Here are some of the oldest buildings in North and Central America you should consider visiting on your travels…
For most parts of the world, America is a relatively young country. and when I think of visiting the ‘States it usually revolves around visiting modern attractions like Walt Disney World in Florida or the skyscrapers of New York City, or classic symbols of America like Lady Liberty.
We often think of America’s history dating back to a few centuries when it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in the fifteenth century. However, the land was inhabited by Native Indians before it was discovered by Europeans and therefore held a rich native history with a distinctive culture, civilisations and unique architecture existing for over a thousand years.
In this article, we’ll take you through some of the oldest buildings in North and Central America that you can visit. If you hold a passion for exploring historical gems, visiting these ten historic buildings will make it worth your time.
10 of the oldest buildings in North and Central America that travellers can visit
1- Ancestral Puebloan dwellings
Scattered across the Southwest coast of America and Northern Mexico, hundreds of ancestral Puebloan dwellings can be found dating back to the 1492 century. Most of these dwellings were created on strategic positions such as hilltops. The construction of these dwellings started out around 900 AD and continued till the late fifteen century.
The famous structures of ancestral Puebloan dwellings include Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and Bandelier, which are also labeled as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Most of these structures are made of hard sandstone with dwellings including T-shaped windows and doors. You will also find a number of water retention structures and stone towers scattered across the dwellings.
2 – Cliff Palace
Considered the largest cliff dwelling in North America, the cliff palace was constructed around 1190 AD.
The Palace mirrors Puebloan dwellings like Mesa Verde, which served as a defensive structure against the changing climatic conditions. The structure of the Palace was carved out of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams.
The Palace was abandoned in 1300, but the original structure of the Palace remained largely intact given its geo-strategic location and material used for its construction.
It was ‘re-discovered’ in the nineteenth century and after some restoration works, including restoring the roof of the cave and adding some coloring to the building, the structure was later opened for the public to visit.
3 – Chaco Canyon
Located in New Mexico, another historic cultural site preserved over centuries is Chaco canyon. The Chaco culture national historical park holds the largest collection of ancient ruins from the pre-Columbian period.
The Chaco structures around the canyon were built around 900 AD and served as a cultural centre for ancestral Puebloans.
Visiting this canyon, you’ll get to witness impressive high-ceiling complex houses, doorways and corridors, including the ceremonial structures known as Kivas, which all reflect the Pueblo culture and architectural traditions.
4 – Casa Grande
Moving to Arizona, Casa Grande holds one of the largest prehistoric structures in America, which appeared around the fourteenth century.
Multiple speculations surround the purpose of the structure, as it remains a mystery for historians. Archeologists believe the structure was built by ancestral Sonoran Desert people as a wide-scale irrigation system for farming as well as a trade route with neighboring civilisations.
The structure was used for around a century, after which it fell to ruins. Considering its historical significance, the conservation project to restore Casa Grande started in the late 1930s with a number of structures built to support the ancient ruins.
The site is now open for the public to visit under the supervision of National Park Services.
5 – La Fortaleza
La Fortaleza, translating into The Fortress, is one of the few oldest buildings in America that are still in use.
It serves as a official residence of governor of Puerto Rico and was built in the early 16th century as a defensive hold for San Juan. It was later expanded into a mansion around 1640 with the addition of the chapel of Santa Catalina to its original structure.
The site became a US national historical landmark in 1960 and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site around 1983. Since then, several attempts have been made to preserve the historical significance of the place with the exhibition of several historical objects displayed for the tourists to learn about the castle’s history.
Like the great outdoors? if you’re exploring the US, why not check out our guide to Hiking Trails in Virginia?
6 – Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
Perhaps one of the oldest cathedrals built in the Romanesque style in North or Central America is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. Located in the Old San Juan town in Puerto Rico, the cathedral was constructed from wood in 1521 and was later destroyed by a hurricane in the late sixteenth century.
The structure was later re-constructed in the late twentieth century, where it was bricked and restored as a historical monument for the public to visit.
One of the few neoclassical structures found in the region, visiting this historical marvel will certainly be a feast for your eyes where you will get to see European influences on the architecture of colonial America.
7 – Palace of Governors
Dating back to the seventeenth century, the Palace of Governors is the oldest public building used by European settlers to operate in America.
The structure was initially built by Spanish colonial settlers as an administrative centere. Since then, several modifications have been made.
The Palace was designated as a national heritage in 1909 when it was converted into the Museum of New Mexico.
The Palace is open to the public, with the artifacts from the Spanish-Pueblo period displayed in the museum.
8 – Farris Windmill
The oldest windmill in America is the Farris Windmill. Located in Bourne town, the windmill is believed to have been built by pilgrims around the mid-seventeenth century.
The structure was later moved to the lower village and later to Farris field in South Yarmouth. The structure was later dismantled and reassembled in Greenfield village, with its final location settled in Cape Cod.
The four centuries-long histories of Farris Windmill make it one of the most important historical artifacts in American history and, no doubt, well worth a visit.
9 – San Jose Church
Another historical monument you can visit in America is the San Jose Church, located in the Old Sana Juan town in the capital of Puerto Rico.
The church is one of the oldest models of Spanish Gothic architecture in the Western Hemisphere. It was initially built around the sixteenth century as a part of St. Aquinas monastery. Over time, the church lost its importance but was restored and preserved as a national heritage site in the 2000s.
The 15th century’s Our Lady of Bethelem painting, which adds to the historical significance of the church, was restored as well.
Visiting this historic architecture, you will be able to get a glimpse of the architectural style of early Christian churches built by colonial settlements.
10 – Joel Eddins House
This wooden structure in Huntsville, Alabama, was home to Joel Eddins, who built the structure in the nineteenth century.
The house was built with wooden logs to mirror the “hall and parlor” style of colonial New England. It fell into ruins over the following centuries until it was restored and added to the National Register of Historic places in 1996.
10 of the oldest buildings in North and Central America
So there you have it, our guide to 10 of the oldest buildings in North and Central America that you should check out. Have we missed anything off this list that’d you’d recommend to fellow travellers? Please let us know your own recommendations in the comment section below!
This is a guest post by Zunaira Ghazal from Revisiting History. Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.