Abandoned Building in Downtown Cairo. Photo credit carlfbagge via Flickr

The city that the country forgot is preparing its comeback.

Mike stumbled upon Cairo by accident one night while driving around the southernmost tip of Illinois. Ever the curious person, he parked his car on Main Street and began looking around. On either side of him were decaying sidewalks, crumbling buildings, and sinkholes. No lights or inhabitants in sight. He had found an actual ghost town.

Cairo, (pronounced by locals as “we don’t care-o”) is located at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Surrounded by water, Cairo easily became the jumping-off point for African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow laws of the south. With the mixing of races, the town quickly became a house divided.

Commercial Street in Cairo, Illinois via hickory hardscrabble
Commercial Street in Cairo, Illinois via hickory hardscrabble

Segregation in Cairo was anything but peaceful in the 1960s. As a type of protection service, the white community created the White Hats, while blacks retaliated with the Cairo United Front. When the two collided, businesses turned to ash and brawls broke out in the streets. Things were getting so bad, in fact, that the governor of Illinois had to dispatch 11 companies of the state militia to Cairo to restore order. After the flood in the summer of 2011, many residents fled and left Cairo abandoned. Boards went up and the city fell silent.

So, how is it that a city situated at the union of two of the largest rivers in North America is not one of the largest cities in the country?  A city whose riverside set up is similar to Pittsburgh should have had matched success. With the town’s darker history behind it, now is the time for Cairo’s second chance.

3 Things That Make Cairo a Choice City

Location. Location. Location.

Cairo’s location is a city planner’s daydream. Two of the busiest and beautiful rivers in the country on either side of you begging to have boardwalks and marinas built over them. In its prime, Cairo was called, “The Gateway of the South” because of its river traffic during the 18th and 19th centuries. We say it’s time to give the steel bridges a break and start a trend with water travel again.

The people that live there have passion

The 2,800 residents that remain are all those who stayed after the summer flood of 2011. Can you imagine the sort of passion those citizens have for their town that they’d rather stay than to leave? It’s like they see the diamond underneath as they clean up their city, like when citizens collect bricks from fallen buildings to build new ones and when Willie Woods renovates a charming, Victorian-style home from the 1800s. Shemwell’s has been serving up BBQ in Cairo since the ’60s and is a place to find locals chatting about the good old days.  Cairo residents also established The Cairo Economic Development committee to address city news and to highlight the city’s untapped infrastructure and geographical position. Go Team Cairo!

Bonus Fact: A documentary was filmed in Cairo called, “Between Two Rivers.” It won ten awards including “Best Film” and where locals share history, loss, and promise of the city. 

The architecture is already there

We’re talking original late 1800’s early 1900’s buildings. Brick buildings with big windows. We’re talking marquee signs over at the 106-year-old Gem Theatre and amazing Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and Coca-Cola ghost graffiti. Imagine what it would be like to pry off the boards from custom arched windows of the Famous building, remove the weeds from the base of the old hospital, or slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls of the W.T. Wall & Company Big Department Store. The foundation is laid, and it’s up to investors to pick up the hammer. Cairo’s mayor, Tyrone Coleman, has helped earn the city grants to clean up the area and businesses are looking to open doors. The building selection is quite impressive.

Abandoned building in downtown Cairo, Illinois via MuZemike
Abandoned building in downtown Cairo, Illinois via MuZemike

There are a lot of miles left on the tires of Cairo. This underdog is in motion to restore its former glory days and entertain folks once again. Here’s to Cairo, the city of hope and possibilities.

What future do you see for a town, like Cairo, looking to move forward and rebuild? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below.


Image credit: Hickory Hardscrabble – License + MuZemikefeature photo and abandoned building

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289 thoughts on “Cairo, Illinois: America’s Forgotten City”

  1. Kenneth Skeen

    What a vibrant letter of hope! Cairo has such awesome potential! I am a full-on Southern Oregonian, (Jacksonville), but if I was a younger guy, I would sure like to hit those two lane roads and do exactly what you all do. I love history, antiques, etc. My Dad’s family were from Arrowsmith, Ill. and Iowa. Skeen’s (Celtic “Skene”), Benedict’s, Van Gundy’s to name a few. Sunday night last, I again got hooked and didn’t go lights out till 1:00am watching your shows. Even love those I have seen many times before. Mike, you are my kind of business man! (I was in business 48 years). Keep on truckin’ and filming those Two Lane Roads for us! Best,

    1. Lucy Slaven

      I am from Charleston, Mo, just across the bridge in MIssouri. I was suprised to see Cairo on facebook! I used to go to Cairo Hospital, I think it was St Marys? I used to use the Train station to go between Chicago and Cairo, my parents would pick me up at the train station in Cairo. its a shame it went down.

