Scenic view from the corner of E Broad St and N Randolph Ave at dusk in the Historict District.

These Small Towns in the Southern United States Have the Best Historic Districts

Comprising of 17 of the 50 US states, the American South is home to countless small towns that have worked hard to preserve their past. Scattered across the southern states, the best of them have established official historic districts that feature everything from elegant antebellum mansions to old cobblestone streets.

These histories are also of great relevance to the nation as a whole, too, with many of these towns having harbored everything from presidents to revolutionaries and combatants from both sides of the Civil War. Find out more with our list of small towns in the Southern United States that have the best historic districts.

Natchez, Mississippi

Historic buildings in Natchez, Mississippi
Historic buildings in Natchez, Mississippi

Set on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Natchez was founded in 1716 and is the oldest established European settlement on the river, even predating New Orleans by several years. The best places to visit in Natchez include grand antebellum mansions like Longwood Mansion. Also known as Nutt's Folly, this unique home was built in 1861 and is the country’s largest octagonal house.

Another significant landmark is the Natchez Trace Parkway. This historic trail is now a scenic driving route and was used by Native Americans and later by European settlers and became a crucial route for trade and travel. Other historic highlights include St. Mary Basilica, an impressive Gothic Revival church, with stunning stained glass and an ornate interior that was built in the mid-1800s.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort South Carolina
Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort South Carolina

Established in 1711 and the second oldest town in South Carolina, Beaufort's historic district covers much of the downtown area and is a treasure trove of pre-Civil War antebellum homes. Your self-guided walking tour should include John Mark Verdier House, a Federal-style home that’s been transformed into a museum with artifacts and exhibits relating to Beaufort's history.

The Santa Elena History Center is another must-see and explores the history of the 16th-century Spanish settlement of Santa Elena, which predates the English settlement of Beaufort. Other notable landmarks include St. Helena's Episcopal Church, established in the early 18th century.

Eufaula, Alabama

Scenic view of historic downtown Eufaula at sunset
Scenic view of historic downtown Eufaula at sunset, via JNix /

Founded on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Alabama in 1834, Eufaula’s role as an important trading and transportation hub resulted in the construction of numerous buildings now preserved in its charming historic districts. Encompassing over 700 structures, highlights of the Eufaula Historic District include the Shorter Mansion, a masterpiece of Neoclassical Revival design that was built in 1884 and later remodelled in 1906. It’s now a museum housing an impressive collection of period furnishings and artifacts.

Head over to Eufaula’s Seth Lore and Irwinton Historic District and you’ll find another impressive collection of residential architecture from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Named after Seth Lore, a local historian, the district pays homage to the pioneering families that helped shape Eufaula's destiny.  

Abingdon, Virginia

Historic Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia
Historic Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia, via Joel Carillet /

The Southwest Virginia town of Abingdon was founded in 1778 and played an important role in the state’s Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War past. Abingdon Historic District is big, covering 20 blocks of its downtown area and including important structures such as the Barter Theatre. Founded during the Great Depression in 1933, this attractive old building is now considered the "State Theatre of Virginia."

Other highlights include the Martha Washington Inn & Spa, constructed in 1832 as a residence for General Francis Preston and later serving as a women's college and a Civil War hospital. The Fields-Penn House, built in the 1860s, provides another window into Abingdon's past through its displays and period furnishings and is well worth spending time exploring.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Historic street in Fredericksburg, Texas
Historic street in Fredericksburg, Texas, via ShengYing Lin /

Situated in a scenic area known as Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by German settlers and has managed to retain much of its European flair. Wander Fredericksburg Historic District and Main Street and you’ll come across many old buildings now housing everything from boutiques to biergartens that reflect the town's dual heritage. So, too, does the picturesque Vereins Kirche Museum, a unique octagonal church that when constructed in 1847 served as the town’s first public building.

Fort Martin Scott is another must-see attraction in Fredericksburg. Established in 1848 and one of the first military outposts on the western frontier of Texas, the fort played a vital role in ensuring peace between settlers and Native American tribes, as well as safeguarding the crucial frontier trade routes.  

Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstwon, Kentucky: The Old Talbott Tavern
Bardstwon, Kentucky: The Old Talbott Tavern, via Ryan_hoel /

Nicknamed the "Bourbon Capital of the World," the Kentucky community of Bardstown was founded in 1808, by which time it was already an important stop on the stagecoach route westwards. Pre-dating the town’s official founding by nearly 30 years, the Old Talbott Tavern, located on picturesque Court Square, was built in 1779 and claims the title of the oldest western stagecoach stop in America, with notable guests including Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln.

Bardstown’s traditions as a center for bourbon distilling can be researched at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Housed in historic Spalding Hall, the museum showcases a vast collection of artifacts that trace the journey of whiskey-making in America from the Colonial period to post-Prohibition.

Bath, North Carolina

Aerial view of Bath, North Carolina
Aerial view of Bath, North Carolina, via File:Bath aerial.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Billed as “Historic Bath,” this small North Carolina community was established in 1705 and has done an excellent job of preserving its place in US history. Start your adventure of the historic area with a visit to St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the oldest standing church in the state. Constructed in the early 18th century, the church graveyard is the final resting place of many of the state’s first colonial settlers, including members of the Teach family, reputedly relatives of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Another significant landmark is the Palmer-Marsh House. One of North Carolina's oldest homes, this colonial-era mansion was built in the 1750s and now serves as a museum offering a fascinating look into the daily life of the town’s early inhabitants.

The Last Word

With their cobblestone streets, antebellum architecture, and historic old homes, these small towns in the Southern United States have some of the best-preserved historic districts in the country. Whether you’re exploring this beautiful region of the USA on a road trip or are simply conducting research online, this list of the South's most interesting small towns will introduce you to no end of fascinating history.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. These Small Towns in the Southern United States Have the Best Historic Districts

More in Places