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 Tempo 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.
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 — here is the most commonly spoken foreign language in every state.
In 16 states, the oldest town was founded in the 17th century. Many of the towns west of the Mississippi began as forts constructed 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 Tempo 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.