Oldest Historic Town in Every State

March 19, 2018 by John Harrington

Source: Ken Lund / Flickr
In a country as young as the United States, being the oldest of anything can be a source of pride. Towns that claim their origins before the American Revolution, or even earlier, proudly tout that distinction on their websites or on roadside signs as you enter their town.
Whether the towns try to exploit their history for commercial reasons or just to raise their profile, being the oldest town in a particular state is a much-sought after, and sometimes debated, claim.

24/7 Wall St. has weighed in on the issue by creating a list of the oldest town in each state. We sought information from a variety of sources, including town websites and preservation societies to compile our list.

Most of America’s towns were started as trading posts that eventually received charters from monarchs of European nations. For each town, we listed the date when it was founded, established, chartered, or incorporated.

Click here to see the oldest town in each state.

In 30 states there are towns that claim their origins predate the Revolution. All but six of these states are east of the Mississippi River and owe their beginnings to settlers from England, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, and France. In 16 states, the oldest town was founded in the 17th century. Many of the towns west of the Mississippi began as forts by American frontiersmen. Some towns were established by French fur traders, while others had their origins as Spanish missions.

You’ve probably heard of the oldest towns on our list — Jamestown, Virginia; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and St. Augustine, Florida. However, American history could be upended by recent research that suggests that Pensacola, Florida, might predate St. Augustine as the oldest settlement in the United States by five years.
As old as many of these places are, it is important to remember that many of these towns, or the areas where they were established, had been settled and occupied by Native Americans long before European settlers arrived.

To find the oldest town in each state, 24/7 Wall St. weighed information from research materials such as online encyclopedias, websites of towns, and historical and preservation societies in each state. The oldest town was determined by when it was either chartered, founded, established, or incorporated. Not surprisingly, the distinction for a town as the oldest in each state in some instances was debatable, so we determined the oldest town by a consensus of findings from research material. In the case of West Virginia, where two towns were chartered on the same date, we included both on the list.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Alabama
> Oldest town: Mobile
> Year of first settlement: 1702

Mobile is the birthplace of baseball greats Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, Satchel Paige, and Ozzie Smith. During Mardi Gras, moonpies — a sweet sandwich confection of chocolate wafer and marshmallow center — are thrown to celebrants.

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Source: Christopher Michel / Wikimedia Commons

2. Alaska
> Oldest town: Sitka
> Year of first settlement: 1799

Sitka was a Russian fur trading post before the town and territory became part of the U.S. It also was the site where the Alaska Purchase — dubbed “Seward’s Folly” when America bought it for $7 million — was signed in 1867.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Arizona
> Oldest town: Tucson
> Year of first settlement: 1775

The number of roadside billboards had become such an eyesore in Tucson in the 1970s that it became the subject of an unflattering two-page photo story in Life magazine. As a result, the city passed a code in 1980 that limited the number of billboards.

Source: Davidiad / Wikimedia Commons

4. Arkansas
> Oldest town: Batesville
> Year of first settlement: 1819

Batesville, whose first settlers were French fur trappers, has had two previous names — Napoleon and Polk Bayou. Batesville is also known for its Mark Martin NASCAR Museum.

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Source: Thinkstock

5. California
> Oldest town: San Diego
> Year of first settlement: 1769

Spanish settlers had first visited the area that became San Diego in the early 17th century. They chose not to colonize the area because they believed that greater riches lay elsewhere. Spain eventually founded San Diego to check Russian fur traders were moving down the Pacific Coast. San Diego was the first of 21 Spanish missions established in California.

Source: Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia Commons

6. Colorado
> Oldest town: San Luis
> Year of first settlement: 1851

San Luis might have the biggest sign boasting its heritage. A hillside sign for the predominantly HIspanic town says that it is the oldest town in Colorado. Every year many people make a pilgrimage to the Stations of the Cross Shrine located on a mesa in the center of San Luis.

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Source: John Phelan / Wikimedia Commons

7. Connecticut
> Oldest town: Windsor
> Year of first settlement: 1633

Windsor is Connecticut’s first English settlement, and the port was key to trade with the West Indies. Tobacco farming and brickmaking were important components to the local economy.

Source: Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant) / Wikimedia Commons

8. Delaware
> Oldest town: Lewes
> Year of first settlement: 1631

The first European to explore the area around Lewes was Henry Hudson in 1609. Twenty-two years later, the Dutch chose the site as a whaling station.