      1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

        We were disappointed to hear the hospital had closed in the 80’s. We would love to see it restored, Lucy!

        1. Paul

          St. Mary’s is beyond hope for restoration. The infrastructure and the potential for rehabbing it is beyond cost effective. The asbestos remediation process 10 years ago gives an city opportunity to tear it down when funding is available and repurpose the land.
          The best hope for a hospital in Cairo proper would be to improve the Community Health & Emergency Services facility and build a satellite hosp affiliated with SIU Medical close to I-57.

          1. Heath Gross

            I agree! The hospital is way beyond repair! I was surprised that during my last visit into the city back in Sept 2016 that a person could walk right into the abandoned hospital structure. One door on the back side is wide open for entry. Additionally, the ground right around said door is turning into a sink hole and or the ground is caving in to a basement that must have belonged to part of the hospital that I am guessing was demolished years ago as you can sort of see a foot print to it. Either way, this former hospital really is a safety hazard in multiple ways. I am almost certain out of town onlookers are tempted to enter the structure based on their “abandoned city” curiosities.

        2. Paul

          No way could the hospital ever return to service. The structure is decaying inside out and cost prohibitive to restore. Back in 2008 or 2009, the asbestos and lead was remediated and that’s where it ended. The only thing keeping the remains standing is the lack of funds to demolish it. Former Mayor Judson Childs was able to secure grant money to remove over a dozen dilapidated structures from the Commercial Avenue corridor and I believe current mayor Tyrone Coleman was able to get funding for yet more demolitions. I’d much rather look at vacant land than what was crumbling onto the sidewalks 10 years ago.

          There are still many large buildings earmarked for demolition. The biggest obstacle is the cost of removing the asbestos and lead content. Most of these structures have no potential for rehabbing due to the extreme cost involved. There’s no demand for buildings that would need $3-10 Million dollars in investments. What Cairo needs is a reason for people to stay or return. Currently, with so few jobs and shopping venues, most who leave are glad they did. It shouldn’t have to be this way but sadly it is.

    2. Heath Gross

      Does anyone on here reading this know if the GEM theater is privately owned, or is it in same way owned by the city? Information I have located on the theater indicates that is closed in 1978. Can anyone confirm that date? Also, has the theater truly been sitting empty for 39 years? Was it ever used for anything after that? Sadly, the theater has that giant hole in the side of the building with a tree growing out of it. Indicating that over time this structure will also need to be razed for safety reasons. I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but can this once grand theater be saved?

        1. Jim Tom Atherton

          That is unfortunate that it is slated to be demolished. It appears that the majority of the downtown part of Cairo has already been raised in the past 6-7 years. I am guessing the the GEM and the few surrounding buildings near it will meet the same fate just as soon as funds become available to complete the demolition process. Only adding to the demise of this historical little city.

      1. George Taylor

        When I was in High School, in Ballard County, we used to go to Cairo to buy Rex Draft beer byt thr gallon, 25cents deposit for the jug. And we would go to the Gem to at midnight on Saturday to watch the wrekly porn feature!

      2. Paul

        Sadly, when a building’s roof is compromised, the insides quickly deteriorate from severe water damage. This is what happened to the Gem. The city owns it and pays no taxes on it. There was a plan to restore the Gem in the late 1990’s but funding never came to fruition and no preventive maintenance has been done in over 20 years. Vegetation can bee seen overtaking the roof and walls just like many of the buildings recently demolished.

        Hopefully someone can at least save the marquee and put part of it in the Customs House museum. The theater closed in 1978. There were a few attempts to reopen it but due to financial difficulties, it never happened. There are recent videos on YouTube urban explorers posted last year.

