As countries go, the United States is over a couple hundred years old now. That’s not very old, though, 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.

Claimed as a Spanish territory, St. Augustine was officially founded in 1565. That’s a full 42 years before the British founded Jamestown, Virginia, and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

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.

Of course, 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.

Experts think Cahokia may have been settled as many as 3,500 years ago. The first inhabitants of the area were likely members of the indigenous Mississippian culture. Hundreds of years before Europeans arrived, the Mississippians created advanced societies throughout central and eastern North America.
The huge earthen mounds created by the Mississippians are preserved today at the Cahokia Mounds site, which is a National Historic Landmark. The site is also the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the United States and one of only 21 World Heritage Sites in the U.S.

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    • We’re glad to hear you’re enjoying today’s Wonder, Clara! Even if you can’t get to St. Augustine, you can use your imagination to discover it online! We hope you continue to Wonder on your own– and we will see you soon! :)

  1. I think that the indigenous peoples of the now-United States often aren’t mentioned in accounts of the first inhabitant. I appreciate that you included the first city of the indigenous people in your article.
    I think that the oldest city is definitely Cahokia, as it was established before all of the other considerations in your article. The fact that it is indigenous does not give you the right to overlook this fact.
    I believe that tomorrow’s Wonder of the day will be about massages.

    • Hi there, Tori, we are super appreciative of your WONDERful comment about today’s Wonder. We are so happy that you’ve done your own research and have offered additional information. We are so grateful for great Wonder Friends like you! :)

  2. I was wrong! Kind of close though, because The United States relates with the earth.
    I think tomorrow’s is about quietness or which country has had the least wars.
    Have a wonderful day, Wonderopolis!

    • Not to worry, Tiauna, you had a SUPER guess for this historic Wonder! :) We are so happy that you’re WONDERing with us today, and we can’t wait to discover our newest Wonder with you tomorrow! :)

  3. St. Augustine is a really cool place to be, you know why? Because I once went there at my school days. I went to the alligator farm to see lots of alligators. Next I went to the old lighthouse of St. Augustine which had 250 stairs up. I also went to the pirate museum that looks small in the outside, but big in the inside. And last I went to the St. Augustine fort.

    • We remember how AWESOME your trip to St. Augustine was from your previous comments, Carlos, and we are so glad you can Wonder about this historic city with us! It sounds like you had quite an adventure with those alligators, that long staircase and the old lighthouse! Thanks for sharing your story with us– you are a GREAT Wonder Friend! :)

    • Yippee, we love when Wonder Friends support one another! Thanks for posting your comment, Awesome Artist, and joining the fun of WONDERing! We are so glad that you are using your AWESOME artistic creativity to join our adventures! :)

  4. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We were SO excited to come back from our weekend and see a WONDER about St. Augustine. Half of our class has visited the city before! We enjoyed catching up on the wonders we missed this weekend.

    Ms. Davidson’s Third Grade Class

    • We LOVE learning about cool, historic cities just like the WONDERful students in Ms. Davidson’s Third Grade class! :) How SUPER that your students were lucky enough to experience such a fun-filled city in Florida! There is so much to discover in St. Augustine that it makes us feel like we are explorers of a new world, too!

      Thanks for sharing your post with us today– we are PUMPED that you’ve been doing some WONDERing of your own over the weekend. How lucky we are to have great Wonder Friends like all of you! Have a GREAT Monday! :)

    • Great question, David! We Wondered about Saint Augustine, which is the oldest city in the United States– it’s located in the state of Florida. We Wonder if you learned anything new about the city in the Wonder of the Day®? We’re glad you’re here today, Wonder Friend! :)

    • WOW, you’re lucky to have such a historic place in your backyard, Eve! We hope you enjoyed WONDERing about St. Augustine with us today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is the oldest city in the United States?
  • What other cities might claim to be the oldest in the United States?
  • How old is your city?

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Try It Out

Now that you know something about the history of St. Augustine, how about learning something about the town you live in? Ask a friend or family member to help you learn more about the place where you live.

Does your town have a website? If so, check there for information about the town’s history. If not, head to your local library. Ask a librarian to show you where you can find book’s about the history of your area.

When you’re finished, share some of the interesting facts you learn with your Wonder Friends. Post interesting information about your town on Facebook. We can’t wait to learn more about where you live!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Everyday Explorers: Investigate! lesson, children are encouraged to become Everyday Explorers as they dig in, get dirty and learn more about the physical and biological world around them.

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