15 Small Towns in the U.S.A That Bring You Back in Time

Stephanie Allen

Leavenworth, WA

One of the greatest aspects of traveling in the United States is its diverse geography. From large cities to mountainous regions, there's something for everyone to enjoy. One of the country's more unique qualities is its small towns, especially those that capture the past. 

The charm of these towns is their ability to take visitors back to an earlier time before modern conveniences. Each location varies in culture and specific attractions, but experiencing life in simpler times is something they all have in common. 

1. Astoria, Oregon

Astoria, Oregon
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Astoria may not be as well-known as cities like Portland, but that only adds to its quaintness. Recognized as the oldest settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, Astoria's port on the Columbia River is only the start of the lovely scenic views.

The Scandinavian influence of the 19th-century Nordic immigrants is in the fisheries, and the Victorian architecture reflects the English aesthetic of the era. A rebuilt Fort Clatsop takes visitors back to the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

2. Berlin, Maryland

Berlin, Maryland
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Originally occupied by the Assateague and Pocomoke Indians, the town of Berlin was part of the colonial-era 300-acre Burley Plantation, which dates back to 1677. The village of Berlin was established in the 1790s and officially incorporated after the Civil War. 

A walk along Berlin's tree-lined Main Street gives visitors amazing views of the town's successful preservation efforts, including houses and the Victorian-styled town center. Fun fact: The Julia Roberts-Richard Gere movie Runaway Bride was filmed in Berlin. 

3. Bristol, Rhode Island

Bristol, Rhode Island
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Rhode Island has a centuries-long maritime history, but what else has been around for as long? Its annual Bristol Fourth of July Celebration, founded in 1785 and held yearly to the delight of residents and guests alike. 

The festivities occur during the July Fourth holiday and three weeks before, starting in late June. Parade-goers can watch the floats and marching bands along the route through Bristol's historic districts. Destinations like the Coggeshall Farm Museum from the 18th century are open to visitors throughout the year.

4. Cape May, New Jersey 

Cape May
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History buffs can find interesting sights on land and sea in Cape May, New Jersey. On land, the town’s Victorian gingerbread houses, with their ornate trim, are an architectural marvel to behold throughout the Cape May Historic District. 

The fully functional Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can participate in the Stairway to the Stars Climb to the top of the lighthouse for breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

5. Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Chagrin Falls, Ohio
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The former mill town of Chagrin Falls may be close to modern big cities like Akron and Cleveland, but it's full of 19th-century charm. The Chagrin River has a natural waterfall in the middle of the downtown area. 

In the surrounding blocks are immaculately preserved buildings from the 1800s housing more than 50 independent restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, and old-fashioned mom-and-pop shops. The Chagrin Falls Historical Society hosts an annual tour of some of the town's most historic properties. 

6. Cody, Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming
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Founded in the 1890s by Buffalo Bill Cody, the town of Cody is near Yellowstone National Park, making it the perfect tourist haven for those with an affinity for the Wild West. Unlike western ghost towns, Cody has year-round residents and plenty of activities, like reenacted gun fights and nighttime summer rodeos. 

Guests can immerse themselves in Western culture by visiting the frontier buildings from the 1890s and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West complex, which consists of five distinct museums. The Cody Trolley Tour includes the historic district, the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, and pioneer dwellings. 

7. Granville, Tennessee 

If you want to experience the nostalgia of the 1960s again or for the first time, historic Granville, Tennessee, is the ideal place to visit. Located an hour from Nashville, Granville is called Tennessee's Mayberry Town, after the fictitious idyllic location of The Andy Griffith Show. There's even a Mayberry – I Love Lucy Museum! 

Feel the small-town hospitality of Granville, where the people treat strangers like lifelong friends and neighbors. Visit the Car Museum to get an up close and personal view of antique cars. The T.B. Sutton General Store still has the same characteristics as when it opened in the early 20th century. 

