19 US Towns Losing Their Historic Charm

Architecture, community traditions, and working heritage are all important parts of any town, but with modern developments and over-commercialization happening across the U.S., some of our most historic towns are at risk of losing their charm. Here are 19 towns that are facing this challenge.

Bisbee, Arizona

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Modern housing developments within Bisbee are beginning to encroach on the town’s historic center, and this influx of new inhabitants has led to the closure of traditional businesses in favor of new, non-local chains. Historic mining sites within the town also face threats due to new industrial activities.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina
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Rapid urban development has led to gentrification of the town’s historic neighborhoods, and Smart Cities Dive says, “​​The upper peninsula is swiftly becoming gentrification central, as young, middle-class families move into what were once solid working-class neighborhoods.” Charleston has also seen an increase in tourism, leading to the commercialization of cultural sites.

Deadwood, South Dakota

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The growing gambling industry in the town has left its Gold Rush heritage overshadowed, as has a decline in local community engagement in historic preservation projects. Modern construction in Deadwood is also sadly disrupting and changing the original 19th-century streets and architecture.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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Harpers Ferry is unfortunately prone to flooding, which has impacted historic buildings and landmarks in the town. It’s also a popular destination for visitors, and this increased foot traffic is causing erosion and wear on historical sites. Finally, the town’s residents and authorities are facing tensions due to the constant battle between commercial expansion and conserving Harpers Ferry’s natural beauty and history.

Jerome, Arizona

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Another historic mining town, Jerome has seen a shift from the traditional working culture to a tourist-centric economy over the last decades, affecting the character of the town. These past mining activities are also posing a threat to historical structures due to potential land instability.

Key West, Florida

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Modern developments are beginning to threaten the town’s historic districts, including the traditional Conch houses that are so iconic to the town. Key West has also seen large-scale commercialization of its waterfront and historical sites, and climate change threatens the town even further with rising sea levels causing potential devastation.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

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This unique town’s growing tourism economy and increased footfall to the area have seen changes in traditional landscapes and structures as they work to keep up with demand and increase the town’s capacity. While no cars are currently allowed on the island, the challenge of maintaining horse-drawn carriage traditions in the face of modern demands may threaten this in the future.

Newport, Rhode Island

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Newport, a beautiful New England town, is seeing its rich maritime heritage fade into the background as modern boating and yachting activities have become the forefront of the waterways. Luxury developments and new private estates have also reduced public access to historic areas of the town.

Salem, Massachusetts

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According to Boston Magazine, Salem is seeing a new commercialized version of tourism, no longer interested in the history of the town but more focused on buying spooky experiences such as haunted houses and witch-themed souvenirs. This overshadows the authentic narrative of the historic witch trials the town was home to.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Rich in the arts and culture, Santa Fe is facing the challenging task of integrating a booming modern arts scene with ancient culture and heritage. The town is also seeing the gentrification of historic districts, which is displacing traditional communities, and modern structural development is causing the iconic Pueblo-style architecture to be diluted.

Savannah, Georgia

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New hotels and commercial developments are popping up in Savannah’s historic districts, causing the traditional structures and culture to be diluted with modern-day influences and aesthetics. There has also been a rise in traffic and urban congestion in the center of the town, which is seeing the historic squares lose their quaint charm.

St. Augustine, Florida

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St. Augustine is the oldest European-settled city in the U.S., but now it is facing challenges between preserving this culture and character and accommodating modern needs. One example of this is the development of the waterfront, which has impacted its historic charm.

Telluride, Colorado

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Colorado is a skier’s paradise, but the expansion of ski resorts is putting pressure on Telluride’s mining-era character, and the increased tourism is threatening the surrounding natural environment as well as historical sites. Finally, rising real estate prices in the area have led to historic homes being redeveloped into modern structures, changing the face of the town.

Tombstone, Arizona

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Famed for its Wild West history, Tombstone is seeing its history commercialized for tourism, affecting the authenticity of the town. There are also challenges when it comes to preserving the original 19th-century buildings, as conflicts arise between creating a modern town and keeping historical character.

Virginia City, Nevada

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Mining activities in Virginia City are threatening the stability of historic sites. The Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources says, “Early mining helped change Nevada from a remote territory into a state, but land and water impacts from historic mining practices came as well.”

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Commercial and entertainment-focused developments are key to the modern economy of Williamsburg, but balancing this with maintaining the authenticity of this historic town is proving to be a challenge. The town is seeing modern developments, including educational facilities and residential buildings, begin to encroach on historic areas, threatening their character.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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Gettysburg is famed for its Civil War battlefields and sites, and the preservation of these is under threat due to the growing need for urban expansion and infrastructure development. The tourism these sites benefit from is also causing the town to be commercialized and is at risk of losing its authenticity.

Galena, Illinois

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Modern development and neglect of old buildings are threatening the 19th-century architecture in Galena. According to The Galena Foundation, “much has been lost over time, through age and neglect. Each year, Galena loses historical structures through decay and disinterest.”

Cape May, New Jersey

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Climate change and rising sea levels are threatening to bring preservation efforts for Victorian-era buildings to a halt, which could see this historic town lose its charm. Local traditions and the community are also facing modernization, and residents are finding it challenging to bring events and cultural practices of the past into a modern-day version of the town.

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