      3. Morrissa Clanahan

        I believe the city owns The Gem Theter. I worked in Cairo for 44 years at The Cairo Public Utility. 1978 sounds about right for its closure. At one time they were raising funds to restore it but it never came to pass. I have many fond memories of this theater. As a child my mother would drop me and my many cousins off for the matinee and return later in th day to pick us all,up. One particular Saturday she returned to pick us up and, she got to counting heads in the car , she was at the stoplight at 8th and Commercial by then, and was short a child, me! She had to go around the block because 8th Street is a one way street. They had locked the doors but Mr. Griffith the manager was just leaving, they went back in and I was sound asleep on the very front row! By the way, even in its poorvstate of affairs, 8th Street is still a one way street. There is not one business left open on that street except for a doll shop that opens occasionally.

        1. T Brey

          Thanks for the shout out for Patches Dolls! (Although you are right, mom is down there for the occasional tea party & if she knows she will be meeting someone to shop.) They have been working on redoing the front of the store to give it more charm.

  2. Beverly King

    We are back road travelers and stumbled into Cairo several years ago. We were looking for a diner for a “local” meal but could find nothing but boarded up buildings. It was like a ghost town. Moving a block or two off the main street, we found beautiful old homes either abandoned, neglected or in ruins. So sad and beautiful at the same time. We have been intrigued with this town ever since.

    1. T Brey

      If you ever pass back through, check out both NuDiner (on 3rd & Washington) and Shemwells BBQ (10th & Washington).

    2. Morrissa Clanahan

      If you were on the main street running through Cairo you should have seen the NuDiner and Shemwell’s BBQ. People still eat out in Cairo. Both of these restaurants serve excellent food.

  3. K Pierskalla

    Stories like this pull me in two directions – one is the love for the city, the people and the community and wanting to see it reborn. The other is the thought that maybe this isn’t a good location for a city being in what must be an incredibly vulnerable flood zone with those two massive rivers joining there. Best wishes to the city planners and their residents in rebuilding what hopefully will be less prone to flood devastation in the future.

    1. C

      I totally agree. With forecasts of increased flooding events in the future it makes more sense to relocate the city to a better location. The land could have a new life as preserved natural lands

        1. Karen

          There are levees in place on 3 sides of the city. Sink holes within the city are a huge issue now. When i was growing up there the city would repair sink holes as they appeared. A corrupt local government has practically bankrupted the town. There isnt much money left. Rather than repair the sink holes streets are now baracaded and left in ruin.

          1. Morrissa Clanahan

            Help is needed in more ways than one in Cairo. They need help from the government but we are the forgotten part of the state. To our governor the state stops at Carbondale. I worked in Cairo for 44 years and I’ve seen its decline but anytime they reach out for any type of industry or even a Casino the state gives it to someone else. It’s time Cairo had a break and our Congressmen and Representatives need to work harder for Cairo and this part of the state. As long as people keep leaving it’s not good but you have to have something to keep them there. They have been knocked down too many times. Someone with some clout needs to pick them up and get them back on their feet.

        2. Kim Swartz

          Alexander County is basically farm land and since there are fewer residents in this country the govt refuses to update our repair the levees. The Len Small levee was breached and destroyed and the army Corp of engineers refuses to repair it. Other smaller towns like Grand Tower in Jackson County is in the same mess. I commend the ppl who live in this area as they cannot get insurance or a mortgage but continue to have a love/hate relationship with these two massive rivers. Time will tell what happens. I live in Murphysboro, IL and love till drive along the river with all the farmland going for miles and miles. These are strong people that live here some living in the place they were born and raised.

      1. Terry Archibald

        All of our massive flooding occurs because the powers that be insist on building more levees. What should be done is dredging the decades of debris, sand and silt from the rivers to make them deeper. The continental land is much sturdier than any levee ever could be and they could use what they remove to back fill abandoned mines saving the land above them from sinking.

        1. Guy W. Baker

          You make some very good points, it seems to me: making the whole area higher by making the riverbed lower would also make the high water line or flood stage lower, I think. Seems like the Corps of Engineers could be involved…

          1. J LaMarr

            The Mississippi is a mud river. Its channel continually changes. The only way they have kept a known route open is by using pylons to force the water through a smaller opening much like you do with your thumb over a hose. The increased force pushes the silt on down stream. James Eads demonstrated this in New Orleans and it is now used throughout the entire river system.

        2. KG

          So true. Open your eyes politicians and
          help these towns that are in ruin. Cleanup our
          waterways and fix our streets.

