Oldest Churches in the United States

10 Oldest Churches in the United States

When European explorers began arriving in the Americas in the 15th century, they brought their Christian religions along with them. Because religion was so important at the time, these early colonists didn’t wait long to erect churches and convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity.
All of these churches are still standing today, with many undergoing renovations and reconstructions over the past few centuries. Surprisingly, many of the churches still have active congregations, while others are open to the public as museums. For this list we decided to include churches that were built in what are now U.S. territories.

10. Old Indian Meeting House

Year Built: 1684
Location:  Mashpee, Massachusetts
Denomination:  Various Christian denominations/Native American
Still in Use:  Yes

Old Indian Meeting Housephoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Swampyank

As its name suggests, the Old Indian Meeting House is the oldest Native American church in the eastern United States. According to most sources, the Old Indian Meeting House was first built in 1684 for use by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that had been converted to Christianity by the European colonists.

Most stories about the present-day Old Indian Meeting House say that the 1684 church was moved to its current site in 1717. However, some local historians dispute this claim and believe that the current church is not the original building from 1684. While no one knows for sure whether or not the current Old Indian Meeting House is the original, the church is treasured by the Mashpee Wampanoags. In 2009, after extensive renovations, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe re-opened the church for their use.

Did You Know?

The Old Indian Meeting House is the site of of the famous Mashpee Revolt, when tribal members and their minister, William Apess (Pequot), protested the Massachusetts government’s intrusions on their self-governance, and white settlers’ theft of wood from tribal lands.


10. Old Indian Meeting House

Year Built: 1684
Location:  Mashpee, Massachusetts
Denomination:  Various Christian denominations/Native American
Still in Use:  Yes

Old Indian Meeting Housephoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Swampyank

As its name suggests, the Old Indian Meeting House is the oldest Native American church in the eastern United States. According to most sources, the Old Indian Meeting House was first built in 1684 for use by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that had been converted to Christianity by the European colonists.

Most stories about the present-day Old Indian Meeting House say that the 1684 church was moved to its current site in 1717. However, some local historians dispute this claim and believe that the current church is not the original building from 1684. While no one knows for sure whether or not the current Old Indian Meeting House is the original, the church is treasured by the Mashpee Wampanoags. In 2009, after extensive renovations, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe re-opened the church for their use.

Did You Know?

The Old Indian Meeting House is the site of of the famous Mashpee Revolt, when tribal members and their minister, William Apess (Pequot), protested the Massachusetts government’s intrusions on their self-governance, and white settlers’ theft of wood from tribal lands.


9. St. Luke’s Church

Year Built: c.1682 (some sources say 1632)
Location:  Benns Church, Virginia
Denomination:  Anglican, then Episcopal
Still in Use:  Yes as a museum

St. Luke's Churchphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Kallicrates

St. Luke’s Church was an Anglican church built sometime in the 17th century. There are disputes over the St. Luke’s age, with local legends saying the church has been around since 1632 and architectural historians and archaeologists placing the church much later to around the 1680s. Additionally, St. Luke’s Church claims it is the oldest surviving church building in Virginia although St. Mary’s Whitechapel is older and parts of the Jamestown Church from 1639 have survived as well.

Regardless of its true age, St. Luke’s Church has been carefully looked after much of the building’s exterior is original. St. Luke’s Church is no longer used by an active congregation and now serves as a museum and National Historic Landmark.

Did You Know?

St. Luke’s Church is a rare example of what is known as Artisan Mannerism Architecture from 17th-century. The church’s architecture blends Romanesque, Gothic, and Jacobean details.


8. Third Haven Meeting House

Year Built: 1682
Location:  Talbot County, Maryland
Denomination:  Quaker (Religious Society of Friends)
Still in Use:  Yes

Third Haven Meeting Housephoto source: Flickr via Preservation Maryland

The Third Haven Meeting House is the oldest surviving Quaker church, or Friends meetinghouse, which is preferred by members of the religion. By the 1660s, there were a few Friends meeting groups in Talbot County and by 1681, its members realized that they needed a more permanent meetinghouse. The following year, three acres of land were purchased and it took two years for the Third Haven Meeting House to be built.

The first meeting at the newly built Third Haven Meeting House took place in 1684 and Quaker meetings have continued to this day. George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), sent a number of books to the Friends Meeting that would eventually build the Third Haven Meeting House, thus establishing the first public library in Talbot County.

Did You Know?

The members of the Third Haven Meeting House have been keeping business records since 1676 (before the church was built) and due to their historic value, these documents are kept at the Hall of Records in Annapolis, Maryland.


7. Old Ship Church

Year Built: 1681
Location:  Hingham, Massachusetts
Denomination:  Puritan; presently Unitarian Universalist
Still in Use:  Yes

Old Ship Churchphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Timothy Valentine

Old Ship Church was originally built in 1681 as a Puritan church by colonists from Hingham, England. While no one knows for sure, according to the Old Ship’s official website, the church may have been named for its unique roof structure, which looks like the hull of a ship.

The side galleries and first box pews were added to Old Ship Church in the mid-1700s. During the Victorian era, the interior of Old Ship Church was updated to reflect the style of the time, but the church was returned to its original condition in 1930. In 2014, the Old Ship community completed an extensive restoration of the church in order to preserve this historic building. Today, Old Ship Church serves a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Did You Know?

President Abraham Lincoln’s ancestors were among the early Hingham settlers and the Lincoln family worshiped at Old Ship Church for many years. Also, members of the Lincoln family are buried in Old Ship’s cemetery.