Source: Roman Eugeniusz / Wikimedia Commons

9. Florida
> Oldest town: Saint Augustine
> Year of first settlement: 1565

Spain had made previous attempts to establish settlements in Florida before St. Augustine was founded. All of them failed because of disease and attacks by Native Americans, so King Philip II abandoned efforts to colonize the area. He changed his mind when he found out the French had built forts there. Philip sent troops to oust the French and St. Augustine was founded.

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Source: Thinkstock

10. Georgia
> Oldest town: Savannah
> Year of first settlement: 1733

Savannah was founded by James Oglethorpe and was organized in a grid pattern, and because of this, the town has been called “America’s First Planned City.” Savannah plays host to the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States.

Source: jo Crebbin / Shutterstock.com

11. Hawaii
> Oldest town: Hilo
> Year of first settlement: 1902

The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, the world’s biggest processor of macadamia seeds, is based near Hilo. Hilo, which means “twist” in Hawaiian, was damaged by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.

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Source: Ken Lund / Wikimedia Commons

12. Idaho
> Oldest town: Franklin
> Year of first settlement: 1860

Franklin was founded by Mormon pioneers who believed they were in Utah. The boundary between Utah and Idaho was not fixed until 1872, when the border was set just a mile south of where Franklin was established.

Source: Thinkstock

13. Illinois
> Oldest town: Peoria
> Year of first settlement: 1680

The French, including Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, were the first Europeans to visit the area. The name Peoria comes from the name of one of the principal tribes of the Illinois Confederacy.

Source: Chris Light / Wikimedia Commons

14. Indiana
> Oldest town: Vincennes
> Year of first settlement: 1732

George Rogers Clark, brother of the famed explorer William Clark, and his small army defeated the British here in 1779 in a key victory for the colonists. Indiana’s first bank and Catholic church were founded in Vincennes.

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Source: Thinkstock

15. Iowa
> Oldest town: Dubuque
> Year of first settlement: 1837

Dubuque is named after French Canadian fur trader Julien Dubuque. He developed good relationships with the area’s Native Americans, who told him about its lead deposits. Dubuque worked the mines with the indigenous people and the area developed.

Source: Melissa Bower / Wikimedia Commons

16. Kansas
> Oldest town: Leavenworth
> Year of first settlement: 1827

Leavenworth is famous for its federal penitentiary that has held infamous prisoners over the years. Among the most notorious is James Earl Ray, who assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago next month.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

17. Kentucky
> Oldest town: Harrodsburg
> Year of first settlement: 1774

Harrodsburg is nestled in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and was the first permanent English settlement established west of the Allegheny Mountains. The town calls itself “the birthplace of western expansion beyond the original colonies.”

Source: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

18. Louisiana
> Oldest town: Natchitoches
> Year of first settlement: 1714

Besides being the oldest town in Louisiana, Natchitoches, named after the Native American tribe, is the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase territory.

Source: Nancy / Wikimedia Commons

19. Maine
> Oldest town: Kittery
> Year of first settlement: 1647

Kittery has been a center for shipbuilding since the Revolution. Before he helmed the “Bonhomme Richard” ship to victory over the British during the Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones commanded the “Ranger,” which was launched from Kittery. “Ranger” was the first American vessel to fly the American flag.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. Maryland
> Oldest town: St. Mary’s City
> Year of first settlement: 1634

Besides being Maryland’s first city, St. Mary’s City also was its first colonial capital for 61 years before Annapolis became the capital. St. Mary’s City also claims other firsts: the first city that allowed freedom of religion and the place where the first woman in North America requested the right to vote.

Source: Raime / Wikimedia Commons

21. Massachusetts
> Oldest town: Plymouth
> Year of first settlement: 1620

Plymouth was not the original destination for the Pilgrims who came here on the “Mayflower.” They intended to land in a region near the Hudson River, but turbulent seas preventing them from doing so. More than half of the original settlers of Plymouth died during the first winter in the new settlement. They were victims of an epidemic.

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Source: Adam Kahtava from Calgary, Canada / Wikimedia Commons

22. Michigan
> Oldest town: Sault Ste. Marie
> Year of first settlement: 1668

French missionaries and fur traders were the first Europeans to visit the region. Among them was Father Jacques Marquette who named the settlement Sault Ste. Marie in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Source: Jon Platek / Wikimedia Commons
Source: Jon Platek / Wikimedia Commons

23. Minnesota
> Oldest town: Wabasha
> Year of first settlement: 1830

Wabasha is named after the chief of the Sioux Nation, Chief Wa-pa-shaw. There are more than 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the historic district of Wabasha. The town is also home to the conservation facility National Eagle Center because of the abundance of the country’s national symbol in the Wabasha region

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Source: Brandonrush / Wikimedia Commons

24. Mississippi
> Oldest town: Biloxi
> Year of first settlement: 1699

Eight flags have flown over Biloxi since it was founded by French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1699. Biloxi takes its name from the Native American tribe that inhabited the area.

