The 20 Oldest Cities in the United States

Our country is rich with history. Cities are here because of our earlier ancestors who travelled across the country and started colonies that grew into the cities they are today.

Each city in our country has its own story of how it began, and if you are a history buff, or even if you aren’t, it’s interesting to know how some of our oldest cities came into existence, and further yet, which cities in our country are the oldest.

If you were asked which city in the US is the oldest, would you know? Keep reading to learn what the 20 oldest cities in the United States are.

20. Washington D.C. – 1790

The capital of the United States was originally in Philadelphia but it was eventually moved to the new “district” known as Washington D.C. in 1790, when President George Washington chose the exact location and had it written in the U.S. Constitution that this would be the new home of the capital.

Washington D.C. is one of the most visited cities in the US, where people want to come visit our nation’s capital and see other historic monuments and pieces of history that have become deeply woven into our nation’s fabric.

19. San Francisco, California – 1776

San Francisco, California is known for its cool summers, architecture, thick fog, and steep hills. It is riddled with landmarks, such as the cable cars, Alcatraz prison, and the Golden Gate Bridge. It has acquired several nicknames over the years, “San Fran,” “City by the Bay,” and “Fog City.”

San Francisco was born when colonists from Spain established Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate and Mission San Francisco de Asis, only a few miles away. They were named after St. Francis of Assisi.

The city really boomed during the California Gold Rush of 1849, which made it the largest city on the west coast. It is one of the most populous cities in the US, as well as one of the most expensive to live in.

18. Lexington, Virginia – 1775

The city of Lexington wasn’t always Lexington. It was originally known as Gilbert Campbell’s Ford and was actually established as Lexington, in 1775. The new name was chosen in honor of the Revolutionary War, the battle of Lexington, Massachusetts, which had occurred just three years prior.

It has been said that Thomas Jefferson, who by then, owned a piece of land in the new county, had a hand in the naming of the town. Between 1860 and 1880, the city really began to boom due to the arrival of the railroad.

It also went through a real estate boom in the 1890’s, and today, Lexington Downtown is the hub of the city’s retail, cultural and historic scene. A collection of shops, restaurants, local government offices and the courts, along with historic attractions and carriage rides, are all centralized in central downtown.

17. Savannah, Georgia – 1773

General James Oglethorpe, along with 120 passengers of the good ship, Anne, landed on a hillside along the Savannah River in the winter of 1773. This would be the 13th and final American colony, which Oglethorpe decided to name, Georgia, in honor of England’s King George II, and Savannah was its first city.

Oglethorpe had two plans in mind for Georgia, first, it was a place he had hoped would be a new start for the working poor of England by strengthening the colonies by way of trade.

Secondly, he also planned for Georgia to be a buffer for South Carolina, helping to protect it from the advancement of the Spanish down in Florida. Under the original laws, there was to be no lawyers, slavery or rum, but the citizens could worship as they pleased.

Today, modern Savannah brings in over 50 million tourists that come to see its architecture, its natural beauty, and enjoy the charm and southern hospitality of the city. It is a favorite vacation spot for many.

16. New Orleans, Louisiana – 1718

New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French, under the name Nouvelle-Orleans, by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. He chose the area for several reasons, including that it was fairly high ground along the flood-prone Mississippi River, and to him, this would create a sort of natural levee.

It was also a great access to trade, giving better access to the Gulf of Mexico, port of Biloxi. Although there were benefits to the city’s location, during 1721, it was described as malarious, thick with willows and dwarf palmettos, as well as overrun with snakes and alligators. It was also predicted as having an imperial future, which it would eventually prove to be.

The city is rich with history and a huge tourist spot, but it has seen its devastation, too, due to its low-lying terrain. Hurricane Katrina caused great devastation in 2005 and took the lives of nearly 2,000 people. The city worked hard to rebuild itself over the years, and since then, it has made a bigger comeback with the return of more residents and its consumerism, than was predicted.

15. San Antonio, Texas – 1717

San Antonio is one of the oldest cities in the US. It was founded in 1717 when construction of a fort was done in the Spanish Colonial city, which was followed by the construction of a Catholic mission and trading post.

