America's Best Historic Small Town? Bisbee, Arizona!

Thomasville, Ga.; Abingdon, Va.; Mackinac Island, Mich. and Astoria, Ore. in top five

The USA has a rich and exciting history, and visiting the places which most affected it is so much more fun than reading about it. These 10 winners in the category Best Historic Small Town have big histories and small populations – fewer than 25,000 people – making them fun and affordable ways to dive into our nation's past.

  • Bisbee, Ariz.

    While chasing Apaches in 1877, scout Jack Dunn discovered rich copper ore in the Mule Mountains of Arizona and Bisbee was born. This mining boomtown produced more than $6.1 billion worth of mineral wealth in less than 100 years of mining operations. Today, Bisbee’s appeal lies in its Victorian architecture, pretty scenery and laid-back vibe, and the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum does an excellent job of recounting the town’s colorful history.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Thomasville, Ga.

    The town of Thomasville was established in 1825, but the community remained largely remote and off the map until the arrival of the railroad in 1861. During the Civil War, this Southern small town was an important supply point for Confederate soldiers, and for a brief period in 1864, prisoners from Andersonville were sent here. Post war, the town became a resort destination for wealthy Northerners – many of their grand plantation homes and Victorian mansions remain today.
    Photo courtesy of Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

  • Abingdon, Va.

    From shopping to foodie pursuits and beyond, there’s all kinds of play to be had in Abingdon, whether you’re watching one on the stage of its celebrated Barter Theatre or finding active to-dos in the great outdoors. Cyclists, hikers and historians enjoy the spoils of the 34.3-mile Creeper Trail, a working train line that’s enjoyed a successful rails-to-trails conversion, and Main Street, with its shops and galleries, keeps the historic downtown buzzing every day of the year.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Mackinac Island, Mich.

    One of the last car-free destinations in the U.S., Mackinac Island, sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, seems trapped in the past, but in the most delightful way. Accommodations consist of white colonnaded turn-of-the-century hotels, while the horse-drawn carriage remains the favored form of transportation. With 80 percent of the island occupied by protected state parkland, those looking to explore the outdoors will find plenty of opportunity for hiking and biking.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Astoria, Ore.

    Astoria, Oregon was established in 1811, just five short years after Lewis and Clark wintered-over at Fort Clatsop nearby while exploring the western US. A ship of fur traders established a trading post known as Fort Astoria in what is now downtown Astoria, the oldest American Settlement West of the Rockies. Lewis and Clark National Historic Park encompasses several sites surrounding Astoria including a historically accurate replica of Fort Clatsop. Once a hard-working port city with a booming fishing industry, Astoria is today an amalgamation of cozy bed and breakfasts housed in Victorian-era mansions, trendy restaurants and working waterfront.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Solvang, Calif.

    In 1911, a group of Danish-Americans traveled to California from the Midwest in search of a new settlement in a warmer climate. The settlers selected a sunny spot in the Santa Ynez Valley just northwest of Santa Barbara. They chose an appropriate name for this fledgling community: Solvang, which is Danish for "sunny fields." Fast forward one hundred years, Solvang is a thriving hub of Scandinavian architecture and culture on the West Coast.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Sitka, Alaska

    The Tlingit people have lived in Sitka and the surrounding area for more than 500 years, and their rich history and culture are in evidence throughout totem-filled Sitka National Historical Park. Russian immigrants began settling Sitka in 1799, and today, the intermingling of Tlingit and Russian influences can be seen throughout the town's art and architecture. Historic onion domed St. Michael's Cathedral has been an active Russian Orthodox Church for two centuries.
    Photo courtesy of USFS Jeffrey Wickett

  • Hudson, N.Y.

    A visit to Hudson is a study in the architectural styles popular from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and despite intense urban development and renewal projects in other New York communities, Hudson has remained mostly unscathed. Among this small town's historical attractions are the Hudson Opera House, Columbia County Courthouse, Hudson Area Association Library and the First Presbyterian Church, where Lafayette gave a speech to the citizens of Hudson on his 1824 visit.
    Photo courtesy of Daniel Case / Wikimedia Commons

  • Williamsburg, Va.

    Originally the capital of Virginia (the largest state at that time) from 1699-1780, Williamsburg lost much of its prominence when the capital was moved to Richmond. However this was a blessing in disguise as the town was left mostly untouched by urbanization and the Industrial Revolution, leaving many of its historical buildings and sites intact, despite bitter battles and sieges being fought in the area during the Civil War.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Williamsburg

  • Dahlonega, Ga.

    Despite the Wild West’s ample claim to gold rush fame, Dahlonega was actually the first city in the nation to enjoy a run on gold prospecting. Since then, its woodsy, mountainous terrain has evolved into a beautiful getaway destination just an hour north of metropolitan Atlanta. Beautiful architecture, waterfall and wildlife hikes and an impressive roster of wineries and annual festivals are just a few of the things that keep visitors coming back.
    Photo courtesy of Jack Anthony / Jack Anthony Photography

The top 10 winners in the category Best Historic Small Town are as follows:

  1. Bisbee, Ariz.
  2. Thomasville, Ga.
  3. Abingdon, Va.
  4. Mackinac Island, Mich.
  5. Astoria, Ore.
  6. Solvang, Calif.
  7. Sitka, Alaska
  8. Hudson, N.Y.
  9. Williamsburg, Va.
  10. Dahlonega, Ga.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Larry Bleiberg (, Deborah Fallows (American Futures), Anna Hider (Roadtrippers), Libby McMillan and the 10Best team of Local Experts were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of American travel.

Additional nominees in this category included Beaufort, S.C.; Deadwood, S.D.; Fredericksburg, Texas; Natchez, Miss.; Newport, R.I.; Oxford, Miss.; Selma, Ala.; St. Augustine, Fla.; Taos, N.M. and Telluride, Colo.

Congratulations to all our winning small towns!

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