The architecture of the United States displays a diverse range of architectural styles and forms. Since the first successful European colonies were established there in the early 1600s, this country started developing immensely, and the architecture followed. Many buildings can be visited today, some of which are much older than the country itself. This article explores a collection of the ten oldest buildings that should be on every architecture enthusiast’s list of places to visit if they find themselves in the United States. 

The House of the Seven Gables

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The House of the Seven Gables_©Wikipedia

Location: Salem, Massachusetts
Year(s) built: 1668

One of the oldest surviving homes in the United States is this colonial seaside mansion in Massachusetts built in 1668 for Captain John Turner |, the Head of a successful maritime family in the New England colonies. Characteristic of post-medieval English dwellings, the two-over-two floor plan in the original portion of the house has a big chimney in the middle. John Turner II modernised the Georgian-style home’s interior, which had some of the best examples of high-style Georgian panelling. Today, the house is one of the largest timber-framed homes in North America that is still standing. Its historical backdrop served as the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name. 

The Alamo

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The Alamo Mission_©Wikipedia

Location: San Antoni0, Texas
Year(s) built: 1716-1718

The Alamo was the site of a resistance effort for Texan independence from Mexico in 1836. Originally, it was built as a chapel for the Mission San Antonio de Valero, where Spanish Franciscan friars baptised Native Americans. Before the turn of the century, the structures had begun to deteriorate. However, they were once again occupied by Spanish troops in 1836, when the historic Battle of the Alamo began. Since its construction, the Alamo has operated as a hospital, a political prison, and a garrison. It is currently one of Texas’ most visited historical sites.

Drayton Hall

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Drayton Hall_©Goingstuckey

Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Year(s) built: 1747–1752

Founded in 1738, Drayton Hall is a plantation house on the Ashley River and the first example of Palladian architecture in the States. It remains unfurnished to highlight the original architectural characteristics and components. It is now a site for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, containing one of the oldest African-American cemeteries in the country.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

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Mission San Juan Capistrano_©Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz

Location: Orange County, California
Year(s) built: 1776

California‘s oldest standing structure, the Serra Chapel, can be seen in Mission San Juan Capistrano, established in 1776 by Franciscan-Spanish Catholic missionaries. Native Americans who had been baptized as Catholics constructed the chapel in 1782. The first mass was held there in 1783. Although it is said to be 330 years older and brought from Barcelona, the golden altar was installed in the Church only in the early 20th century. Regular mass services are still held at the Serra Chapel, and the historical mission is now a museum.

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

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Mission San Xavier Del Bac_©adventurestudenttravel.com/mission-san-xavier-del-bac/

Location: near Tuscon, Arizona
Year(s) built: 1692 (current structure dates to 1783–1797)

Mission San Xavier Del Bac is a famous Spanish Catholic Mission and Arizona’s earliest European building. The mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, eight years after which he oversaw the construction of a church. North of the current Franciscan Church is where the original Church was constructed and used by the mission until its demolition in 1770. The mission still standing was erected between 1783 and 1797. Today, it is one of the finest displays of Spanish colonial architecture in the States.

Olana State Historic Site 

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Olana State Historic Site_©Wikipediav

Location: Greenport, New York
Year(s) built: 1870 – 1872

Designed on a hilltop site with the assistance of architect Calvert Vaux, the Olana State Historic Site is an estate with expansive views of the Hudson River Valley, the Taconic Range, and the Catskill Mountains. Frederic Edwin Church, a prominent member of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, lived there with his wife, Isabel. His travels inspired the design of the residence, which combined Victorian architecture with Oriental features. Featuring the Church’s artwork, including his collection of decorative arts, the estate has been recognised as a National Historic Landmark. 

