History can be somewhat uncertain here in the United States. On the second Monday of every October America pauses to celebrate the discovery of this land we call home. The origin of this now-controversial holiday transpired in 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But the definition of “discovered” is open to debate. Some believe ancient Hebrews landed on America’s shoreline thousands of years before Columbus was a gleam in his daddy’s eye. Others believe the son of Erik the Great, Leif Ericson, discovered a new land he dubbed “Vinland” after being tossed around and lost at sea. Then there was an Irish monk, Mardoc the Scottish prince, and on, and on, and on… You get the idea. Nonetheless. It’s still a day off from work. (Pssst… Native Americans beat them all to the punch)
Though not nearly as ancient as America’s European counterparts, the oldest cities in our nation are rich with the history of bygone eras. They reflect almost-forgotten times prior to words like ‘amenities’ or ‘technology’ entering the world’s vocabulary. But that doesn’t mean they don’t hold appeal for today’s visitors. As in European cities such as London or Rome, the ancient often coexists alongside the modern, offering visitors the best of both worlds.
Time has moved forward at an ever-increasing pace, devouring remnants from our nation’s rich past. Fortunately, through concerted efforts, a decent portion of it has been preserved. Since these priceless historical artifacts won’t come to you, a road trip may be in store. And what better places to pacify the history buff in all of us than in the oldest cities in the U.S.A.
St. Augustine, Florida. Year Founded: 1565
The oldest city in America award goes to St. Augustine. In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of what is now Florida as he was in search of the infamous fountain of youth. Being the patriotic Spaniard that he was, he naturally claimed the land for Spain. It took another 52 years for the spot where he and his crew dropped anchor to develop into a full-fledged city, but in 1565 the town of St. Augustine was born.
The focal point of St. Augustine is Castillo de San Marcos which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. At 315 years old, and taking 23 years to complete, it is the oldest structure in town and was built to protect Spain’s claim in the New World from invaders. On weekends, visitors are treated to a weapons demonstration and the firing of cannons.
The Spanish Military Hospital Museum provides a look at medicine in the 17th century and the Old Jail, from1891 to 1953, housed the most violent criminals in the country. Lincolnville Museum was the first black public high school in St. Augustine and is now a museum and cultural center.
In addition to being a historical mecca, St. Augustine Beach provides visitors with a white sand pristine beach for the true Florida experience. For anglers, deep sea fishing charters run daily, and for those who prefer sticking closer to shore, kayak rentals are available. If ghosts and goblins are anyone’s agenda, fear not, or be very afraid. The Haunted Pub Tour and the Walking Ghost Tour may reveal an up close and personal look at the apparitions of former residents. It’s been known to happen.
The freshest of seafood is on the menu at many of the local restaurants and the bars and pubs offer everything from a laidback atmosphere to getting one’s groove on.
Jamestown, Virginia. Year Founded: 1607
Jamestown, originally called James Fort, was the very first English settlement in the Americas and was located in the colony of Virginia. Earlier attempts to settle in the area had failed, with one of those attempts resulting in the Roanoke massacre.
Historic Jamestowne and the original Jamestown Settlement draw thousands of annual tourist seeking a peek at America’s past. There are eight estates belonging to former U.S. Presidents which can be toured for a look at what was once considered living in the lap of luxury. The Virginia Battlefield is another big draw where imagination comes into play when internally visualizing the gruesomeness that took place on this patch of land during the Revolutionary War.
Of course, modern-day Jamestown in no way resembles its humble beginnings, so once the history of the town has been completely taken in, visitors can jump back into the current year with an array of fun and entertaining things to do. Busch Gardens and Old Dominion Theme Park top the list for rollercoaster action. Allow a full day for either one of these parks. You’ll need it.
There are beautiful beaches, a world-class zoo, restaurants of every imaginable variety, art galleries, nightclubs, pubs, parks, golf, wineries, breweries, spas, sports, and virtually everything to keep tourists coming back year after year for more of the same.
Santa Fe, New Mexico – Year Founded: 1607
The area which now comprises Santa Fe was occupied by indigenous people for several hundred years before Spain colonized it in 1610. Most of Santa Fe’s historical content lies in the downtown area around the Plaza which is a one-block radius just adjacent to the Palace of Governors. The palace is the original seat of the governing body who ruled over the territory.
Museum Hill is the location of numerous art galleries and yet more museums. Annually, Santa Fe becomes flooded with visitors during the Santa Fe Folk Art Market. It is the largest market of this type in the world, featuring over 800 artists from as many as 92 countries and six continents.
Restaurants featuring all types of worldwide cuisine are readily available, including Casa Chimayo Restaurant which was featured on the television show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Many of the restaurants feature a Southwestern flair, but if this tends to disagree with someone’s taste buds, try some Italian, or Greek, or German, or, or, or… It’s all there.
New Mexico River Adventures will appease the thrill seeker in anyone with their whitewater rafting excursions and other water activities for the tamer. Escape Santa Fe sets visitors up with a scavenger hunt where they will solve mysteries and crack clues to break out of one of the three different themed mystery rooms. With any city as old as Santa Fe, there are several ghost tours for raising up the haunts of yesteryear.
Any one of these three cities are well-worth paying a visit to. After all, any place that’s been around as long as they have must be doing something right. Go find out what it is. You’ll be glad you did.