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20 Small Towns That Look Like They’re Frozen in Time

These picture-perfect small towns are living reminders of a bygone era.

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Towns where time stands still

There is perhaps nothing more irresistible than the charm of a small town. Smiles and hellos seem to come freer there, perhaps because people have the luxury of walking a little bit slower and enjoying the moment once they escape the constant buzz of life in the city. From the site of the first free Black community in the United States to mountain villages that look like something ripped out of a book of fairy tales, these small towns look like they’re frozen in time—each has a proud story to tell.

Bramwell, West Virginia

At the turn of the 20th century, Bramwell, West Virginia was nicknamed the Town of Millionaires and the streets were bustling with the families of wealthy coal barons. Today those same streets are almost empty, a casualty of the vanishing coal industry. Less than 350 people live in Bramwell, walking its perfectly preserved Main Street, strolling along the Bluestone River, and occupying its gorgeous Victorian and Tudor mansions. On the corner, Bramwell Soda Counter and Shop still serves up burgers, candy, and milkshakes to hungry guests. At the other end of the brick-paved street, the historic train depot has been converted into a museum and visitors center. Bramwell is truly a trip through time.

Mt Angel
Courtesy Jane Wiley

Mt Angel, Oregon

Located in Oregon’s picturesque Willamette Valley, Mt Angel is less than an hour’s drive from Portland, yet it feels like it’s a world away. Originally founded by Bavarian settlers and Benedictine monks and sisters in the mid-1800s, Mt Angel looks like a charming Bavarian village with old-world buildings and lavishly constructed churches reaching towards the sky. The serene grounds and church at Mount Angel Abbey are open to the public and Glockenspiel, the town’s four-story clock tower, extolls the history of the area through hand-carved wooden figures. The town is famous for its Oktoberfest celebrations and authentic German cuisine served at restaurants such as The Mt. Angel Sausage Company. Discover more small American towns that will leave you feeling like you were transported to Europe.

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Tahlequah, Oklahoma is the capital of the Cherokee Nation, situated in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The Village at Tsa-Sa Gi at the Cherokee Heritage Center recreates the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples who lived in the area before Europeans came to North America. In the Original Historic Townsite District, street signs are written in both English and Cherokee. Downtown Tahlequah is the oldest Main Street in all of Oklahoma, full of vintage storefronts, boutiques, restaurants, and gift shops that remind visitors of a time when life was simpler, easier, and decidedly more friendly.

Franklin, Tennessee

Located about half an hour from Nashville, many consider the town of Franklin to be one of the nicest places in Tennessee. It’s also one of the most historical. Founded in 1799. Franklin’s historic Main Street and town square are comprised of period buildings, some of which date back to the early 1800s. On the rare occasion when a new building like the gorgeous The Harpeth Hotel is built, the city requires they are constructed in a period style to preserve Franklin’s historic charm. The area is home to Civil War battlefields and plantations. The McLemore House Museum and African American Heritage Tour highlight the important contributions and experiences of Black Americans to Franklin’s rich culture and history.

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone Arizona is well-known to history buffs and fans of western flicks as a once- booming mining town and home to figures like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. It was also the site of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Today, the town looks much the same as it did back in the days of the Wild West, with buildings like the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Bird Cage Theater dating back to the late 1800s. Less than 1,500 people currently live full-time in Tombstone but the town continues to be a popular tourist attraction for people who want to explore its streets and buildings and immerse themselves in the history of a bygone era.

Leavenworth, Washington

Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth, Washington is surrounded by stunning views, hiking trails, creeks, rivers, and unspoiled panoramas of nature. Originally founded in the 1800s as a timber town, the community rebranded itself in the 1960s when the logging industry was no longer sustaining the local economy, making itself over in the style of an old-world Bavarian village. The town is host to year-round festivals and street fairs where visitors dance the polka, enjoy European-style meals at restaurants like Mozart’s Steakhouse and check out the 6,000 piece collection of the Nutcracker Museum. Winery tasting rooms dot the streets alongside curiosity shops and vendors selling bratwurst and beer in this welcoming community. These are 25 more of the most stunning mountain towns in America.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Much of Mackinac Island, Michigan has been unchanged for centuries. Located in Lake Huron, the island is only accessible by small aircraft, ferry, or snowmobile when an ice bridge stretches across the water in winter. Cars are not allowed on the island so the streets are lined with people getting from place to place in horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. Many of the buildings date back to the 1800s including forts built during the War of 1812, a blacksmith shop, and a Victorian-era Main Street. Perhaps the most famous building on the island is the luxurious Grand Hotel in which the cult-favorite movie Somewhere In Time was filmed with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Here are more U.S. hotels where your favorite movies and T.V. shows were filmed.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city founded by European Settlers in the United States and it’s absolutely beautiful. Located on the Atlantic coast, St. Augustine was originally established by Spanish explorers in the 1500s and has many Spanish-style buildings dating back to the 1700s. It is the site of Fort Mose, which was founded in 1738 by escaped slaves and was the first free Black community in the United States. It is also the site of Castillo de San Marcos, which dates back to 1672 and is the oldest known example of a masonry fort in the United States. St Augustine is also one of the 16 best American cities for history buffs.

Taos, New Mexico

Located in northern New Mexico, Tao has a little bit of everything—it’s an artist colony, a premier hiking, skiing, and rafting destination, and also, a journey back in time. Surrounded by the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos was home to the Taos Indian tribe since sometime between 1,100 and 1,400 A.D. and the multi-story Taos Pueblo adobe buildings have been continuously occupied for more than 1,000 years. Most of the buildings in Taos Plaza date back to the early 1900s while the San Francisco de Asis Church is over 200 years old.

