The Oldest Cities in the United States

January 11, 2024

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Bridge of Lions, St Augustine, Florida

Some of the United States’ oldest cities were founded by Europeans and explorers, as well as indigenous peoples. But what is the US’s oldest city?

In this article, we’ll reveal the 10 oldest cities in the US. (Note that the list excludes US territories, which is why many ancient cities in Puerto Rico do not feature).

1. Cahokia, Illinois (600-700 AD)

Aerial view of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Image credit: Kent Raney / iStockPhoto.com

The oldest city in the US is Cahokia in Illinois, which was founded by the Mississippians around 600 to 700 AD. 

While the city itself no longer exists, the Cahokia Mounds remain in Illinois between present-day East St. Louis and Collinsville, near the Mississippi River.

With a population similar to the state of Virginia, Cahokia was the largest of the Mississippian settlements, which were established across central and southeastern US more than 1,000 years before the first European settlers arrived. Today, the Cahokia site is much smaller, covering 3.5 square miles — almost half its original size. While the only written records of the city are symbols on copper, pottery, shell, stone, and wood, the layout, mounds, and burials are evidence of a sophisticated and complex society.

Today, Cahokia Mounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark.

2. Etzanoa, Kansas (1450)

House in Arkasas City, which was the location of the great settlement of Etzanoa
A house in Arkansas City, where the ancient city of Etzanoa once existed

Founded by the Witchita people in 1450 AD, Etzanoa is the second-oldest city in the US. Again, it no longer exists, and its location near the river in present-day Arkansas City was only determined a few years ago. 

Relatively little is known about the city, and the only documents that prove its existence are papers from an expedition led by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate in 1601. Based on reports by another Spanish explorer, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado — who discovered multiple Witchita cities and even lived in one for a while in 1541 — it is fair to assume that Etzanoa consisted of thatched, cone-shaped grass dwellings. 

Dubbed “The Great Settlement” by Europeans who visited it, the city is thought to have been home to 20,000 people.

3. Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico (1450)

Hornos (clay ovens) lined up in a row which are used to bake bread in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico
Hornos, or ovens, used to bake bread, in the Zuni Pueblo
Image credit: chapin31 / iStockPhoto.com

Zuni Pueblo is the third-oldest city in the US. It, too, was established around 1450 AD but by the Zuni people, who are thought to be descendants of the Anasazi — the indigenous people who originally lived in permanent buildings, or “pueblos” — in the Southwest United States.

The city is located in Mckinley County in New Mexico, where Europeans first made contact with the US’s indigenous people around 1540.

Measuring 700 square miles, the city currently has a population of around 6,300 and is still largely inhabited by the Zuni people.

4. St. Augustine, Florida (1565)

The Bridge of Lions lit up at night
Bridge of Lions in St Augustine, Florida

The fourth-oldest US city is St. Augustine, which was founded by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565 AD. He named the city after the Feast Day of St. Augustine on August 28, which is when land in Florida was first seen from his ships.

Located 64 kilometers south of downtown Jacksonville, the city was the capital of Spanish Florida for more than 200 years, and when Spain ceded Florida to the US, it continued as the capital of Florida Territory until 1824.

St. Augustine is the US’s oldest continually-inhabited city established by Europeans, and it is currently home to more than 14,300 people. 

5. Roanoke, North Carolina (1585)

Looking out across Roanoke, Virginia, at dawn
Roanoke, Virginia, downtown skyline at dawn.

The Roanoke Colony is the US’s fifth-oldest settlement — although it is no longer in existence. The colony was established in 1585 AD by explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who wanted it to be England’s first permanent settlement in North America. However, after just five years, the colonists mysteriously disappeared, their fate unknown to this day.

Roanoke Island, on which the colony was established, is an 18-square-mile island that lies between the mainland US and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today, it is connected to the mainland via the Route 64 highway and has a population of around 6,700.

6. Jamestown, Virginia (1607)

Buildings from the Jamestown Settlement, which was founded in 1607
Historic building of Jamestown settlement

Taking sixth place on the list of the oldest US cities is Jamestown, which was founded in 1607 AD by the Virginia Company of London. It was England’s first successful attempt at stopping Spain from having a complete monopoly of the New World. 

Originally located in James City County in Virginia, Jamestown is another city that no longer exists, and it had a rocky history right from the start. In the first few years, many of its inhabitants caught diseases and starved, and in 1610 it was briefly abandoned. By 1624, though, Jamestown had become a small town and served as Virginia’s British colonial capital until 1698. However, by the end of the Civil War in 1865, most of the original settlement had been destroyed. 

In 1936, the site of the city was awarded national park status and renamed Colonial National Park.

7. Kecoughtan, Virginia (1610)

Buildings in Hampton, Virigina
Kecoughtan was the name of the settlement now known as Hampton
Image credit: DenisTangneyJr / iStockPhoto.com

Dating back to 1610 AD, Kecoughtan is the US’s seventh-oldest city and was founded by the same colonists who founded Jamestown.

Jamestown’s founders first encountered the indigenous settlement of Kecoughtan in 1607 AD, but by 1610 AD relations with the natives had soured and they drove out the original inhabitants to claim the city as their own. In the 1690s, Kecoughtan was incorporated into the larger town of Hampton, which went on to become an independent city. As well as being attacked by pirates (including Blackbeard) in the early 1700s, the city was torched by Confederates in 1861 to prevent its capture by Union forces during the American Civil War.

After the war, the city was reconstructed, and following America’s independence, it became a major military outpost.

8. Santa Fe, New Mexico (1610)

Downtown Sante Fe at dusk
View of downtown Santa Fe at dusk

The eighth-oldest city in the United States is Santa Fe, which was established as New Mexico’s capital city in 1610 AD by the Spanish colonial officer Don Pedro de Peralta. 

Native Americans were residents of the area long before Spanish colonials arrived, though, with one Pueblo village founded around 900 AD in current-day downtown Santa Fe. However, it is widely accepted that the indigenous people abandoned their pueblos 200 years before the city was founded by the Spanish.

While Santa Fe is the eighth-oldest US city today, it wasn’t actually a part of the US until 1848, when Mexico surrendered the state of New Mexico to the US.

9. Hopewell, Virginia (1613)

Gateway to the City of Hopewell road art
The “Big H”, welcome to Hopewell sign
Image credit: Floyd.lark, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Established by English naval commander Sir Thomas Dale in 1613 AD, Hopewell is the US’s ninth-oldest city.

Because Jamestown is no longer inhabited, it is the second-oldest continually inhabited English settlement in the US after Hampton (Kecoughtan).

The settlement was originally built around a plantation called Bermuda City, but after being destroyed by Native Americans in 1622, a new settlement — named Hopewell, after the ship that brought its founder — was built to replace it in 1635. The oldest part of Hopewell, City Point, served as General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters during the Civil War.

Today, more than 23,000 people inhabit the city of Hopewell.

10. Albany, New York

City skyline of Albany, New York at sunset
Albany skyline on the Hudson River at sunset

The tenth spot on this list goes to Albany, a city that was founded by Dutch fur traders in 1614 AD. 

The city began with the building of Fort Nassau on the banks of the Hudson River. In 1624, the Dutch colonists built another fort — Fort Orange — but in 1664, the English took control of these settlements and renamed the area Albany, after the Duke of Albany. In 1797, after the formation of the US, the city became the capital of New York State, and it has retained this status since.

A center of trade and transportation, Albany is located on the banks of the navigable Hudson River and it was home to some of the world’s first railroads.

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