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5 of the Oldest Buildings in the U.S.
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December 1, 2019
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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In the scheme of things, the United States is a pretty new country, which means you aren't likely to find buildings similar to those you could tour in Europe. That doesn't mean that there aren't any impressive, old structures to visit in the United States, however. Read on to learn more about five of the country's oldest buildings. You might be surprised at which state has four.

Fairbanks House in Dedham, MA

Fairbanks house in Dedham
Credit: Magicpiano/ CC BY-SA 4.0 

Built in 1637, the Fairbanks House is the oldest known wood structure still standing in North America. The house was built for Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks out of oak and cedar by a master carpenter and master mason. This high quality construction surely contributes to the house's longevity.

It subsequently housed eight generations of the Fairbanks family and was lived in continuously for 268 years. Family members made improvements over time, with additions nearly doubling the size of the original house. Wallpaper, paint, and larger windows were also added. While the house was improved over time, it was never updated to include heat, running water, or electricity.

The last family member moved out of the house in 1904. The family established the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc. organization in order to purchase the house and make it available for visits by future generations. The house has been open as a museum for over 100 years. To learn more about the nearly 400 years of history represented by this house, you can visit between May and October.

San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, NM

San Miguel Capel and front courtyard on sunny day
Credit: pmphoto/ Shutterstock

San Miguel Chapel holds the honor of being the oldest church in the continental United States. The earliest documentation of the church's existence dates back to 1628, and oral history indicates it might have been built as early as 1610.

The original church building was built on the site of an ancient kiva of the Analco Indians. A kiva is an ancient southwestern architectural form, meant to be used as community gathering places. The church was most likely built by Tlaxcalan Indians, a group who came to New Mexico in 1598. The church was used by the community living on the south side of the Santa Fe River, including the Tlaxcalan Indians, laborers, and Spanish soldiers.

The church suffered serious damage in 1640 and again in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt. The church was repaired after each incident. Over the years, ornate and beautiful additions were made to the structure, including an altar screen in 1798 (one of the oldest in New Mexico), a three-tiered tower in 1848, and a 780 pound bell in the bell tower in 1856. A storm brought down the bell tower in 1872, so the San Jose Bell is now displayed inside the chapel. The most recent renovation of the church occurred in 1955, led by Ms. E. Boyd, a Santa Fe painter and art expert.

Mass is still hosted at the church and it is otherwise open to visitors.

Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, NM

The entrance doors to the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, NM
Credit: AbeSnap23/ iStock

If you visit Santa Fe's downtown plaza, you won't be able to miss the Palace of the Governors. The building takes up the entire north side of the plaza and is the oldest continually occupied building in the United States. Built in 1610, the building was first used as the residence for the first Spanish royal governor of New Mexico. It continued to house Spanish, Mexican, and American governors until 1909, residence rotating as the three countries' control of the territory that is now New Mexico continued to change hands. In 1909, the legislature voted to hand control of the building to the School of American Archaeology and the Museum of New Mexico. These entities still have control of the building today.

It is a one-story building in the Spanish-Pueblo revival style. Improvements and additions over time mean the building incorporates styles from many different eras, including Spanish-Colonial. The adobe facade provides a shaded area that serves as a marketplace for Native American vendors. The museum includes a number of rotating exhibits, providing insights into the building and New Mexico history.

Acoma Pueblo in Cibola County, NM

A street in the Acoma Pueblo, or Sky City, outside of Albuquerque, NM
Credit: Bill Florence/ Shutterstock

Acoma Pueblo is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the United States. The Acoma Pueblo, also called Sky City, is set high atop a 367 foot sandstone mesa and inhabited by the Acoma people. The pueblo is located approximately 60 miles west of the city of Albuquerque. Built in the 12th century, it is thought that this location was chosen for its ideal defensive position from raiders.

The pueblo today consists of approximately 300 two- and three-story adobe buildings, with the upper levels accessible by exterior ladders. Historically the building was only accessible via a hand-cut staircase cut into the sandstone. In the 1950s, a road was added into the rock face The Acoma Pueblo has no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal.

Currently less than 50 tribal members live on the pueblo, though nearly 3,000 live nearby in the villages of Acomita, McCartys, and Anzac. The tribal members are known for their creation of beautiful, thin-walled pottery, and tourists flock to the pueblo on the weekends.

Taos Pueblo in Taos, NM

Beautiful adobe Pueblo of Taos in New Mexico beneath the mountains
Credit: miroslav_1/ iStock

Taking the honor of oldest, continuously lived-in housing in the United States is the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The oral history of the pueblo and its people is kept secret, but ancient ruins indicate that the pueblo has existed for almost 1,000 years. The main structures were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450. The pueblo is the only living Native American community that is designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.

Taos Pueblo is made entirely of adobe, with walls that are several feet thick. The exteriors of the buildings are maintained through regular re-plastering with thin layers of mud, while interior walls are coated with thin layers of white earth to keep them clean and bright.

The Taos people have continued to fight to retain their land and culture. In 1970, this mission saw a massive success. The U.S. Government returned 48,000 acres of mountain land to the Taos people, including the sacred Blue Lake, which is used for ceremonial rituals. While the Taos Pueblo is open for visitors, the Blue Lake and mountains are only accessible to members of the Taos Pueblo.