          1. Paul

            Obama made a campaign visit to Cairo in 2008 and what good did it do? Nothing! Dick Durbin also pressed flesh in Cairo and the results were the same.

      2. Lori G Smith

        We live in a 120 year old house in Cairo that we bought nine years ago. We love the history and the people here. We were evacuated in the 2011 flood, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Parts of Cairo did get flooded basements, but there is a “low side” and a “high side” of Cairo … the lowest areas being on the Mississippi side. The water reached to the top of the Ohio River levee, but Cairo was spared due to the Corps of Engineers breaching the Bird’s Point levee in Missouri, just down river, which was built for exactly that purpose. We have FEMA flood insurance (at a very low rate because Cairo Cairo has never flooded, even in the huge flood of 1936 that wiped out several towns along the Ohio) and the only time we’ve used it was when our basement flooded last year, partly due to a storm sewer line that failed. Everything was covered and repaired quickly.

        So there’s no reason to “relocate” Cairo, even if it were possible to move an entire town and it’s population (many of whom have lived here for generations). What Cairo needs is people, businesses and employment. We have two grain plants here … Bungee and River City Rice … but we could support other manufacturing. Cairo used to be the place that Sears houses were built and shipped all over the country, and there are still wonderful Sears homes in town. Also, the area that used to be named Millionaires Row has all been renovated and is full of families. Beautiful homes and three huge mansions on the list of Historic Properties. You can visit Magnolia Manor, and Riverlore is for sale for less than $200,000. You can Google either of them, they are amazing!

        1. Morrissa Clanahan

          I believe the city owns The Gem Theter. I worked in Cairo for 44 years at The Cairo Public Utility. 1978 sounds about right for its closure. At one time they were raising funds to restore it but it never came to pass. I have many fond memories of this theater. As a child my mother would drop me and my many cousins off for the matinee and return later in th day to pick us all,up. One particular Saturday she returned to pick us up and, she got to counting heads in the car , she was at the stoplight at 8th and Commercial by then, and was short a child, me! She had to go around the block because 8th Street is a one way street. They had locked the doors but Mr. Griffith the manager was just leaving, they went back in and I was sound asleep on the very front row! By the way, even in its poorvstate of affairs, 8th Street is still a one way street. There is not one business left open on that street except for a doll shop that opens occasionally. Thanks .

        2. cheryl lynn axley

          Hi Lori. I read about your and your neighbors rehabs of homes in Cairo. There are people out there (myself included) who would love to network with you and the others to find out what was involved and what life is like in Cairo now.

          I would bet that if a group of you got together and started a website with pictures and stories it would excite a few others who would be willing to undertake that plunge.

          My family on both sides are from Cairo since the 1800s and left in the late 60s. Would love to reestablish.

          Please advise


    2. Stephen

      Flooding is one of the least concerns of Cairo. The rivers have been dealt with for a very long time and could be dealt with in the future as well. Like any area of the country when the money leaves the town dies. The only way Cairo will make a comeback is if folks with money return and so far that isn’t happening.

  4. Dave Hortin

    I sure enjoy your show and all you offer us through your travels. Kind of reminds me of the days ago I would go to estate sales looking for rare keepsakes, however, I never really found much. A “Log Cabin” maple syrup container maybe 60(+) years old and a old Kodachrome camera still warped in plastic, 60 year old leather baby booties, artwork not framed, and a bunch of Native American Indian artwork and carvings. Enough to keep me happy. Never stop looking !

  5. Joyce Jackson

    What an amazing find. I think about places like this. About being able to find someplace that could be that diamond in the rough. I’d love to have a hand in helping get a place like that moving again.
    Thanks for sharing Mike, and to the people of Cairo – much success in your endeavors. I can see the potential, I’m sure others will soon as well!