Source: Andrew Balet / Wikimedia Commons

25. Missouri
> Oldest town: St. Genevieve
> Year of first settlement: 1735

The settlement was founded by French Canadians in what was then the Territory of Louisiana. St. Genevieve also was briefly the home of John James Audubon, the noted ornithologist.

Source: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / Wikimedia Commons

26. Montana
> Oldest town: Fort Benton
> Year of first settlement: 1846

Fort Benton, located on the banks of the Missouri River, calls itself the “Birthplace of Montana.” The town grew after the discovery of gold in the Idaho and Montana territories. Steamboats carrying goods and provisions crowded the waterways around Fort Benton until the railroad led to the demise of waterborne commerce.

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Source: Ron Reiring / Wikimedia Commons

27. Nebraska
> Oldest town: Omaha
> Year of first settlement: 1854

Omaha is the home of Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men. And Omaha is also where the TV dinner originated. C.A. Swanson and Sons invented it in the early 1950s.

Source: Brent Cooper / Wikimedia Commons

28. Nevada
> Oldest town: Genoa
> Year of first settlement: 1850

Genoa was named by Orson Hyde, an elder from the Mormon church sent to set up a government and define the boundary between California and Utah Territory. He admired Christopher Columbus and named the town after Columbus’ birthplace of Genoa, Italy.

Source: Jon Platek / Wikimedia Commons

29. New Hampshire
> Oldest town: Dover
> Year of first settlement: 1623

Dover first flourished as a shipbuilding center, then became one of the young nation’s manufacturing hubs for cotton goods. In 1828, women workers at cotton mills there walked out in protest against strict rules that included a ban on talking during work hours as well as a cut in wages. Mill owners countered by advertising for the vacant jobs. Fearful of losing their jobs, the women returned to work.

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Source: Gryffindor / Wikimedia Commons

30. New Jersey
> Oldest town: Jersey City
> Year of first settlement: 1617

Jersey City is famous for its Democratic Party political machine, led by Mayor Frank Hague, in the early decades of the 20th century. Hague was the quintessential political boss, who perfected the political skills of canvassing, bringing voters to the polls, and contacting potential voters by phone. Hague’s ability to deliver votes in national elections brought him great influence in the Democratic Party.

Source: Thinkstock

31. New Mexico
> Oldest town: Santa Fe
> Year of first settlement: 1607

At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is one of the highest cities in the United States. Santa Fe has always been a capital city. In the early 17th century, conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta established the town as the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico. It remained a capital after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 and when New Mexico became a U.S. territory in 1846.

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Source: Thinkstock

32. New York
> Oldest town: Albany
> Year of first settlement: 1614

Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth were both in Albany at the same time in 1861, shortly after Lincoln was elected president. The Lincolns were staying in Albany on their way to Washington, D.C., and Booth was performing in a play at the city’s Gaiety Theater.

Source: Southern Churchman Co. / Wikimedia Commons

33. North Carolina
> Oldest town: Bath
> Year of first settlement: 1705

Bath was founded by French Protestants from Virginia, and the early settlers struggled to survive epidemics, battles with Native Americans, and piracy. The area around Bath was once the home of the pirate Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. The buccaneer roamed the Bath environs in the decades after the town was founded.

Source: Andrew Filer from Seattle (ex-Minneapolis) / Wikimedia Commons

34. North Dakota
> Oldest town: Pembina
> Year of first settlement: 1797

Pembina was established as a fur-trading post by the French. The Hudson Bay Company built a new post in 1803 and operated out of Pembina under the assumption that it was located in Canada. However, when the first international boundary marker west of the Great Lakes was placed near Pembina by the U.S. in 1823, putting Pembina in the United States, Hudson Bay Company decamped to what is now Winnipeg.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

35. Ohio
> Oldest town: Martins Ferry
> Year of first settlement: 1779

Martins Ferry was a stop on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. It is also the birthplace of basketball great John Havlicek and home to William Dean Howells, noted novelist and adviser to Mark Twain and Henry James.

Source: Valis55 / Wikimedia Commons

36. Oklahoma
> Oldest town: Fort Gibson
> Year of first settlement: 1824

Fort Gibson was established to maintain peaceful relations between the Cherokee and Osage Native American tribes. The settlement also served as a jump-off point for expeditions that explored the western frontier.