The town was originally developed as the capital of Tejas and was the most northern settlement that was of Hispanic culture in the Valley of Mexico. San Antonio is rich in history with the famous battle of the Alamo, culture, and its beauty. San Antonio is the 8th largest city in the United States, with a population of 1,144,646.

14. Mobile, Alabama – 1702

One of the oldest cities in the US is Mobile, Alabama which came about due to the exotic travelers and variety of cargos that were continually passing through the area. It is and has been a big port city for the south and became the 22nd state in 1819 and has been nicknamed, “The Dixie State.”

The economy began to take off after farmers were encouraged to start growing more profitable crops over cotton, with peanuts being one of the biggest. Eventually the aerospace program moved into the area, as well as the auto industry and the service sector, while agriculture remained a constant means of the economy.

13. Biloxi, Mississippi – 1699

The name Biloxi, in French is “Bilocci” (with “fort”), and in English is often translated as “Fort Biloxi.” It is one of the oldest cities in the United States, founded in 1699 and used to be the third largest cities in Mississippi until Hurricane Katrina.

After the major storm, the population decreased and it dropped to number 5, now behind Hattiesburg and Southhaven. The beachfront of the city of Biloxi sits on the Mississippi sound and had been one of the biggest, and favorite cities for gambling, with casinos up and down the coast, which many were destroyed during the storm. 

The city has been recovering from the disastrous storm of ’05 and has drawn up plans to rebuild some of the lost businesses along the coast of this old city.

12. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1682

Founded in 1682, this is one historic city and there is a nickname for this old, history-rich land, and it is, the “City of Brotherly Love.” It was founded by William Penn who was given the land by King Charles II in payment of a debt that was owed to Penn’s father. 

Penn set out for the land the following summer and began to colonize the land. Today, historical sites such as, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House, and the Liberty Bell, all draw in visitors to see where a big part of our history started.

11. Charleston, South Carolina – 1670

The beautiful city of Charleston, sits on the coast of South Carolina on the inlet, known as Charleston Bay. It is a very southern city with lots of southern hospitality and it draws in a large number of visitors each year.

It was founded in 1670 and today, it is the third largest metropolitan area in the state of South Carolina. It was originally called Charles Town, in honor of King Charles II in England but eventually the name was merged to what it is today.

It is often referred to as the friendliest town and it is teeming with history, as well as it is loaded with well-preserved architecture, delicious restaurants and other site seeing venues.

10. Annapolis, Maryland – 1649

For those of you who don’t know your capitals, Annapolis is the capital of Maryland and is situated on the Chesapeake Bay, right at the mouth of the Severn River. It is just 25 miles on the south side of Baltimore and is about 30 minutes from the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.

It is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and was founded in 1649. The city is home to a well-recognized name in academics, St. John’s College, as well as the United States Naval Academy, a very prestigious academy in the US, and it also home to many 18th century homes that are still standing and considered historical landmarks.

9. Newport, Rhode Island – 1639

The City of Newport is a seaside city and is approximately 37 miles southeast of Providence, the state’s capital. New Port is known as a New England summer resort where it sees many  visitors every year.

The city was founded in 1639 and was a major port-city of the 18th-century. Today, there still a large number of buildings from the colonial era that are historical landmarks and draw a lot of visitors in. Newport is home to the Naval Station Newport, which is a major United States Navy training center.

You will also find the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Naval War College. President Kennedy and Eisenhower called Newport their summer home, it is that beautiful.

8. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia – 1638

Colonial Williamsburg sees more tourists each year than any other historical city. People want to get a glimpse back into the life of the 1800’s and see how our fore fathers lived.

It is a real walk back in time in history, where that era comes to life and consumes you as you tour the old town. Founded in 1638, Colonial Williamsburg is one of the oldest cities in the US, and one that has preserved well, all the historical monuments, houses, businesses and downtown area to where you would swear you were right there.

