The United States is over a couple hundred years old. That’s not very old, when compared with many other countries around the world. In this fairly young country, where is its oldest city?
Most people would point you south to answer that question. About 40 miles southeast of Jacksonville sits the city of St. Augustine, Florida.
In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida on his search for the legendary Fountain of Youth. He landed at St. Augustine, which claims to be the oldest continuously settled city in the United States.
Saint Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida’s first governor. He named the settlement “San Agustín“, as his ships bearing settlers, troops, and supplies from Spain had first sighted land in Florida eleven days earlier on August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and became the capital of British East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain.
Although British forces destroyed most of the original buildings in St. Augustine in the early 1700s, the city’s architecture still pays tribute to its Spanish origins. The city’s Historic Colonial District still contains dozens of old buildings with balconies that overlook narrow streets.
Before Juan Ponce de Leon ever reached Florida, though, he founded a settlement at Caparra in what is now the United States territory of Puerto Rico. Caparra became the current city of San Juan. Some argue that San Juan should be considered the oldest U.S. settlement.
Both San Juan and St. Augustine were settled by European explorers. But what about the indigenous peoples that lived throughout the lands that would become the United States?
Historians believe the oldest indigenous settlement in the United States might have been the ancient city of Cahokia. Located in Southwestern Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville, the modern city of Cahokia is home to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.