8. Holland, Michigan

Holland, Michigan
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As the name implies, Holland, Michigan, has a strong Dutch cultural influence. From the Windmill Island Gardens and the Holland Museum to an authentic working windmill, the town's deep Northern European roots are evident wherever visitors go. 

Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, downtown Holland has independent shops and cobblestone sidewalks. It also hosts seasonal activities like the nine-day Tulip Time Festival held every May and the monthlong pop-up Christmas market called Kerstmarkt

9. Lake City, South Carolina 

Lake City is the quintessential small southern locale, with a downtown center that's a step back to a time when people weren’t tethered to smartphones, there was joy in the simpler things in life, and people didn't feel so rushed. 

Historically, Lake City is an agricultural town with 50 buildings listed on the National Register. A walk through its vibrant downtown area includes art galleries and small shops. The Ronald E. McNair Life History Center, named after the Challenger astronaut, is in his hometown. 

10. Leavenworth, Washington

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Visitors to Leavenworth, Washington, can have an authentic Bavarian experience without a passport. Within the Cascade Mountains is a Bavarian village that would make the state of Bavaria proud. The German cuisine, unique shops, and local breweries are full of Old World charm. 

The stunning architecture is just the beginning of the village views. The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum and the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm will get you into the holiday spirit. If that isn't enough Christmas, you won’t want to miss the yearly Christmastown festival, which turns Leavenworth into a village of lights. 

11. Mineral Point, Wisconsin

Mineral point, Wisconsin
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Located in Wisconsin's southwest region, Mineral Point has a centuries-long history of mineral mining, starting with the Indigenous tribes in the 1600s. By the 1830s, settlers from Cornwall, England, began mining operations there, bringing along their traditions and architectural styles.  

The Cornish buildings from the 1800s are now historical sites throughout the town. Many of the original log and stone houses were restored, giving the Mineral Point a Cornish village appearance. In addition to the English architecture, restaurants serve authentic Cornish meals such as tea biscuits, bread pudding, and figgy hobbin. 

12. St. Augustine, Florida 

St. Augustine
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St. Augustine, founded by Spain in 1565, is the oldest city in the U.S. The ancient Spanish influence is evident from the cobblestone streets to Ponce de Leon's legendary Fountain of Youth to the oldest wooden schoolhouse.  

The colorful Spanish buildings and protective forts, like Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos fort, make visitors feel like they've turned the calendar back to the 17th century. Guests can tour St. Augustine by trolley or horse-drawn carriage. 

13. Solvang, California

Solvang, CA
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Billing itself as “The Danish Capital of America,” Solvang lives up to its name as a Danish village. Established in 1911 by immigrants from Denmark, Solvang's atmosphere is steeped in Danish culture everywhere you go, including the warm, friendly people and the sense of community they convey. 

The heart of Solvang is Copenhagen Drive, brimming with early 20th-century architecture and Danish merchants. It also includes wineries, bakeries, and independent shops and boutiques. To top it all off, Solvang has no less than four windmills dotting the landscape. 

14. Taos, New Mexico 

Taos, New Mexico
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One of New Mexico's most famous towns is Taos. Although it officially became a town in 1934, its history can be traced back more than a thousand years with the adobe dwellings of the Taos Pueblo. A Native American community, Taos Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Visitors to the Taos Pueblo and surrounding homes can experience the Taos Puebloans' culture and way of life and observe their rituals and celebrations. The adobe homes are passed down from generation to generation and are maintained continuously and meticulously by the respective families. 

15. Wellsboro, Pennsylvania 

Wellsboro, PA
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Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, offers a taste of a classic American town that's a snapshot in time. Located in Tioga County, less than an hour from Corning, New York, it’s a walkable town with immaculately kept late Victorian-era homes. 

Main Street in Wellsboro is the town's crown jewel. It’s lined with small businesses, and Dunham's Department Store is a delightful reminder of a time when one-stop shopping was the norm. Across the street is the Arcadia Theatre, a 1920s-style movie venue.  

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