  6. Becky Jackson-Jacobson

    My family lived and worked in Cairo from it’s early days to about the 1940’s. On trips to southern Illinois, during the 50’s & 60’s our dad would take us through the town to show us where he had worked, where he met our mom. By the late 60’s, early 70’s we didn’t stop anymore but would do a drive through. Then those stopped too. When taking a trip south in the late 80’s for an uncle’s funeral my siblings and I droves through Cairo and we stopped for BBQ. The town was run down but the people were friendly and welcoming. We talked to a gentleman that was our dads age (had he still been alive) and he remembered vividly our family from decades past. Despite the sad history, Cairo is an amazingly beautiful place. I remember uncles speaking of the boats and shipping era, the work to be had. If I had the money to invest in a business and a home I would take my family back there, I would take pride in being a part of a rebirth. Before we left Cairo, that last time, we went to stand by the rivers. The day was warm and sunny and i could imagine as I closed my eyes the bygone days of riverboats gliding by, the bustle of shipping boats being loaded and unloaded, the sound of the rivers sliding into each other…a deep breath and it was as if I’d taken in centuries of history all at once. But despite the turmoil that was very much a part of it’s past, the smell seemed to fill me with hope, anticipation, faith, and contentment. I think perhaps what I felt was a bit of home buried in my own genetic make up but also the dreams, pride, courage, and vision of those that came before me…those that saw the promise in this bit of land calling people to it’s shores to work, live, and prosper. For those that decide to travel there I encourage you to look for the Cairo BBQ shop. Not sure it is still around but they make the most fantastic sauce ever. And if it is there be sure to buy yourself a bottle for home…if you happen to live in the Chicago or northern Illinois area buy me a bottle too, I’d be more than happy to pay you double for it.

        1. Roy Dakin

          You can buy the Cairo BBQ Sauce on line. It’s now made in Murphysboro, IL and they do ship it out. Just use your search engine online and type in Cairo bbq sauce. Pull up the website and place your order. It’s still sold locally also.

      1. Becky Jackson-Jacobson

        Cairo bbq is what I grew up with. Someone once told me you could order it online. Haven’t tryed.

    1. Jerry

      Yes Shemwells BBQ is still in bussiness where it’s always been located on the main drag, US hwy 51. The NAACP shipped in people to stir up trouble and they would torch businesses back when all of the racial riots were going on in the late sixties. Cairo should be an economic giant today but it’s dark past laid the town to waist. Such a shame. I would like to see “BIG” (& small) business move in and reinvent Cairo. That would be a blessing. My 2 cents.

      1. Morrissa Clanahan

        I must say to all, the race riots did not ruin Cairo. I’ve had lots of old timers tell me it was the greed that killed Cairo back in the 50s and 60s. The old regime who had businesses did not want new businesses coming to town for fear it would hurt their pockets..I understand one time Holiday Inn wanted to build there but the local motel owners fought it and also a Walmart but local stores fought that too. The civi6 Rights Era didn’t help us but it didn’t kill us.

        1. Brenda Siegelman Ohara

          You are correct, greed from established greedy business owners did exactly what you were told. I was born and raised in Cairo, witnessed the riots and marching from our home, second floor balcony best view, located on 8th St. The greedy business owners were what ruined our hometown.

        2. Stephen

          I don’t remember Holliday Inn trying to open in Cairo but I do remember Walmart. They opened the store not far in Missouri but didn’t stay long. Had they built in Cairo it would have been just another empty building. Cairo started on it’s decline in the 1920’s. By the 1950’s it wasn’t so much greed as business owners despite trying to hold on to their businesses. All the Civil Rights movement did was run a lot of those business owners out of town. The jobs just weren’t there. I know of one business owner that had only one employee, her daughter. She was told to fire her daughter and hire a black person or they knew where she lived. She closed the store.

    2. Gail Upchurch

      Gail Upchurch Used to pass through Cairo several times a year in the 70’s on Our way south to Tenn. Stopped for BBQ every time. Through Cairo then into Kentucky. Loved the town. Sure hope it makes a come back.

    3. Erica

      I have family from Cairo too!! My family will take trips periodically to reminisce about growing up and “the good ole days”. One of my favorite things to do when visiting my great-grandparents was to visit the Magnolia Manner.
      My great uncle has been in the last month. He stated that the grocery and pharmacy had shut down, but Shemwell’s BBQ is still open! As far as the Cairo Sauce goes, without the grocery I am not sure you can find it in town. However, my brother found it available online.

  7. J Daugherty

    I had no idea the Cairo was in this condition. I’m from east central Illinois and remember the town as being on the river and close to St. Louis. And as I’m an old girl, I remember the trouble down there. But I guess I missed the fact that the flooding drove people away.
    In the town where I was raised the once vibrant downtown has been mostly torn down due to lack of interest. It makes me so I sad.
    The town is now trying hard to draw people back to the down town area but I think it could use a good anchor store to come in along with a reputable restaurant chain.
    The area has a great old train station that has survived and a rich history of railroading and civil war sites.
    My hope is that both of these old historical towns can keep interest in them going and come back to the importance they deserve.

