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Time warp towns are those out-of-time discoveries that make for road trip gold: downtowns populated with of former Woolworths-turned- antiques booth malls, neon signs for Rheingold or Schaeffer, gingerbread detailing, town squares, monuments, cobblestones, and/or apple pie! The buildings where the local history was made are still standing, and if you squint it seems like you’ve gone back in time.
Consulting a few local experts including Wendy Van Hove of Roadside Wonders as well as drawing from personal road trip experience, we singled out ten such towns, aiming for ones that were more than blips on the map, picking spots with historic districts and those with enough points of interest to sustain a visit.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 18 Mar 2011
Population: approx 19,000
To visit Oxford is to almost go back in time like Marty McFly. The college town for Ole Miss has a comfortingly familiar town square with a courthouse in the center (including a clock on top—straight out of Back to the Future). Unlike so many older downtown areas, the businesses of Oxford are doing just fine: an award-winning bookstore, Ajax Diner and numerous other bars and eateries, clothing shops catering to the college crowd, and there’s even a classy little department store J.E. Neilson, the oldest documented store in the South (est. 1839).
Not far outside the downtown, literary tourists can stroll beneath the canopy of a dramatic alley of cedars to Rowan Oak, the enviable Greek Revival homestead of William Faulkner, and drive by other Faulkner-related local sites—Oxford is the real-life model for his fictional town Jefferson. Also, the Bob Dylan song “Oxford Town” centers on the famous desegregation struggle of James Meredith at Ole Miss.
In the late 1700s, trappers began mining lead in what is now Galena, so named for the mineral galena, the natural form of lead sulfide and found in lead ore. Today, a post-lead-industry Galena is known for its preserved 19th-century architecture that attracts tourists, skiers, and weekending Chicagoans.
Galena’s historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, includes more than 1,000 mostly brick and stone buildings, totaling about 85 percent of the city. Some of those buildings include the DeSoto house, Illinois’ oldest continually operating hotel (1855), the Ulysses S. Grant Home, and a blacksmith shop/museum that’s been in continuous operation for over a century.
Truckee is a scenic mountain railroad town located just northwest of Lake Tahoe. The town’s history is tied to the tale of the ill-fated Donner Party, many of whom met their doom (and infamously resorted to cannibalism) while snowbound nearby in the winter of 1846.
Today, historic downtown Truckee points of interest include the Flying “A” revitalized gas station –turned- retail location (1936), Truckee’s old jail, one of the West’s oldest continuously operating jails until 1964, and the First and Last Chance Saloon, its name a hat-tip to Truckee’s past as a trail (and train) stop.
A onetime railroad town in central Colorado on the Arkansas River, Salida is now a destination for lovers of outdoor mountain sports: skiing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, etc.
The Salida Downtown National Register District is Colorado’s largest and includes many Victorian commercial structures, like the endangered Salida Opera House/ Unique Theater, the A.T. Henry Building (1886), the Strait and McKenna building, and old, hand-painted “ghost” signs.
Not much has changed in the 19th-century textile mill village of Harrisville, and its picturesque townscape situated on several bodies of water is evoked as embodying the look of old New England.
The Harrisville Historic District is a National Historic Landmark including the Cheshire Mills combination sawmill/gristmill (Cheshire Mill No. 1 was one of the last remaining operational textile mills in New England when it closed in 1970), the 18th- century Chesham Baptist Church, as well as private homes, cottages, and a cemetery.
Established: circa 1815
The city of Paducah was formed in Kentucky’s Four Rivers region where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers meet, and developed an industrial- and railroad-fueled economy, and many Victorian structures arose that still stand today.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Paducah for its 2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations list. As an important part of the city’s revitalization, Paducah has a remarkable incentive program that could stand as a model to other cities with struggling downtown districts, the Artist Relocation Program.
Lititz was founded by Moravians seeking asylum from persecution in their homeland (now known as the Czech Republic) in Lancaster County, within Pennsylvania Dutch country. Marriages were arranged; dancing, feasting, and sporting were all prohibited; and interlopers were not welcome to stay overnight.
That lasted until about 1856. Today, visitors are more than welcome at historic Lititz attractions such as The General Sutter Inn (1764) the Christian Schropp home (1793) and the Johannes Mueller House (1792).
New Bedford is located on Massachusetts’ southern coast and by the end of the 19th century began earning the nickname “The Whaling City.”
New Bedford now has nine historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. Fishing and manufacturing are still part of the local economy, and as with many of the other towns on this list, tourism is drawing people to the city as well to see its Victorian, Federal, and Greek Revival homes and walk its bluestone sidewalks, and tour the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
San Angelo, settled on the Concho River, was once just a stop by Fort Concho. It saw growth as the county seat, more growth with the advent of the railroad, and was also a refuge for those suffering tuberculosis, and in the next century was fueled by the oil industry.
Today, visitors go for the Old West experience and to see the Cactus Hotel, historic buildings of Concho Avenue, and of course Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum (the bordello was once connected to the saloon via a secret passageway).