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What are the Oldest American Cities?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 17, 2024
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The oldest American cities are all on the Atlantic Coast. European settlers first arrived on the East Coast, establishing towns as early as the beginning of the 16th century. Not only are the oldest cities all in the East Coast, but some of the most important events in American history took place there. The first visitors to the land that is now North America were more than likely the Vikings, around the year 1000 CE. So why don't the oldest American cities show any Viking influence? Historians believe the Vikings visited just to explore, and they never had the intention of settling down on the new land.

The Spanish were the first explorers who came to stay, closely followed by other Europeans. Their presence is well-seen in some of the oldest American cities of the East coast, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, all of which are almost four hundred years old.

The oldest continuously inhabited settlement is St. Augustine, in Florida. Founded on 28 August 1565, it is the oldest American city still in existence. Close behind is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was established in 1598, but wasn't officially recognized until 1610.

Some of the other oldest American cities include Jamestown, founded in 1607, and Plymouth, founded in 1620. Situated far away from each other, in modern Virginia and Massachusetts, they became the symbol of what the new land had to offer. Jamestown was the first colony to house permanent residents in the northeast, after 18 early attempts resulted in disaster. Plymouth Rock was the disembarkation point of the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.

It took the Europeans an additional hundred years to establish settlements on the West Coast. The first explores reach the coast in 1513, but the oldest American cities on the west coast are barely 300 hundred years old. Baja California was the first area to get permanent residents. On 25 October 25 1697, "Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó" was established. Loreto, however, does not hold the title to one of the oldest American cities because the mission was closed in 1829.

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Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By anon314431 — On Jan 18, 2013

The most ancient American city is the sacred city of Caral, Peru, which is over 5000 years old.

By jmc88 — On Jun 10, 2012

@JimmyT - You are absolutely correct. I live in a rather large area that was primarily founded by the Oil boom in the early 1900's so there is not a whole lot of history on these towns and I find it a breath of fresh air when I travel to a town that was founded hundreds of years ago as there is more history to learn and study.

As a matter of fact, there are historians that actually do nothing but research old towns such as these because there are not a lot of them that have such a long history, such as places like Jamestown, and these are a treasure trove of information available to learn more of the era.

Towns such as these become the focus of history based studies as simply representing towns of the era.

This is one thing that these old towns have to offer as well as much tourism as people seem to have a great interest in old towns.

I am really wondering of some lesser known old towns besides famous ones and whether or not they have gotten little attention. It would greatly surprise me if they have not been looked at a lot and well publicized.

By JimmyT — On Jun 09, 2012

@TreeMan - It is quite interesting to this that exploration could have went that far inland, but what I find to be even more interesting is that people do not know how far back the settlement of their cities may have gone.

I find it really interesting to go to towns that claim to have founding dates in the 1600's or even the 1500's because that towns history is very enriched and has been able to see a lot in its time.

Due to the expansion of the United States most towns, at least where I live, were founded around 1900 and may not have a lot of history, but those that are hundreds of years older have so much more history to offer and creates great local history projects that can be incredibly complicated.

By TreeMan — On Jun 09, 2012
@Emilski - You are correct, and I also find it to be very interesting.

I live near the Illinois and Indiana border and the popular story about Hernando de Soto is that he explored the East Coast around the Carolinas, made it as far west as Texas, died in Arkansas, and made it as far North as northern Tennessee before his party made its way back to the coast and back to Spain.

However, rumors have persisted due to the changes in geography at the time and lack of landmarks, that de Soto actually explored farther north near east central Illinois!

I find this to be quite amazing that Europeans were exploring that far inland way back then and some historians have looked at this theory as credible due to the lack of knowledge among the exact landmarks they saw and the changes over the years.

By Emilski — On Jun 09, 2012

I always like looking at lists of the oldest cities in the United States because there are always cases where there may have been a settlement or someone had spotted land.

I have heard that Sir Francis Drake landed near present Day San Francisco, but found out the Spanish had a mission nearby so he got back to sea real fast.

This instance or a mission predates existing cities on the West Coast, but because it is no longer there it does not count.

There are also rumors of Vikings establishing colonies on the East Coast nearly five hundred years before the next Europeans landed.

I find this and early exploration to be so interesting and like to know that there is a history behind areas before the times around the American Revolution.

By anon174542 — On May 10, 2011

the oldest city on the american continent still inhabited today is mexico city, founded by the aztecs in 1325.

By anon158310 — On Mar 06, 2011

Quito, Ecuador, December 6, 1534.

By anon124833 — On Nov 07, 2010

there are many cities much older than that. check new mexico!

By anon113083 — On Sep 23, 2010

St. Augustine, Florida was founded by Spanish settlers in 1513.

By anon78020 — On Apr 16, 2010

There were many Aztec and Inca cities in the Americas before Columbus arrived. Mexico City is still one of the largest.

By anon50425 — On Oct 28, 2009

the oldest city in the american continent is the City of Granada located in Nicaragua. It was founded in the year 1534.

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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