    1. william

      It wasn’t the flooding that drove people away. It was all the shootings and fires during the race riots. Everybody left because they were afraid for their lives.

    2. Edna

      The flood didn’t run people away from Cairo, the crime and drugs and corruption and high Utilities, that is what ran people away. I loved Cairo, It makes me sick to drive around over there and see how bad it has become. I would be proud to lend a helping hand to work toward clean up and fix up. I just don’t see it ever happening. Someone please prove me wrong. My mother was born and raised in Cairo. I still have family there. My father was born there and raised just outside of Cairo. It was a beautiful town back in the day. Beautiful park, beautiful buildings, and beautiful people.

  8. Dolores Verruso

    What an opportunity for people to move there and have this place reborn. Recently I have been thinking of a building in my daughters village of Hagaman, NY. It’s called Pawling Hall and she has her studio music recital there every year. It is such an awesome building from 1851. It has a stage and ballroom downstairs and a bar, kitchen and ballroom upstairs. The kitchen has antique appliances. It is on the national register but the village doesn’t seem to care about fixing it up. It needs a little repair. It can be rented, my daughter uses it for her music studio recitals, but no one really knows about that. I keep thinking if the locals got together and pitched in with their talent and time it could be a place for even local weddings. All that is needed is a little carpentry and paint. I don’t live in the village so I don’t think anyone would want to hear this. The Mayor wants to close it up. The people of the village don’t know how cool this building is.

  9. Marilyn Jansen

    We drive through Cairo often when we go from Nashville to visit relatives in Missouri. It breaks my heart every time. Just this week we traveled through again with our son and his camera. We slowed down and paid attention to what was going on. He took shots and we googled “what happened to Cairo, IL.” It is a perfect location for a restoration town with shops and art and a crawdad restaurant, for galleries and wine tastings overlooking the rivers, for families and businesses and marine enterprises. Maybe your post will encourage the discussion and we’ll see big change soon. Thanks for that.

  10. cindy martin

    I grew up about 30 miles north of Cairo and well remember the time of the extreme racial unrest. Bricks were being thrown through school bus windows and businesses were being burned. People got afraid even to drive through the town. Before that time, however, Cairo was the “go-to” place for shopping and other things. My parents and grandparents talked about doing their holiday shopping there and my grandmother was once a patient in its hospital.

    The story is that the people who developed Chicago originally approached Cairo with their plan, due to the river access. While I’m glad the area is not a mega-city, that part of the state desperately needs jobs and other economic growth. Given the area’s propensity for flooding, some changes need to be made before that can truly happen. A lot of the flooding comes from seep water rather than from actual flood water. I don’t know what all the answers are, but I do appreciate you highlighting an area rich in history and potential.

    1. Morrissa Clanahan

      There was extremely racial all over the US not just in Cairo and those places survived. It was more than the racial issues that ruined Cairo. I get sick of hearing that. Sure it was a difficult time for everyone but even by that time Cairo was already in trouble and the people who could have helped it stay alive took all their money they made there and left. I’ve got to quit reading all this stuff. It’s too upsetting to read especially when people who still live around here are struggling to survive and the people who moved out can only talk about how it use to be before they turned coat and left.

      1. Stephen

        You are correct, Cairo was on the decline long before the racial trouble. The racial trouble was just the last straw. The remaining people with money either moved out after being burned out or left to protect their investment. The racial trouble was just senseless. The jobs just weren’t there. The town was a collection of mom and pop businesses where for the most part family members were the employees. The real nail in the coffin was raising the taxes on Burkart foam rubber company to make up for so many people in town not paying their taxes. It was the last real employer in town.

        1. J LaMarr

          As I understood it the beginning of the end started during prohibition. The city as a whole turned to speakeasies and nightclubs for income. They were far enough away from major law enforcement and close enough to the stills to make huge profits. When that ended it pulled a massive amount of income out of the city. But it left many of the riffraf who follow. Being a river town thety had always been here this just magnified thr problem. Even in the 60s and 70s Cairo was known as a ruff town.

  11. Michele

    What a nice article. I grew up and still live about 3 hours north of Cairo. I’ve always just known it as a place to avoid. You’ve opened my eyes to the potential this little town has!

