These ten buildings are some of the oldest in the United States. All of them are over 200 years old, and some far older. Filled with rich history, and often boasting unique methods of construction, these buildings have stood the test of time. Many of them open their doors to visitors, who come to hear the stories of the people who built and lived in them.
Richard Sparrow House
Richard Sparrow, who lent his name to this historic house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, received a six acre house tract from the British government in 1636. By 1640, he had finished construction on what would become his family home. Sparrow was a surveyor, and over the following two years was able to add another seven tracts to his holdings. His family of three, unusually small for the time, eked out a living there. Sparrow was active in the local community, serving as its constable and on local juries. The Sparrow House still stands, and is open to the public as a museum of colonial life.
These brick and adobe buildings sit atop a mesa just west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their original brick foundations suggest that the oldest buildings in the pueblo date back to the early 11th century. Spanish colonizers destroyed much of the thriving village in 1599, but the survivors were able to rebuild it over the next 20 years.
The Pueblo Lands Act of 1924 officially returned the land to the descendents of its inhabitants. However, mandatory English boarding schools for Acoma children wiped out much of their language and culture. The roughly 300 buildings that make up the Acoma Pueblo today are still inhabited and maintained by a population of about 6,000 Puebloans.
John Bowne House and Flushing Quaker Meeting House
When Quakers in Dutch colonial New York were forbidden from gathering in public, they took to private homes to worship. In 1662, local homeowner John Bowne allowed them to use his small wooden house in Flushing, New York, for which he was arrested and hauled before the Dutch West India Company to serve trial. He successfully argued his case on the basis of religious freedom, and returned to his home in New York.
In 1694, Bowne constructed another house a few blocks away exclusively for Quaker meetings; it is still in use for that purpose today. The house where Bowne and his family lived has been open as a museum of colonial life since 1947.
Old Stone Fort
This stone structure was likely built between 30 and 550 CE. Archeological attempts to explain its provenance have turned up little decisive evidence, but great variation in results of carbon dating of its walls suggests it was built over a period of about 400 years. It was likely built by Indigenous people of the Middle Woodland period, as it bears similarity to other buildings constructed during that period.
Although it is still named the Old Stone Fort, the structure was likely not used for defense. Its walls are not high enough, and few artifacts of daily life have been found there, so it is not likely to have housed people for any significant period of time. Its true purpose is unknown, but it is believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes. The Old Stone Fort is now part of an archeological park, which includes a museum, a theater, and scenic views of the nearby Duck River.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Bar
Likely constructed circa 1761 during Spanish colonial occupation of New Orleans, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is the subject of local legend. Rumor has it the pirate Jean Lafitte owned the building in the early 19th century, and may have even used it as a front to plan smuggling operations. Although no written record of Lafitte’s activities survives, the building’s status as one of the oldest in New Orleans is undisputed.
In the 1940s, it opened its doors as Café Lafitte, and became popular among local artists and the gay community. It was even visited by celebrities like Noël Coward and Tennessee Williams. Lafitte’s still churns out beer and pirate-themed daiquiris to this day.
Jose Manuel Gonzales, an Apache who traveled with the expeditionary party of Juan Bautista de Anza, would go on to co-found the Pueblo of San Jose, the first municipal government in California, in 1777. Two years later, after his home flooded, he constructed a small house out of adobe bricks in the heart of the city.
After his death in 1804, Spanish Army soldier and ranch owner Luis Maria Peralta took up residence in Gonzalez’s house, constructing a porch and a new kitchen. The adobe was used for storage from 1851 until 1966, when it was purchased by the city of San Jose and fixed up. It is still open as a house museum, and offers tours of its period-appropriate amenities.
Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo
Built between 1791 and 1794 in what is now Monterey, California, the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is roughly tied with New Orleans’ St. Louis Cathedral for the honor of oldest continually operating cathedral in the United States. Founded by the Franciscan Saint Junipero Serra in 1770, its unique architectural style reflects the Spanish colonial mode with Western Islamic influences.
Father Ramon Mestres, a priest serving at the cathedral in 1899, presided over the marriage of later President Herbert Hoover to his wife Lou Henry. Hoover was the first president to be married by a Catholic priest. The cathedral still stands today, conducting services in both Spanish and English.
Fort de Chartres
This stone fort was constructed in 1720 by John Law, a Scottish miner hoping to strike it rich on the area’s precious metals. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the territory of Illinois was transferred to the British, who had trouble getting to the fort. They had abandoned it completely by 1772, and it fell to ruin in the subsequent years. The state of Illinois purchased it and fixed it up in 1913. Its stone magazine is the oldest building in Illinois today, and hosts yearly reenactments of colonial life.
The adobe houses of the Taos Pueblo have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. It was built on the banks of the Rio Grande by people who spoke the Taos language between 1000 and 1450 CE. They had likely come down en masse from the Four Corners region, where water was less plentiful.
They were contacted by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado during his 1450 expedition to find the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. The Puebloans resisted the construction of a church on their land, and even burned it down. Along with most of the other indigenous people of New Mexico, they would drive Spanish colonizers out of the area in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
The Spanish reconquered New Mexico 12 years later, rebuilding their church in the Taos Pueblo. The land was later designated a national forest by Theodore Roosevelt during his presidency, but following a political movement encompassing both Puebloans and non-Puebloans, much of the land was returned in 1970, with further returns in 1996. The Pueblo is now home to about 4,500 people.
Molalla Log House
In 1984, Rock Creek, Oregon resident Rich Isberg discovered an abandoned cabin on his property. Measuring 18 feet by 2 feet, made out of Douglas fir logs hand-cut into unique dovetail joints that require no nails for assembly, the cabin immediately attracted the interest of local historians. By observing the growth rings inside the logs, they determined that the cabin was over 200 years old, dating back to the 1790s. But who built it?
Archeological evidence suggests that over the years, it was used as a shelter, a barn, and a machine shed. The cabin’s style reflects that of log homes built by the far flung Metis, who occupied much of what is now Canada. Another theory holds that it might have been built by fur trappers from Russia, who were ordered by Catherine the Great to establish a settlement in the area.
In 2019, local historians, archeologists, and carpenters restored the cabin, relocating it to the Hopkins Demonstration Forest in the Oregon City Area. It is open to the public, and educational tours are available.