25 Tiny Towns to Visit for a Glimpse at How We Used to Live

With their captivating histories and unbroken ties to tradition, these small but fascinating towns bring to life the legends, the lore, and the romance of the past.

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Durango, Colorado

Though Durango served as a film location for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” its Wild West persona isn’t just an act. Visitors to the historic railroad town can relive frontier days at the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering or by boarding a steam-powered train—in operation since 1882—bound for the old mining village of Silverton.

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Chandler, Arizona

Ostrich farming, a hot trend in early 20th-century Arizona agricultural circles, continues to loom large in Chandler. The town’s annual ostrich festival, which has been going strong for 30 years, even includes an ostrich race. The giant birds are surprisingly fast, reportedly reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour!

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Nenana, Alaska

For more than 100 years, competitors in the Nenana Ice Classic have been betting on the exact time when the more-than-a-meter-deep layer of ice on the Tanana River will break in spring. According to Climate Central, placing your bet is easy: Just guess a date and time, then wait until a tripod on the ice, which is connected to a clock, shifts when the ice breaks. Although the rules of the game have remained unchanged over the years, thanks to technological advancements the organizers can now keep a webcam trained on the river so anyone who really wants to watch ice melt can do so.

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Marlinton, West Virginia

Chances are you’ve never been to a foodie festival quite like the one in Marlinton, which hosts an annual roadkill cooking competition where bears, elk, and possum are prepared and served to judges and visitors. The event is an effort to reenergize the local economy, but as the BBC reports, the practice of eating roadkill has its roots in a generations-old legacy of economic scarcity.

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Spivey's Corner, North Carolina via Gerry Dincher

The holler is an almost-extinct method of long-distance communication that predates the telephone. In celebration of this vocal tradition, the 48-person town of Spivey’s Corner hosts an annual Hollerin’ Contest, now part of the Hollerin’ Heritage Festival.

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Gibsonton, Florida via janhatesmarcia

According to the “Tampa Bay Times,” the town of Gibsonton was a popular winter and retirement destination for “carnies”—a slang term for traveling carnival workers that dates back to the 1930s. Warm weather and favorable zoning laws that allow exotic pets keep the carnival tradition alive and well at the Showmen’s Museum, a 52,000-square-foot venue that boasts a full-size carousel and a vast collection of costumes and memorabilia.

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Whittier, Alaska via baggis

Toward the end of World War II, roughly a quarter of Americans lived in multigenerational households—a trend that’s making a comeback among millennials. But even if your house is getting fuller these days, it’s nothing compared with Whittier. The vast majority of the town’s 200 residents live together in the 14-story Begich Towers, according to “The California Sunday Magazine.”

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Tangier, Virginia via Craig Stanfill

Not only is this tranquil, 1.2-square-mile fishing and crabbing community free of cars, but residents speak with an accent that is neither wholly American nor British. Rather, as historian David Shores suggests in his book “Tangier Island: Place, People, and Talk,” the Tangier twang is a derivative of the Cornwall accent that has evolved independently over time as a result of the town’s remote location.

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Tombstone, Arizona

Visitors to the Helldorado Days festival in this former silver mining town can see one of three daily reenactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the most famous shootouts in the Wild West—and, clocking in at about 30 seconds, one of the shortest. 

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Cody, Wyoming

The spirit of showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody lives on this town that claims him as its namesake. With 25 historic buildings that comprise Old Trail Town and five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody preserves and celebrates its roots. The “Rodeo Capital of the World” hosts amateur rodeo nights all summer long and in July holds the Cody Stampede, a professional rodeo event that’s almost a century old.

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Coloma, California

James Marshall discovered gold in Coloma in 1848, heralding the Gold Rush that brought hordes of miners to the three-square-mile town. Today, there’s still gold left to be found in Coloma. In fact, locals and visitors can go gold panning in town as long as they gain permission from the landowner first.

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Williamson, West Virginia via Cori Martin

Williamson commemorates the historic feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families of West Virginia and Kentucky, respectively, at the fun- and food-filled Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Festival, where tourists can see the sites where real fighting occurred.