You can eat at some of the most quaint restaurants, or have a beer at a bar where our forefathers sat and debated politics. Watch candle makers and blacksmith at work, and take tours of old homes and businesses, such as the old post office. History comes to life in Colonial Williamsburg.

7. Boston, Massachusetts – 1630

Boston, Massachusetts was founded in 1630 and was founded on the Shawmut Peninsula by the Puritans who came from England. Boston played a big role, and was key to many of the events that unfolded in the American Revolution.

There was the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Siege of Boston, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Boston was a main port as well as a main base of manufacturing. It was also a main center for US culture and education.

Boston is full of history and gets a lot of tourists every year, over 20 million, to see some of the biggest historical places and memories our nation has. Boston is one of the oldest cities in our nation and it ranks high on world livability rankings.

6. Quincy, Massachusetts – 1625

Another very old city fin the US, and not far from Boston, is Quincy, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1625 and is the birthplace of two our US presidents; John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams.

Another big historical figure who was born in Quincy, is John Hancock, who was a President of the Continental Congress and the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. When it first settled in 1625, it was a part of two precincts; Dorchester and Boston before it became the north precinct of Braintree in the year 1640.

Years later, in 1792, the city split from Braintree and the new town was then named for Colonel John Quincy. It finally became a city in 1888. Quincy was a big railway city, shipping commercially. It was also was well-known for shipbuilding, and much later, Howard Johnson’s hotel chain and Dunkin’ Donuts were founded in this city.

5. New York City, New York – 1624

We all know the name, New York, New York. It is the tallest city in the country, the most populous, and the most expensive to live in, and one of the oldest cities founded here. New York was founded in 1624 and is considered a global power with many financial corporations based out of the city.

The city is right sits right on one of the largest natural harbors, Staten Island, and it is the gateway for legal immigration into the United States. Today, there are over 23.7 million residents in the city that was originally discovered by explorer Henry Hudson, who came upon the area while searching for the Northwest passage the the orient.

After a 10-day exploration of the area, Hudson claimed the land for the Dutch East India Company, and New York City was born.

4. Plymouth, Massachusetts – 1620

Plymouth is not only one of the largest cities in Massachusetts, but it is one of the oldest cities in our country. Founded in 1620, Plymouth is an prominent American historical, folklore and cultural town.

It was founded by the Pilgrims where the famous Mayflower ship brought them to the United States and right to Plymouth rock. The name derives from the name of the ship the Pilgrims were on, which was also the name of the city the Pilgrims departed from when they set sail to America.

The city is about 40 miles south of Boston and houses the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which is the oldest continually operating museum in all the US. The city has seen a high increase in its population over the past 30 years and gets a lot of visitors yearly, just to see the vast history that can be found there.

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico – 1610

New Mexico is in the Midwest and is full of history, all through the state, however, Santa Fe holds a lot of history with being one of the oldest cities in the United States. Founded in 1610, this quaint little town in the northern part of New Mexico, and is the capital of the state and is regarded as the oldest state capital in our nation.

Visitors come from all over to get a view of this unique city and see all the cultural, architectural, and historical sites, such as the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, 1869. The city is  also full of statues, literature and art. It is an overall great treat for any history buff.

2. Jamestown, Virginia – 1607

Jamestown Virginia is where the British Empire got its beginning. It was established as “James Fort” by the Virginia Company of London on May 4, 1607. It was briefly abandoned in 1610, then developed a permanent settling. It also was the home of the capital of Virginia for a stent of 83 years, from 1616 until 1699.

Toda Jamestown is marked as a historical site where tourists often visit to see the Colonial National Historic Park, Jamestown Island and get a glimpse of the original fort. It is one of the most visited cities in Virginia, along with Williamsburg.

1. St. Augustine, Florida – 1565

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest, continually populated city in the US. Founded by Pedro Mendez de Aviles and is located in the northeastern part of Florida. It served as the Spanish capital for 200 years. In 1965, the State of Florida, along with a preservation board, went to work on restoring a lot of the old city and bringing it back to better state.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused substantial flooding in the downtown area, but it is still a highly visited state by people who want to see the country’s oldest city and experience a lot of history.

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