Iolani Palace

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Iolani Palace_©Gage Skidmore

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Year(s) built: 1879

Iolani Palace is where the Hawaiian monarchy used to reside in the nineteenth century and is the country’s only royal palace. Its architectural elements and style result from a distinct fusion of native Hawaiian and Italian Renaissance, known as ‘American Florentine.’ A lavish property, it incorporated indoor plumbing and electricity. These advanced features were uncommon for a typical home back in those days. Today, the palace is a museum open to the public.

Vaile Mansion

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Vaile Mansion_©Wikipedia

Location: Independence, Missouri
Year(s) built: 1871 – 1881

Vaile Mansion was built in 1881 for businessman Harvey M. Vaile and is a prime example of Second Empire architecture in the United States. The house is a three-story Gothic-style building and a unique landmark in the city, regarded as “the most princely house and the most comfortable home in the entire west” by the Kansas City Times in 1882. Today, it can be visited as a museum.

Bishop’s Palace

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Bishop’s Palace_©galvestonhistory.org

Location: Galveston, Texas
Year(s) built: 1887-1893

Also known as Gresham’s Castle, Bishop’s Palace is a good illustration of Victorian architecture, built for Walter Gresham and his family by Galveston’s renowned architect Nicholas Clayton. The mansion is widely recognised for the intricately carved woodwork in its interior and the sculptured granite, limestone, and sandstone on its exterior. The stone structure notably withstood the Great Galveston Hurricane in 1900. The Galveston Historical Foundation owns the home today, which is open for visitors.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House_©insidethemagic.net

Location: Jan Jose, California
Year(s) built: 1884–1906

The Winchester Mystery House is a Victorian and Gothic-style mansion that used to be Sarah Winchester’s abode after her husband died. It became a tourist attraction after her death in 1922, famous for its grandeur and architectural oddities. Visitors can see staircases ascending through multiple levels before abruptly ending, and doorways opening to blank walls, among other curious anomalies. The building was constructed without a particular vision, only to satisfy Sarah Winchester’s peculiar specifications to appease the ghosts she believed were haunting her. It is occasionally called one of the most haunted locations in the world.

Reference List:

[1] Big Rentz (2020). The Oldest Buildings in America. [online]. Available at: https://www.bigrentz.com/blog/oldest-buildings-in-america [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[2] The Discoverer (2022). The Oldest Buildings in All 50 States. [online]. Available at: https://www.thediscoverer.com/blog/the-oldest-building-in-all-50-states/X72PXKdLaAAGbifz [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[3] Stamp E.  (2020). 18 of America’s Best Historic Homes to Visit. [online]. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/america-best-historic-homes-visit  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[4] Love Exploring. (2022). Beautiful Historic Homes in America You Can Actually Visit. [online]. Available at: https://www.loveexploring.com/galleries/98728/beautiful-historic-homes-in-america-you-can-actually-visit?page=1   [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[5] Finkelstein E. (2016). 50 of the Most Famous Historic Houses in America. [online]. Available at: https://www.countryliving.com/life/travel/news/g3127/historic-homes/  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[5] Vaile Mansion. (2021). History. [online]. Available at: https://www.vailemansion.org/history [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[6] The House of the Seven Gables (2022). The House of the Seven Gables. [online]. Available at: https://7gables.org/historic-structures/  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[7] TSHA (2022). Bishop’s Palace. [online]. Available at: https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bishops-palace  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[8] Wikipedia (2022). Olana State Historic Site. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olana_State_Historic_Site  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[9] Wikipedia (2022). Winchester Mystery House. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Mystery_House [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

[10] All That Is Interesting. (2022). The Terrifying True Story Of The Winchester Mystery House And The Tormented Heiress Who Built It. [online]. Available at: https://allthatsinteresting.com/winchester-mystery-house  [Accessed: 03 December 2022].

Author

A graduated BSc. in Architecture and soon-to-be master’s student, aspiring to specialize in sustainable and energy-efficient built environment. Having lived in both the Middle East and Europe has ignited travel as a passion, which she considers a valuable learning experience in the architectural profession, contributing to a spark to explore further through writing at RTF.

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