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Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin

Without modern-day power sources, the American settlers relied on dried cow dung, dubbed “cow chips,” as fuel. In honor of that bygone practice, the village of Prairie du Sac holds the annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival, where locals compete to see who can throw a pair of cow chips the farthest.

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Logan, Ohio via Lara Snydal-Mijatovich

For the most part, the humble washboard vanished from laundry rooms following the advent of the washing machine. It remains in use across rural America, however, as a musical instrument. The annual Washboard Music Festival in Logan celebrates this history with live performances by washboard-toting musicians.

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Deadwood, South Dakota via Wayne Hseih 

Deadwood’s infamous former residents, from Calamity Jane to Wild Bill Hickok, may no longer call this 1,000-person town home, but the town keeps their spirits alive for future generations with reenactments of gunfights and “The Trial of Jack McCall,” one of the longest-running plays in the country. 

Related: 10 U.S. Towns That Are Older Than America

La Junta, Colorado via J. Stephen Conn

A stomping ground of fur traders and trappers in the 1830s, La Junta stands as a true testament to the Old West. Travelers can have a rollicking time learning about frontier life at Bent’s Old Fort, or they can tuck into an authentic chuck wagon dinner at the annual fundraiser.

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Green Bank, West Virginia

You’ll have to ditch your cellphone if you plan to make a trip to Green Bank, situated, according to CNN, in the 13,000-square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, where radio transmission is severely restricted. In fact, at least a dozen individuals who claim to suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity have moved to the 143-person town in search of relief. 

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Santa Claus, Indiana

With a name like Santa Claus, a town is bound to receive its fair share of heartfelt letters from children during Christmas—and it does, receiving more than 20,000 letters annually. But the high volume of Christmas correspondence is no problem for “Santa’s Elves,” a group of volunteers who reply to every “Dear Santa” letter sent to the town’s post office during the holiday season.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan

Though exceptions are made for emergency vehicles, cars, dubbed “horseless carriages” by the Mackinac Island City Council, have been outlawed since 1898. In their place, horse-drawn carriages travel the roads of modern Mackinac, letting visitors experience an America of a bygone era.

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Amana Colonies, Iowa

Now a tourist site and National Historic Landmark, the Amana Colonies were built by German Pietists who fled persecution in their homeland. Today, the cluster of seven villages—Main, East, South, High, Middle, West, and Homestead—plays host to a number of independent craft shops, local artisans, and restaurants serving family-style meals.

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Briarcliff Manor, New York

On Ragamuffin Day, a Thanksgiving tradition that commenced around 1870, children dressed in their humblest clothes traveled door-to-door asking for candy or money. Putting its own twist on the old tradition, Briarcliff Manor hosts an annual Ragamuffin Day Parade around Halloween, when little ones and parents march through town clothed in their finest garments.

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Newtown Borough, Pennsylvania

Remnants of the past lie in nearly every corner of this small town, from The Brick Hotel where George Washington once slept to the nation’s oldest movie theater.

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Wayne, Nebraska via Ali Eminov

The home of Wayne State College celebrates the enduring presence of chickens in rural life at the Wayne Chicken Show, a three-day festival featuring a hard-boiled egg eating contest, a chicken costume competition, and even a cluck-off to determine who can do the best imitation of the bird.

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Fairplay, Colorado via Jeffrey Beall

Soon after the California Gold Rush began, prospectors uncovered the precious metal near what is now the town of Fairplay, at the lofty elevation of 9,953 feet above sea level. Even if you’re not searching for gold, there are plenty of reasons to visit, including South Park City, a museum featuring gold-mining exhibits, and the Burro Days Festival, which features a 29-mile pack burro race that ends at the summit of Mosquito Pass.

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Monetta, South Carolina

Although drive-in theaters have practically disappeared, Monetta still hosts not one, but all three of the state’s remaining drive-ins. “The Big Mo,” perhaps the best known of the three, features three outdoor screens that play different films throughout the weekend. If you plan on a night at the drive-in, though, put the plastic away—the old-timey theater accepts only cash.

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