Hidden Gems: These 10 Small U.S. Cities Feature World-Famous Architecture

Stray from the beaten path and visit one of these smaller American cities to discover culturally significant feats of architecture.

Small but Mighty

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small town significant architecture united states

These small cities may not have the international name recognition of some of their larger counterparts, but they are home to a treasure trove of architectural marvels such as this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Oak Park, Illinois. Take a road trip to one of these out-of-the-way spots to experience the best of America’s architecture while leaving the hustle and bustle of the big city behind.

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Winterset, Iowa

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Winterset Iowa covered bridges

Fans of The Bridges of Madison County will recognize the famous covered bridges of this small city. Both Robert James Waller’s novel and the film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood were set in the area, and the bridges were a major backdrop of the story. This isn’t Winterset’s only Hollywood connection—it’s also the birthplace of actor John Wayne. The iconic movie cowboy’s childhood home is now a museum open to visitors from all over the world. And the Madison County Courthouse, built in the French Renaissance Revival style, sits at the center of the town square, anchoring the city with its imposing presence.

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Palm Springs, California

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palm springs midcentury modern architecture

Situated in Southern California, Palm Springs is a must-visit destination for fans of midcentury-modern design. Because it’s located only a short drive from Los Angeles in the Coachella Valley, the city has long been a resort destination for Hollywood’s biggest stars. In the 1930s, actor Gary Cooper had a vacation home built there, and many other big names followed, including Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Because of the distinctive retro architecture, visiting Palm Springs feels like taking a trip back in time.

Related: The 19 Most Photographed Homes in America

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Deadwood, South Dakota

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Deadwood South Dakota small town architecture

In 1874, gold was discovered near Deadwood, South Dakota. In the years that followed, it became a booming gold rush town, with 25,000 residents settling there in the span of just a couple of years. Some of the biggest names in the Wild West visited Deadwood, including Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok. In 1961, the town was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and much of the 19th-century architecture has been painstakingly preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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Sedona, Arizona

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sedona arizona architectural gems

Sedona is known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, but one of the area’s most notable sights is man-made: the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Catholic chapel built into the side of a butte. Its sharp lines contrast starkly with the curved stone surrounding it. The chapel was commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who was a sculptor and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Related: The 12 Most Infamous Goofs in Architecture History

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Rockport, Massachusetts

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rockport massachusetts painting scene

The iconic fishing shack known as Motif Number 1 has become renowned in art circles as “the most often-painted building in America.” When Rockport, Massachusetts, emerged as an artists’ colony in the 19th century, the structure served as a popular subject, later becoming emblematic of the maritime region’s architecture. The original building was constructed on Rockport’s Bradley Wharf in 1840, but was destroyed by a blizzard in 1978. A perfect replica was quickly erected that still stands today.

Related: The Best Small-Town Inns in All 50 States

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Columbus, Indiana

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columbus indiana significant architecture

Despite the city’s small size, modernist architects like Eliel Saarinen (his unique First Christian Church pictured above), Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche, I.M. Pei, Harry Weese, and Deborah Berke chose to leave a lasting mark in Columbus, Indiana. Industrialist J. Irwin Miller was the man behind the city’s transformation, opting to use beautifully designed public architecture to entice families to move to the area and work for his company, the Cummins Corporation. Miller encouraged the city to have their public buildings designed by well-respected architects, even going so far as to pay the architect’s fee if the city worked with one of his preferred architects.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico

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santa fe new mexico significant architecture

Architecture and history collide in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where examples of adobe Pueblo architecture are scattered throughout the city. Traditional adobe bricks, composed of sun-dried earth, straw, and water, make up the signature smooth, curved walls that the Spanish found in Native American communities when they arrived in the area. Don’t miss the De Vargas Street House, which is constructed in the Pueblo style and is believed to be one of the oldest buildings in America.

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Pella, Iowa

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Pella Iowa windmill

In Pella, Iowa, you can experience the Netherlands without ever leaving American soil. Founded by Dutch immigrants in the mid-1800s, the city still retains some of its original Dutch charm. One of the most notable landmarks is the Vermeer Windmill, the tallest functioning windmill in the country at 134 feet high. The city is full of green spaces, and the Molengracht plaza even has a canal running through it, reminiscent of those found in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.

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Cloquet, Minnesota

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Cloquet Minnesota frank lloyd wright gas station

Cloquet is home to the R.W. Lindholm Service Station, the only gas station that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed. The service station represents one of the only fully realized pieces of Broadacre City, a utopian urban planning concept that Wright dreamed up. Wright envisioned the station, built in 1958, as a community hub. It is still in use today, giving visitors a chance to refuel as they explore a bit of architectural history.

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Oak Park, Illinois

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oak park illinois frank lloyd wright houses

Located outside of Chicago, Oak Park, Illinois, has the largest collection of homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright himself moved there with his wife in 1889, and he worked on a number of private residences in the area as well as a church, the Unity Temple. One of the most notable examples of Wright’s work in Oak Park is the Arthur Heurtley House, an early instance of Wright’s use of the Prairie style.

Related: These are the Most Popular House Styles in America Right Now

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