You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Pennsylvania? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Pennsylvania city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Keystone State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Philadelphia (Photos)
- Franklin (Photos)
- Pittsburgh (Photos)
- Uniontown (Photos)
- Reading (Photos)
- West Mifflin (Photos)
- Meadville (Photos)
- Erie (Photos)
- Bellevue (Photos)
For being 336 years old, Philadelphia doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Pennsylvania? That would be Brentwood — a brand spanking 2 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Pennsylvania… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Pennsylvania, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 186 out of 252 in Pennsylvania with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 73.8% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Philadelphia turning out to be the matriarch of Pennsylvania at the ripe old age of 336.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Before Europeans arrived, the Philadelphia area was home to the Lenape (Delaware) Indians in the village of Shackamaxon. The Lenape are a Native American tribe and First Nations band government. They are also called Delaware Indians, and their historical territory was along the Delaware River watershed, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley.[a] Most Lenape were pushed out of their Delaware homeland during the 18th century by expanding European colonies, exacerbated by losses from intertribal conflicts. Lenape communities were weakened by newly introduced diseases, mainly smallpox, and violent conflict with Europeans. Iroquois people occasionally fought the Lenape. Surviving Lenape moved west into the upper Ohio River basin. The American Revolutionary War and United States’ independence pushed them further west. In the 1860s, the United States government sent most Lenape remaining in the eastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma and surrounding territory) under the Indian removal policy. In the 21st century, most Lenape reside in Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada) and their traditional homelands.
Europeans came to the Delaware Valley in the early 17th century, with the first settlements founded by the Dutch, who in 1623 built Fort Nassau on the Delaware River opposite the Schuylkill River in what is now Brooklawn, New Jersey. The Dutch considered the entire Delaware River valley to be part of their New Netherland colony. In 1638, Swedish settlers led by renegade Dutch established the colony of New Sweden at Fort Christina (present-day Wilmington, Delaware) and quickly spread out in the valley. In 1644, New Sweden supported the Susquehannocks in their military defeat of the English colony of Maryland. In 1648, the Dutch built Fort Beversreede on the west bank of the Delaware, south of the Schuylkill near the present-day Eastwick neighborhood, to reassert their dominion over the area. The Swedes responded by building Fort Nya Korsholm, or New Korsholm, after a town in Finland with a Swedish majority. In 1655, a Dutch military campaign led by New Netherland Director-General Peter Stuyvesant took control of the Swedish colony, ending its claim to independence. The Swedish and Finnish settlers continued to have their own militia, religion, and court, and to enjoy substantial autonomy under the Dutch. The English conquered the New Netherland colony in 1664, though the situation did not change substantially until 1682 when the area was included in William Penn’s charter for Pennsylvania.
Harleysville was settled early in Pennsylvania’s history (circa 1700).
The city’s namesake is Benjamin Franklin.
Pittsburgh was named in 1758 by General John Forbes, in honor of British statesman William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. The original pronunciation would have been /ptsbr, -br/ PITS-br or PITS-b-r, matching similarly named places in Great Britain such as Edinburgh in Scotland and Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Pittsburgh was incorporated as a township in 1771 and as a borough on April 22, 1794, with the following Act: ‘Be it enacted by the Pennsylvania State Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…by the authority of the same, that the said town of Pittsburgh shall be…erected into a borough, which shall be called the borough of Pittsburgh for ever.’
The current pronunciation, which is extremely unusual in English speaking countries, is almost certainly a result of a printing error in some copies of the City Charter of March 18, 1816 (though not on the original document). The error was repeated commonly enough throughout the rest of the 19th century that the original pronunciation was lost and in 1890 the ‘h’ was removed in order to make it easier to spell. After a public campaign the original spelling was officially restored by the United States Board on Geographic Names in 1911.
Popularly known as ‘Beesontown’, the ‘town of Union’ was founded by Henry Beeson on July 4, 1776, coincidentally the same date the United States Declaration of Independence was ratified. The National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, was routed through Uniontown in the early 19th century, and the town grew along with the road (now US 40). 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Uniontown is Fort Necessity, built by George Washington during the French and Indian War (part of the international Seven Years’ War) as well as the site of the Battle of Jumonville Glen, where the North American branch of the war began.
Lenni Lenape people, also known as ‘Delaware Indians’, were the original inhabitants of the Reading area.
The Colony of Pennsylvania was a 1680 land grant from King Charles II of England to William Penn. Comprising more than 45,000 square miles (120,000 km2), it was named for his father, Sir William Penn.
7. West Mifflin
Meadville was settled on May 12, 1788, by a party of settlers led by David Mead. Its location was chosen well, for it lies at the confluence of Cussewago Creek and French Creek, and was only a day’s travel by boat to the safety of Ft. Franklin.
Cultures of indigenous peoples occupied the shoreline and bluffs in this area for thousands of years, taking advantage of the rich resources. The Sommerheim Park Archaeological District in Millcreek Township, Pennsylvania west of the city, includes artifacts from the Archaic period in the Americas, as well as from the Early and Middle Woodland Period, roughly a span from 8,000 BCE to 500 CE.
The historic Iroquoian-speaking Erie Nation occupied this area before being defeated by the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in the 17th century during the Beaver Wars. The Iroquois tribes had developed and five nations formed a political league in the 1500s, adding their sixth nation in the early 18th century. The Erie area became controlled by the Seneca, ‘keeper of the western door’ of the Iroquois, who were largely based in present-day New York.
The land on which the borough currently sits was once part of the Depreciation Lands reserved for Revolutionary War veterans. The first landowners in the area were James Robinson and Hugh Henry Brackenridge, purchasing parcels in 1799 and 1792 respectively. At the time of its organization as a borough, Bellevue had exactly the minimum population for such a designation: 300 residents.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Pennsylvania
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Pennsylvania. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Pennsylvania.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Keystone State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Pennsylvania:
- Brentwood (Founded in 2016)
- Palmerton (Founded in 2016)
- Wyomissing (Founded in 2016)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Pennsylvania
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