Published April 06, 2012
The American landscape is bursting with history, from settlements to the sites of important battles.
Some you may have heard of, reading in your history books. But there are many landmark towns and cities that may not ring a bell of that tell the story of America's development.
Here is a guide to some of the best American historical towns, where visitors can learn about the struggles and successes that made the U.S. what it is today.
If you are looking for historical communities, look no further than Taos. Before Christopher Columbus was even born, the people of Taos Pueblo were building their homes and fostering a culturally-rich community. Primarily built between 1,000 and 1,450 A.D., the adobe buildings are the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S. Visit the pueblo to experience the peace of an ancient village, surrounded by walls built over a millennium ago.
Visitors can take a little piece of this long-standing culture home; many local artisans sell handcrafted pottery, jewelry, moccasins and drums. Designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site, this town is America at its finest. Plan ahead before visiting, as the pueblo closes for tribal rituals in the late winter and early spring.
Christiana's role as a catalyst in the Civil War is often overlooked. Leading up to the Civil War, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed, and the law deemed that anyone harboring runaway slaves would be punishable by fees or jail time. One wealthy landowner, Edward Gorsuch, discovered that slaves had escaped his property, and he hunted them down to the doorstep of abolitionist William Parker's home. A battle ensued, resulting in Gorsuch's death -- highlighting the nationwide division over slavery.
Christiana is a small town, but during your visit, you can check out the Underground Railroad Center, which went through several transformations as a hotel, railroad depot, town post office, telegraph office and jail. Visitors can learn about the Civil War and the Underground Railroad -- a series of homes and hiding spots that slaves used to escape to freedom.
Over the course of the early 19th century, land-hungry American settlers came head to head with Native American tribes. Native Americans were either violently pushed out of their homes or simply mistreated to the point of defeat; some settlers stole their livestock and burned their towns.
In 1838, the U.S. government ordered the Native Americans to move, then set 7,000 soldiers to forcibly remove Cherokee Indians from their homes. Thousands of Cherokees were forced to move out West, traveling an overland route that follows closely along today's U.S. Highway 72. Over 4,000 Cherokees died on this march, which would later be known as the Trail of Tears.
Murphy is just one of many sites you can visit along the Trail of Tears, including any of the National Park Service's Certified Sites. Murphy boasts the Cherokee County Historical Museum, where visitors can view a wide collection of Native American artifacts or view exhibits on the Trail of Tears and 19th century Cherokee life. You can also stop by Fort Butler, which served as Army headquarters in 1838, housing over 3,000 Cherokee prisoners on the trail. Many of the prisoners' names have been engraved on a commemorative stone wall.
Castolon, Texas -- also known as St. Helena -- once stood as a testament to Mexican and American industry. Castolon quickly started booming, as Mexicans immigrated north to develop the area and avoid the Mexican Revolution. The federal government began building a permanent cavalry camp known as Camp St. Helena, but the project was eventually abandoned. During this time, more settlers were moving into the burgeoning border town. However, cotton sales began to wane in 1927, and the Mexican inhabitants were pushed out of the town they first settled.
Today, the town is on the National Register of Historic Places; it is nearly a ghost town. Visitors can see old residences and the oldest known adobe structure in Big Bend National Park.