7 of the Oldest Sites in America
7 of the Oldest Sites in America

The United States of America is a relatively young country compared to the rest of the world. But the land on which the nation sits is old, and encompasses a rich history. There are several historic sites that long predate our country’s independence. From churches to settlements, these centuries-old relics embody the incredible legacy of the United States, and paved the way for future institutions of a similar nature. Here are seven of the oldest landmarks located in the United States.

Oldest Settlement — Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Ancient dwellings of UNESCO World Heritage Site named Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Credit: miroslav_1/ iStock

Taos Pueblo is an ancient settlement located in modern-day New Mexico north of Santa Fe. This incredible, historic archaeological site was first occupied circa 900 CE. Adobes were later built around 1325 CE in a now-abandoned ruin called “Cornfield Taos.” The site's indigenous inhabitants moved slightly west around the year 1400 CE, where they built the adobe residences and religious structures that remain today.

While population numbers have dwindled since its heyday, Taos Pueblo remains an active Native American community, with some buildings having been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers daily tours for those curious to learn more about the Pueblo people. Some particularly interesting sites include multi-story adobe structures and the ruins of a church dating to the 1600s.

Oldest Church — Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista exterior.
Credit: Wangkun Jia/ Shutterstock

Located in the island territory of Puerto Rico, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the oldest church on U.S. soil. Boasting a beautiful white, gothic-style facade, the church’s origins date back to 1521, though the current structure was built in 1540. Near tragedy struck in 1615 when a hurricane tore the roof off, though the church was quickly restored. This cathedral contains brilliant stained glass windows, as well as the tomb of Spanish explorer Ponce de León.

In terms of churches located on the U.S. mainland, the oldest such institution is the San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. According to oral history, this Roman Catholic church dates to 1610, though official documentation only goes back as far as 1628. The structure was built by Tlaxcalan Indians who came to the region in 1598, and the church remains partially active today hosting weekly Sunday mass.

Oldest Log Dwelling — C. A. Nothnagle Log House, New Jersey

Exterior of log house.
Credit: Smallbones/ Wikimedia

The C. A. Nothnagle Log Cabin is the oldest surviving log cabin in the country, and was built between 1638 and 1643. Located in Gibbstown, New Jersey, the 1,800-square-foot home was constructed by Finnish immigrants without using a single nail, according to current homeowner Doris Rink. The home has actually been listed for sale seven times since 2015, making it one of the most historic American buildings available for purchase.

While that cabin is considered America’s oldest log dwelling, the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, is heralded by some as the oldest surviving wooden structure in the country. Built circa 1641, the Fairbanks House is the oldest wooden frame house in America, per the National Park Service, and arguably the fourth-oldest building of any kind after Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, and the Palace of Governors (all in New Mexico).

Oldest Restaurant — The White Horse Tavern, Rhode Island

Red building that is the White Horse Tavern.
Credit: Wangkun Jia/ Shutterstock

The colonial-style White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, has been serving guests since 1673, making it the oldest operating restaurant in the country. The building was originally constructed as a two-story home for resident Francis Brinley in 1652. It was later repurposed as a tavern, earned its current name in 1730, and was finally christened as a National Historic Landmark in 1972.

Contained within the barn-like structure is a decadent and historic dining room unlike any other. Visitors can expect a seafood meal using ingredients harvested from nearby Narragansett Bay. In addition to seafood, the restaurant serves classics that warm the stomach such as beef Wellington, whipped potatoes, and other hearty entrees.

Oldest State Capitol — The Maryland State House

Trees around the Maryland State House.
Credit: W. Scott McGill/ Shutterstock

Government bodies have relied upon the Maryland State House in Annapolis as far back as November 26, 1783, making it the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use. The building served as a meeting place for the Continental Congress from 1783 through August 13, 1784. Several notable events occurred during that time such as George Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, plus the ratification of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

Today, the Maryland General Assembly convenes in this capitol, which also houses the office of the Governor. Furthermore, the capitol dome is the only one in the country constructed from wood. This oldest and largest wooden dome in the United States was completed in 1794, and was amazingly constructed without using a single metal nail.

Oldest Fort — Castillo de San Marcos, Florida

Aerial of Castillo de San Marcos fort.
Credit: Barbara Smyers/ Shutterstock

Located in St. Augustine, Florida — America’s oldest city — the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is home to the oldest surviving masonry fortress in the United States. Construction of the fort was approved by the Spanish crown in 1672, and it was built through 1695. The massive fortification includes 30-foot-high walls composed of coquina blocks (a material made from cemented seashells) and four imposing bastions.

The fort was controlled by the Spanish until 1763 when it was taken over by the British, and was later acquired by the United States in 1821. It briefly held Confederate prisoners during the American Civil War, and was finally decommissioned in 1900. Remarkably, the fort only changed hands through various agreements and treaties, and was never once captured by opposing forces. Today, the monument sits on a 25-acre park.

Oldest Museum — The Charleston Museum, South Carolina

Exterior of the Charleston Museum.
Credit: ehrlif/ Shutterstock

The Charleston Museum in South Carolina proudly claims to be “America’s First Museum,” as it was founded in 1773. The museum was established by the Charleston Library Society just prior to the onset of the American Revolution, and while museum operations were briefly suspended during the American Civil War, the institution has otherwise continuously operated without interruption.

Notable exhibits at the Charleston Museum include artifacts related to America’s natural history, such as 300 million-year-old plant fossils and mounted skeletons of the Pelagornis — the world’s largest known flying bird. The Lowcountry History Hall is a more local-focused exhibit, featuring many artifacts dating back to the time of the first Charleston settlers. There are even several artifacts dedicated to world history such as an Egyptian mummy and a plaster cast of a statue of Pharaoh Ramses II.

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