A civil war monument at the Gettysburg College. Image credits: George Sheldon via Shutterstock

The 7 Oldest Towns in Pennsylvania You Must See

It should come as no surprise that, as the country’s second-oldest state, Pennsylvania is home to some of the US’s earliest established towns. One of the original 13 American Colonies to be settled by the British, the “Keystone State” was created by William Penn in 1682 as a place where Quakers could live and worship freely.

While many of these first settlements didn’t officially become townships until years later, those that have survived have flourished and thrived, some even growing into major metropolises like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Those that didn’t develop as dramatically are today among some of the best places to visit in Pennsylvania to get a true taste of the state’s rich past.

It’s worth noting that of the seven oldest towns in Pennsylvania featured here, the exact dates of their founding may vary as some of the earliest settlements predate official records, leaving their exact ages up for debate. Nonetheless, the stories of the towns featured offer a fascinating insight into Pennsylvania's past.


View of battlefields in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Founded in 1806, it wasn’t long before the small Pennsylvanian town of Gettysburg was to become as common a name in the US as much larger places like New York and Washington. At the heart of the community is the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center, where one of the most important battles of the Civil War took place in 1863: the Battle of Gettysburg.

Today, this must-visit park preserves the battlefield as well as its monuments and memorials, offering a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made during one of the bloodiest conflicts in American history. Guided tours and interpretive programs are available and provide insight into the events that unfolded over three pivotal days of intense fighting. Downtown Gettysburg is also worth exploring, especially if a visit to David Wills House, where President Abraham Lincoln put the finishing touches on his Gettysburg Address, is included.


Locktender's House during Autumn on the Historic Lehigh Canal in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Although not officially a town until 1887, Easton’s roots go back much further – all the way to 1736. It was then that Thomas Penn, son of William Penn, acquired the tract of land on which the town now sits in Pennsylvania’s pretty Lehigh Valley. The town's strategic location along the Delaware River made it a vital hub for trade and transportation, with its wealth still very much in evidence in the Easton Historic District.

Now a national historic district, Easton is home to 405 contributing business and residential buildings, many dating back to the 1800s. If possible, plan a visit for the annual Easton Heritage Day event which honors the town’s past with re-enactments and fun family happenings.

Jim Thorpe

View of the historic town of Jim Thorpe in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Image credits: EQRoy via Shutterstock

A popular getaway destination in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, Jim Thorpe was founded in the early 19th century and originally known as Mauch Chunk before the name change in 1954 in honor of one of the country’s greatest sports personalities. Jim Thorpe's historic charm is immediately evident in its Victorian architecture which graces its streets with ornate facades, making a stroll through the town's historic district feels like stepping back in time. Other historic must-visits include the Asa Packer Mansion, a stunning heritage mansion built by railroad magnate Asa Packer in the mid-1800s (tours are available).

Other fun things to do in Jim Thorpe include taking a ride aboard the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. This fun family outing takes passengers on a picturesque journey through the Lehigh Gorge with great views of cascading waterfalls, rugged cliffs, lush forests, and the Lehigh River.


Red Covered Bridge in Chester County Pennsylvania.

Set along the Delaware River mid-way between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Chester is considered by most to be Pennsylvania's oldest settlement. First referenced in 1644, the town's long and fascinating history is deeply intertwined with the river, a source of commerce, transportation, and cultural exchange. Chester also played a significant role in the region's early industrialization, particularly in shipbuilding and textile manufacturing. 

The city's rich cultural heritage is evident in its diverse architecture, which showcases styles from the Victorian era to the early 20th century. Visitors can learn about the region’s history at the Delaware County Historical Society, while the Chester Rural Cemetery, with its ornate headstones and statues, provides a glimpse into the lives of the town’s most notable residents.


Bristol, Pa in May 2019. Bristol boro 41st classic car show. Image credits: Stephen c McCain via Shutterstock

Located northeast of Philadelphia near Trenton, the town of Bristol was settled in 1681 and formally established as a township in 1720. Its Delaware River location has served the town well, and this once a bustling port soon became an important center for shipbuilding, as well as tourism.

Today, it invites visitors to step back in time in the beautifully preserved Bristol Historic District with its more than 300 heritage buildings. Bristol Waterfront Park is a great place to hang out, too, and includes access to a promenade that’s especially fun to visit during the famous Bristol Fourth of July Parade, a tradition for over a century.

New Castle

Scenic view of the historic McConnell`s Mill and waterfall at McConnell`s Mill State Park in western Pennsylvania.

Although New Castle didn’t officially become a town until 1718, its roots are known to have been established back in 1701 when William Penn had 1,000 acres of land set aside for a future community. Today, this must-see town in western Pennsylvania boasts plenty of evidence of its rich colonial past. This is best seen in its well-preserved architecture, some of the best examples of which can be found in the charming North Hill Historic District.

Other historic highlights include the Lawrence County Historical Society, set in a heritage home from the early 1900s, and the interesting historic Scottish Rite Cathedral from 1926 with its ornate architecture and intricate details. Also worth visit is McConnells Mill State Park, a pretty sightseeing spot at any time of year for its historic old mill and picturesque covered bridge. 


Phoenixville, PA. The Colonial Theatre. Image credits: George Sheldon via Shutterstock

A relative late comer on this list, Phoenixville is located a few miles northwest of Philly in the state’s heartland and was the scene of settlement in 1732 (it was only incorporated in the early 1800s). Historic highlights that have survived the years include the iconic Phoenixville Bridge, built in the mid-1800s and now part of a must-do pedestrian trail; and the old Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 and still going strong.

Those planning a visit should consider doing it during the annual Phoenixville Firebird Festival, a unique event now in its 20th year that showcases the community's artistic spirit. The Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area is a must-see, too, and keeps its displays and exhibits related to local history in an old church dating from 1873.

The Final Word

Thanks to their rich histories and unique charm, these Pennsylvania towns are must-see destinations. From historic Chester to New Castle (with a few stops in between), they each offer a wealth of interesting landmarks and sites that showcase the state’s colonial heritage. Whether an armchair traveler, a day-tripper, or planning a road trip, each of these seven oldest towns in Pennsylvania deserves to be discovered.


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