Some cities are immune to change. These places make time travel feel possible, offering glimpses back into different eras. From historic cities with cobblestone streets to ghost towns that can’t seem to move forward, here are five U.S. cities stuck in time.
New Bedford, Massachusetts
In 1765, a Quaker merchant named Joseph Rotch identified New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a prime location for his business. Located along the Atlantic Coast, with a deep harbor and easy access to Boston and New York, he believed New Bedford to be the perfect candidate for a top-notch whaling port. Rotch was correct in his assertion — during the 19th century, this Massachusetts city became the whaling capital of the world. New Bedford is still known today as The Whaling City and its identity is entwined with the million-dollar industry that once profited from its shores. From the mansions built by the captains of industry on County Street to the flagged bluestone sidewalks, much of the city is unchanged from when it was first built.
Inquisitive visitors should stop at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. And although whaling is no longer permitted, the citizens of New Bedford still make their living on the water, with commercial fishing as one of the top sources of income.
Pacifica, California, is a mere 10 miles from San Francisco, yet it feels a world away. A beachside haven that has changed little since its incorporation, this foggy surf town is surrounded by two sections of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Pacifica was originally formed in 1957 when officials merged nine different communities to create one larger city. Although city planners envisioned growing Pacifica to 100,000 residents, these lofty plans never came to fruition. Much of the surrounding area became preserved land during the 1970s, which protected it from the rampant development happening elsewhere in the state. The result? Pacifica remains much the same as it was when it was incorporated, with stunning beaches perfect for surfing and acres of pristine public lands.
Some change, however, has found its way into this picturesque beachside community. In the past couple of years, new plans have been passed to turn Palmetto Avenue into a downtown area, making it more appealing to visitors and residents alike.
St. Augustine, Florida
The oldest continually occupied city in the U.S., St. Augustine, Florida, was first established by Spanish settlers in 1565. Today, remnants of Spanish culture remain untouched in this historical gem of a city. From Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 330-year old fortress built by the Spanish, to the well-preserved Plaza de Constitucion, visiting St. Augustine is like stepping back into the well of history. The Colonial Quarter harkens back to the days when Spanish was spoken on the cobblestone streets, including live blacksmithing and musket demonstrations.
St. Augustine’s most famous piece of architecture, however, is the Lightner Museum. Originally built as the Alcazar Hotel in 1888, the establishment closed during the Depression; it was later bought and renovated by Otto Lightner in 1948. Today, the restored museum includes memorabilia from the Gilded Age, in addition to rotating art exhibits.
Although it is commonly referred to as “The City That Time Forgot,” considering Galena a “city” is a bit of a stretch. For all intents and purposes, however, this well-preserved gem has rightfully earned its place on this list. Once the busiest port on the Mississippi River, Galena became a mining town in the mid-1800s when a lead ore mineral called “galena” was found in the surrounding area. The newly born city, named for the mineral that put it on the map, eventually became a political, industrial and cultural hub. Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the second-floor balcony of a Galena hotel and even Ulysses S. Grant called it home for a spell.
Today, the town holds the magic of yesteryear, with its immaculate Victorian homes and brick architecture on Main Street. The city also draws scores of tourists looking to grasp onto the charms of days gone by, and with its working blacksmith shop and many historical sites, this feat is easily achieved.
Detroit, Michigan, truly looks like a city frozen in time — but which time exactly? When Michigan Central Station opened in 1913, the train station was a shining example of Beaux-Arts Classical architecture and the tallest train station in the world. But when the station closed in 1988, it stood vacant for 30 years, a sad reminder of Motor City’s former glory. In an effort to move Detroit forward, Ford bought the train station last year, with plans to revitalize the building and bring the workforce back to the area. Still, the city is often referred to as a ghost town, with its fleeing population, abandoned homes and empty skyscrapers. In this sense, Detroit seems to be stuck in the early aughts, as it certainly hasn’t made any large strides since the collapse of the auto industry. With dreams of Detroit’s revival on the horizon, this is one city we hope isn’t stuck in time forever.