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Source: Ron Reiring / Wikimedia Commons

37. Oregon
> Oldest town: Astoria
> Year of first settlement: 1811

The 1980s film classic “Goonies” was filmed in Astoria, which is also called “Little San Francisco.” Speaking of the movies, the Oregon Film Museum is located in the former county jail in Astoria.

Source: Smallbones / Wikimedia Commons

38. Pennsylvania
> Oldest town: Chester
> Year of first settlement: 1644

Chester was founded by Swedes, who called it “Upland.” The name was later changed to Chester by William Penn, after a town in England. Penn acquired the land as a safe haven for Quakers.

Source: Thinkstock

39. Rhode Island
> Oldest town: Providence
> Year of first settlement: 1636

Providence, the capital and largest city in Rhode Island, is the birthplace of song and dance man George M. Cohan, who wrote “Over There” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

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Source: Thinkstock

40. South Carolina
> Oldest town: Charleston
> Year of first settlement: 1670

Samuel Morse, who would go on to invent the telegraph, lived in Charleston for four years starting in 1818. He set up a studio to paint portraits, one of which can be viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Source: Runner1928 / Wikimedia Commons

41. South Dakota
> Oldest town: Fort Pierre
> Year of first settlement: 1832

The French Canadian la Verendrye brothers buried in 1743 a lead plate that established France’s claim to the future Louisiana Purchase. A marker designates the spot where the plate was buried. During the Black Hills Gold Rush in the 19th century, Fort Pierre was an important transportation and distribution center in the region.

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Source: Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons

42. Tennessee
> Oldest town: Jonesborough
> Year of first settlement: 1779

Andrew Jackson left his mark on Jonesborough, which was established 17 years before Tennessee became a state. The nation’s seventh president practiced law and was a judge in Jonesborough. The town was also the capital of the failed state of Franklin in the 1780s, when it tried to become the nation’s 14th state.

Source: Rwminix / Wikimedia Commons

43. Texas
> Oldest town: Nacogdoches
> Year of first settlement: 1716

There are several contending towns in Texas that claim to be the oldest in the state. It appears that the city with the strongest claim is Nacogdoches. The area had been settled by Native American tribes for centuries, but the first permanent European settlement was put down by Spanish explorers in 1716. The town of Ysleta was first settled in 1680, but it no longer exists as it was absorbed by El Paso in 1955.

Source: Scott Catron from Sandy, Utah, USA / Wikimedia Commons

44. Utah
> Oldest town: Ogden
> Year of first settlement: 1845

Ogden was founded by Mormons and was the third incorporated city west of the Missouri River, along with San Francisco and Salt Lake City. It became known as “Junction City” because of the junction of the two famous railroad companies, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

45. Vermont
> Oldest town: Westminster
> Year of first settlement: 1735

When Westminster was founded it was still part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A land survey that determined that the Connecticut River was the boundary between New Hampshire and New York placed Westminster in New York. Territorial disputes eventually led to the creation of the state of Vermont, of which Westminster became a part.

Source: Ken Lund / Wikimedia Commons

46. Virginia
> Oldest town: Jamestown
> Year of first settlement: 1607

Starvation and disease caused a mortality rate of 80% among the colonists of Jamestown in 1609-1610. The surviving settlers were ready to quit Jamestown, but two ships arrived in the spring of 1610 with 150 more settlers and additional supplies.

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Source: Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

47. Washington
> Oldest town: Steilacoom
> Year of first settlement: 1851

Steilacoom was founded by Lafayette Balch, a sea captain from Maine. Steilacoom became known as a tourist destination in the 19th century with the introduction of electric railroad service. Prominent businessmen from Tacoma built summer cottages in town.

Source: Acroterion / Wikimedia Commons

48. West Virginia
> Oldest town: Shepherdstown and Romney
> Year of first settlement: 1762

Shepherdstown and Romney both lay claim to the title the oldest chartered town in West Virginia. Both were charted on the same day, Dec. 23,1762, by the Virginia General Assembly (West Virginia would not become a state until 1863).

Source: digidreamgrafix / Shutterstock.com

49. Wisconsin
> Oldest town: Green Bay
> Year of first settlement: 1765

Green Bay, home of football’s storied Packers, got its name from the green algae seen on the part of Lake Michigan that borders the town. With a population of just over 100,000, it is the smallest city to host an NFL football team.

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Source: Thinkstock

50. Wyoming
> Oldest town: Cheyenne
> Year of first settlement: 1867

Cheyenne means “people of the strange tongue” in the language of the Arapaho people. The city, which was established on July 4, 1867, is the largest in Wyoming. Ernest Hemingway, who spent much time in Wyoming during Prohibition, married his third wife in Cheyenne in 1940.