6. St. Mary’s Whitechapel

Year Built: c. 1669
Location:  Lancaster, Virginia
Denomination:  Episcopal
Still in Use:  Yes

St. Mary's Whitechapelphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via David Broad

 

St. Mary’s Whitechapel was first built sometime around 1669 and was nearly complete by 1675. Although a permanent church building was not built until 1669, the Colonial Virginia parish had existed since 1657. According to St. Mary’s records, the church’s builder was James Jones, the grandfather of President James Monroe.

As the congregation grew, St. Mary’s Whitechapel added a few expansions. The gallery in the south end of the chapel was built at private expense by members of the Ball family – Mary Ball Washington was George Washington’s mother. Initially, St. Mary’s Whitechapel was an Anglican church (Church of England) and after the all Anglican churches were closed across America, the church wasn’t used for 30 years. St. Mary’s Whitechapel was reestablished in 1832 and is still an active Episcopal church today.

Did You Know?

Although St. Mary’s Whitechapel was abandoned for 30 years, many of its most important artifacts were saved and are displayed today. The church’s artifacts include a silver chalice from the 17th century;  The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments from the 18th century; and the baptismal font from the early 18th century.


5. Old Trinity Church

Year Built: c.1671
Location:  Church Creek, Maryland
Denomination:  Episcopal
Still in Use:  Yes

Old Trinity Churchphoto source: Wikipedia via JodyMBrumage

Old Trinity Church was built around 1671 in Church Creek, Maryland and is the oldest Episcopal church in the United States. Services are still regularly held at Old Trinity Church and it is believed that this is the longest running Episcopal congregation in the U.S. The original church served a small community of English settlers and in 1853, the church was updated to reflect the Gothic style architecture of the time.

The church was also renamed at this time to the Old Trinity Church. There were times in the Old Trinity Church fell into near disrepair, but it managed to survive because of the few people in the community who kept it going. From 1953 to 1960, the Old Trinity Church was restored to its original colonial style by the Garbish family.

Did You Know?

Compared to all of the other churches on this list, the Old Trinity Church is very small. The church is 38 feet (11.6 meters) long and 20 feet (6.1 meters) wide.


4. Jamestown Church

Year Built: 1639
Location:  Jamestown, Virginia
Denomination:  Anglican
Still in Use:  Yes as a museum

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Tony Fischer

The Jamestown Church has a long and interesting history that all the way back to 1607, not long after English colonists established their first permanent settlement, which was Jamestown. The colonists built the Jamestown church in their fort, but it burned down about a year after. Two more wooden churches were built on the same site before the colonists finally decided to build a more permanent structure out of brick.

Although this fourth Jamestown church was sturdier, it was still burnt down during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. However, the bell tower survived and is still intact today after the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) strengthened the tower not long after acquiring ownership of the remains of the church. In 1906, a Memorial Church was built next to the 1639 churhc’s bell tower and is open to visitors today.

Did You Know?

The cobblestone foundations of the 1617 church and the brick foundations of the church from 1639 are on display at the present Jamestown Church.


3. San Estevan del Rey Mission Church

Year Built: 1629
Location:  Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico
Denomination:  Roman Catholic
Still in Use:  Yes as a museum

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Hasselblad500CM

The San Estevan del Rey Mission Church was built in 1629 by Franciscan monks who had come to Acoma Pueblo to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. During the 1600s, the Spanish built several missions as a way to keep control over their colonial empire in New Mexico. Friar Juan Ramirez founded the San Estevan del Rey Mission Church after a period of violence between the Spanish and Acoma.

Over the next few decades, the Spanish worked hard to replace Acoma beliefs with those of Christianity. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Acoma took back control of their Pueblo for a few years, but were eventually defeated in 1696. Since the San Estevan del Rey Mission Church is directly on Acoma Pueblo lands, the church only serves as a tourist attraction today.

Did You Know?

The San Estevan del Rey Mission Church was mostly constructed with the same adobe bricks used on the rest of the Acoma Pueblo’s structures. However, the parts of the roof were made with timber from the San Mateo Mountains, which is over 30 miles away from the Acoma Pueblo.


2. San Miguel Mission

Year Built: 1610
Location:  Santa Fe, New Mexico
Denomination:  Roman Catholic
Still in Use:  Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Pretzelpaws

The San Miguel Mission or San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest church in the continental United States. While the earliest documented history of the San Miguel Mission only dates to 1628, according to oral history, construction of the chapel started in 1610.

According to historians, the San Miguel Mission was built by Tlaxcalan Indians, who came to New Mexico from old Mexico in 1598 with a Spanish contingent led by Don Juan Oñate. Over its 400-year history, the San Miguel Mission has had to be rebuilt and restored several times after it was destroyed by various minor battles and revolts. The San Miguel Mission is still partially active and mass is still held on Sundays.

Did You Know?

At one point, the San Miguel Mission had a triple bell tower, but the top two stories fell during a storm in the late 19th century.


1. Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

Year Built: 1521 (current structure built in 1540)
Location:  San Juan, Puerto Rico
Denomination:  Roman Catholic
Still in Use:  Yes

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Daderot

First built in 1521, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the oldest church in America. About three decades after the Spanish arrived in the New World and established the Caribbean colonial capital in San Juan, they brought Roman Catholicism with them and initially built a wooden church. However, a hurricane quickly destroyed this church and a stone cathedral was constructed in its place.

Spanish explore Juan Ponce de León, who had close ties to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and served as the governor of Puerto Rico, was one of the first people interred at the cathedral – Juan Ponce de León died the same year that the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista was completed. Today, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is still open to the public for church services and as a tourist attraction.

Did You Know?

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is actually the second permanent cathedral built in the New World, after the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Menor in Santo Domingo on nearby Hispaniola, which is not part of the United States and therefore excluded from this list.

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