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692.
The town between the Cocheco and Bellamy Rivers used the waters to
fuel its economy, first by powering a sawmill in 1642, then
developing a shipbuilding industry in the 18th century. Dover
evolved into a brick-manufacturing town in the 1900s, and today, at
just over 29,000 residents, it’s the fourth-largest city in the
New Jersey: Jersey City
Though most people wouldn’t associate the word
“historical” with this city just across the Hudson from
NYC, it was, in fact, the first European settlement in the area
that is now
New Jersey. Delaware Indians had been there for centuries, but
Henry Hudson happened upon it in 1609, and Dutch fur trappers
settled there in 1618. It grew to become a major center for both
transportation and communications and now boasts some of the
views of the Manhattan skyline.
New Mexico: Santa Fe
Even trivia buffs are often unaware that the second-oldest city
in America is the adobe-and-art gem of Santa Fe. Originally settled
by Fanciscan missionaries, the town is home to the oldest church
building in America at the San Miguel Churchf. Ultimately,
the local Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish, burning
nearly everything to the ground save for the still-standing
Palace of the
Governors. Once the capital of the vast Spanish empire in the
Southwest, it’s still the state capital of New Mexico and a
highly underrated spot for late-season skiing.
New York: Albany
Enjoy tearing off that toilet paper with a conveniently
perforated edge? Thank the city of Albany, whose favorite son Seth
Wheeler patented the toilet paper roll in 1871. That fun fact
aside, the Empire State capital is also the oldest city in the
state, founded as Henry Hudson looked for a waterway to the..
Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
Oldest city in every state in the US