History journalist explains who ranks as the oldest towns in Texas.
Which town deserves to be called the Oldest Town in Texas? This turns out to be a more complicated question than it first appears. We have to consider that native tribe had lived in parts of Texas long before the first European explorers arrived in the early 1500s. However, the prestigious title of “Texas Oldest” is claimed by at least three towns in the Lone Star State. History enthusiast, journalist, and writer JoAnn Holt help explain the historically significant towns in Texas and who the oldest towns in Texas are.
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The Historically Significant And Oldest Towns In Texas
Who claims the oldest town in Texas?
Presidio (near Big Bend State and National Parks on the Rio Grande River) has a valid claim since Cabeza de Vaca founded one of the first European colonies in 1535. There’s also a great deal of evidence showing that native tribes had lived there for thousands of years.
A second claim to be the oldest Texas town comes from tiny Ysleta, a village near Presidio in the state’s southwest corner. Their claim is based on the fact they served as a refugee camp for some years following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico (the native Pueblo people’s successful revolution against Spanish rule, keeping them at bay for 12 years).
Ysleta also points out that de Vaca and his men didn’t stay very long—not long enough to matter–in Presidio. Ysleta is now a part of the larger city of El Paso but still maintains many early adobe structures, including a jailhouse that claims to have once tried to hold Billy the Kid before he broke out.
The scenic East Texas city of Nacogdoches, a favorite destination for many history lovers, makes a third claim to be our oldest town. While European settlers didn’t arrive until the Spanish established a mission there in 1716, Caddo Indians and others had lived there 10,000 or more years before then. The town of Nacogdoches was officially established in 1779, earning the undisputed rights to be known as the First Official Town in Texas. The Mexican government had forced the settlers to leave when the East Texas region was ceded to Spain, or they might have earned that title earlier.
As a gateway city for those early settlers traveling to Texas through the southeast, Nacogdoches draws people researching their Texas roots to the Center for Regional Heritage Research. The center is located in the old Nacogdoches Train Depot.
Although San Augustin, a neighbor of Nacogdoches, doesn’t claim to be the oldest, history buffs should visit the Mission Dolores State Historic Site circa 1721. The site features enlightening exhibits showing how those early European immigrants interacted with the Native Americans who were already there.
San Antonio in Bexar County is one of the most historical cities and one of the biggest cities in the U.S. and now features the second-largest population in Texas. Numerous 18th-century restored Spanish missions are available to visit on the city’s Mission Trail, including the most famous of all, the Alamo. Europeans first explored San Antonio in the 16th century but didn’t establish a mission until 1718.
No visit to San Antonio is complete without stopping by the Alamo – the “Birthplace of Texas Independence” and still a sacred site for Texans. After years of planning and fundraising by a non-profit group called The Alamo Endowment Inc., led by Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins), who donated more than 3 million dollars to help restore this landmark, visitors can now see for themselves how far things have come after years of neglect and decay. And yes, it’s worth it!
Goliad is another town with a wealth of Texas history, especially for students of the Texas revolution. Start with the Fannin Battle Grounds and the grave of Col. James W. Fannin, Jr. He and an estimated 400 or more Texians were captured and executed by Mexican forces in March 1836. Presidio La Bahia, a restored fort with a museum containing memorabilia from the Texas Revolution, is also particularly interesting to Texas history fans.
The Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario, the Mission Espíritu Santo tower, and Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site are other historical sites of interest at Goliad State Park and Historic Site. The courthouse, hanging tree, and historic downtown district are essential landmarks.
Gonzales is a small Texas town that greatly impacted Texas history. Visit the Texas History Museum District to see the cannon that fired the first shot of the Texas Revolution, giving the Texians their first taste of victory against the Mexican forces. A 19th-century jail and a log cabin built in the 1840s are also of interest. Five museums, including the Gonzales Memorial Museum honoring the “Immortal 32″–volunteers sent from Gonzales to aid the Alamo defenders–are all located in the Museum District.
Socorro was first inhabited by Native American Indians, including the Piro, who fled the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico in 1680. The town was named after a New Mexico area called Socorro by the Spanish (for succor received from the Piro Indians). Oct. 13, 1680, is considered Socorro’s founding date, making it one of our oldest cities. However, Socorro wasn’t incorporated until 1871. Following an attempt by the larger city of El Paso to annex them, Socorro was reincorporated in 1985.
Victoria is another historically significant city established by Martin De Leon in honor of the President of the Republic of Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria. The south Texas city features several important historical sites. At the Museum of the Coastal Bend, visitors can explore 13,000 years of history about the earliest people to inhabit the region. They also feature artifacts left behind by 17 Century French explorer La Salle.
The Old Victoria Driving Tour features over 80 charming homes and properties, many listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Austin’s first temporary Spanish mission was constructed in 1730. However, the city wasn’t officially established by Europeans until the 1830s. Three missions from East Texas were merged and restored into one mission during that time. Formerly known as Waterloo, the city was renamed for pioneer settler Stephen F. Austin after Texas became a Republic in 1839.
Austin has grown rapidly since then, often to the dismay of longtime residents who prefer to “Keep Austin Weird.”
Founded in 1755 by Spanish settlers, Laredo is one of Texas’s oldest towns. It was originally named San Jose de Laredo but changed its name after its independence from Mexico. The city is located at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers.
Laredo is a great place to visit and learn about the history of Texas. Many museums and historic sites tell us how this city was founded by Spanish settlers over 300 years ago. Take a tour through the Guadalupe Cultural Center or visit the Laredo Convention Center to learn more. Both host events throughout the year, including concerts by famous artists like Selena Quintanilla!
Hey, history buffs, we would love to hear your side of the story. Who do you think is the oldest town in Texas?
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