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson is located in the stunning area of Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the shadow of the Teton Mountains. It calls itself the last of the Old West, and it’s easy to see why. Originally the home of Native American tribes such as the Blackfeet and Crow who European settlers traded with when they passed through in the early 1800s, the town of Jackson was founded in the late 1800s and in the 1920s had the first all-women town government, including the marshall. Today, visitors pass through an ornate arch constructed of elk antlers and the town square looks like it traveled by time machine from the Old West complete with live shows, stagecoach rides, and historic buildings like The Wort Hotel. Find out the most charming small town in your state.

New Glarus, Wisconsin
Courtesy Sue Moen

New Glarus, Wisconsin

Wisconsin and Switzerland are both famous for their cheese, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the small town of New Glarus, Wisconsin was modeled after the style of an Alpine Village. Founded in 1845 by Swiss immigrants, New Glarus residents have managed to maintain their Swiss heritage and old-world traditions ever since. Restaurants like Chalet Landhaus serve authentic Swiss cuisine while a restored train depot preserves the area’s history. Painted cows adorn the sidewalks in what locals call the Cow Parade. An authentic Swiss Village and museum just outside of town help visitors learn more about the town’s history.

Courtesy Jannie Huang

McMinnville, Oregon

McMinnville, Oregon looks like something out of a Christmas card and its history dates back to the mid-1800s. McMinnville’s picture-perfect Third Street is lined with buildings built between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Nearly everything there used to be something else: the funky Hotel Oregon was once a bus depot, R.Stuart Winery operates its wine bar out of a converted granary, and the Bitter Monk Brewery pulls taps in the building that once housed the town’s first bank. McMinnville is famous for farm-to-table restaurants and friendly residents. It is also the home of the world-famous Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which houses The Spruce Goose, the famous wooden airplane built by Howard Hughes. Explore the 13 best virtual space exhibits in the world.

Cooperstown, New York

Cooperstown, New York is probably most famous for being home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame but the town named for author James Fenimore Cooper also has museums dedicated to art, farming, and other historical points of interest. Main Street is full of vintage charm with many buildings date back to the late 1800s. Today they’re filled with bookstores, bakeries, and antique stores. The Inn at Cooperstown was built in 1874 and the ten-mile long Lake Otsego has been unspoiled for generations. Cooperstown is a time capsule of culture, sports, architecture, and rugged, natural beauty.

Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Located 30 miles off the shores of Cape Cod, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts is as pretty as a postcard with several lighthouses dating back to the 1700 and 1800s. The historic district has buildings dating back as early as 1746. Quaint shops, inns, and restaurants line the street. The main hall of the Whaling Museum is in a building first erected in 1846. A particular point of interest is the area once known as New Guinea, which was once populated by Black mariners and their families. The Nantucket campus of the Museum of African American History is located there in a restored African American meeting house built in the early 1800s. Discover more of the most romantic islands in the United States.

Solvang, California

Solvang, California was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants and the town was built in the style of a quaint Danish village, complete with large wooden windmills which tower above other rooftops in town. This charming town is located in the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country. Famous for hosting a variety of festivals throughout the year, Solvang is also known for the charming boutiques, restaurants, and inns which make their homes inside its old-world architecture. It was also the filming location for most of the Oscar-winning movie, Sideways.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Founded in 1846 by German Immigrants who quickly entered into a treaty to coexist peacefully with the Comanche tribe who called the area home, Fredericksburg, Texas is the highlight of every Texas Hill Country road trip. Many buildings on Main Street and the surrounding areas were built in the 1800s and hold boutiques, wineries, galleries, and wares crafted by local artisans. Most of the restaurants favor food sourced from local restaurant farms. Highlights include an Amish Market serving up Mennonite-made fried pies and the Pontotoc Vineyard Winery. The three-acre Pioneer Museum tells the story of the area’s rich history.

Chagrin Falls, Ohio

The Village of Chagrin Falls was incorporated in 1844 and built around the 20-foot high Chagrin Falls Waterfall. If that weren’t lovely enough, the town itself looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Small shops and parks coexist in Chagrin Falls historical downtown. The Chagrin Valley Little Theater, established in 1930, is one of the oldest community theaters in the United States. In fall, the trees that surround the village turn brilliant shades of red and gold. The Historic Home and Garden Tour is typically held in June and features homes built dating back to 1852. Speaking of falls, discover the most gorgeous waterfall in your state.

Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier may be the capital of Vermont, but it’s still a small town with a residential population of less than 8,000. It is also the only state capital that doesn’t have a McDonald’s. It is home to over 450 buildings on the National Historic Register with gorgeous steepled churches, brick storefronts, and commercial buildings, and stunning private homes dating all the way back to the 1800s, many with colorful and elaborate architecture. Montpelier is well-known for its amazing restaurants and a lively arts district. Its restored gold-domed statehouse was built in the mid-1800s and sits along the banks of the lovely Winooski River.

Galena, Illinois

Galena, Illinois may be tiny but it is big on historical architecture. Established in 1826 along the banks of the Mississippi River, it was once a thriving port town and the home of president and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. His lovely brick residence is an important historical site in the area. The Galena historic district includes more than 800 properties. Today many of them house boutiques, antique stores, and fabulous restaurants.

Wallace, Idaho

Originally a booming mining town, Wallace Idaho founded in 1884, still remains one of the world’s top producers of silver today. Wallace’s entire downtown district is on the National Registry of Historic Places, with stores, museums, breweries, and restaurants making their home in the unique, colorful buildings that used to be train depots, brothels, and saloons The breathtaking Bitterroot Mountains loom above the town and provide a picture-perfect backdrop to this unique historical hamlet and serve as a reminder that some things are older than human history.

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest. She's a travel expert who takes an average of 30 to 40 trips a year and covers vacation destinations, luggage, road trips, air travel and hotels.