    1. jim

      Cairo is still known for the Guetterman Boys car dealership. In days gone by the Club 18 was a hotspot for Kentucky patrons to grab a cold one and boogey down to Wolfman and the Pack on Sunday nights. When leaving Illinois and entering Kentucky you needed to observe the speed limit or else you might spend a night in the Wickliffe, Ky. jail.

      1. Bonny R Jones

        When I was in the army stationed at Ft. Campbell KY, back in the late 50’s & very early 60’s a bunch of us guys would go to Cairo on our weekend passes. Cairo was one wild town back in those days. Spent many a good time in the Club 18. Dated a Cairo girl I met in the Club 18 by the name of Vivian Tullos (guess that’s how her name is spelled), she was a very pretty girl back then, guess if she is still alive she would be in her late 70’s. Also dated a girl for awhile from Wickliffe KY I met in the Club 18 (cannot remember her name), but she was not near as pretty as Vivian was. All just memories now.

  12. Stuart Edwards

    Great story. It really has potential. Its not like its located out somewhere in the deep woods. As the old saying goes, ‘If you build it they will come’. I think that’s true of Cairo. Many small towns have come and gone by way of commercialization. Mom and Pop stores are now a thing of the past, but one thing they had that strip malls don’t. The guy who ran the store knew what he had and could tell you all about his products, and they were there every day.
    I hope that some young enterprising people will see this story and give Cairo a try. You never know who you might meet there.

  13. Dorothy I Hart

    I was so shocked to see pictures of Cairo. I use to live down south and when I moved north passed through there going back to visit my family. Can’t imagine the town looking like that now. The iron bridge gave my husband fits. The first time he drove over when we were coming from Texas and stopped to visit relatives , he about had a heart attack as he thought the bridge turned in the middle where the rivers connect.

  14. Beth Schrader

    Four years ago, my son and some of the other teenagers from our church spent a week in Cairo at DayStar ministries. They met many people, learned the amazing history, and performed many service projects. A group from our church has returned every year. I joined them 2 years ago, my husband and middle son went last year. It is such an amazing story and I pray for the town often.

  15. Sheila Kelley

    Wow! My business takes me to Cairo every once in a while and I break out in tears every time I go. I remember when Cairo was a thriving town but I also remember the pain and turmoil of the racial riots I am not sure if Cairo can ever recover.It does have some beautiful old buildings and houses that sell for a song. Did you happen to notice the old Customs House? It’s hard to miss. I am thinking it’d one of the few or only in the center of the country. I have tried to research it on line, with no success. Thanks you for helping us in the area to see Cairo through another’s eyes!

    1. Edna

      The custom house is now a museum of Cairo’s history. It is an amazing building with some amazing things in it to see. It would be worth any ones while to take the tour and see the items inside. Same goes for the Library.

  16. Craig Thompson

    Can’t say anything other than I’m glad stuff like this matters to you. So many hidden gems, so much history out there. An education to be had for anyone who has/takes the time.

  17. Mike Coffman

    I am from Cairo and lived tree until 1981 when my military career moved me away. I have one relative that still lives there. Until the people deice to get rid of the local politicians that have bankrupted the city and used it for their personal bank account, things will never change. i had a great life while growing up there but I do not see any hope it will rebound until some people that I know are gone.
    Too many people have used the City and County to enrich themselves without consideration of the people who are paying for it. It is a sad story which I would hope will turn around. So much potential and promise but inability to pull the trigger to make it happen.

    1. Cheryl

      I grew up in Cairo, the racial problems tore it down and either burned down the local businesses or the owners shut their doors and left. After the racial problems, then the politicians were too busy filling their pockets and bickering to rebuild such an old historical town. The library has pictures of all the old buildings some still there, some now gone. At one time Cairo had 3 lumberyards, stockyards, it had it all and the location to be a thriving city. It is sad the history that will be lost if something isn’t done quickly.

    2. Morrissa Clanahan

      Thank you Mike. The potential is still there. I may not see it in my time but I pray that the politicians wake up in Springfield and help Cairo. It’s not fair they have to continue to suffer because the forefathers were riddled with greed.

  18. Kathy

    I remember riding through Cairo as a little girl with my grandparents. We llived in Chicago and would come to KY and TN on vacation each year. I later moved down south to KY and spent time in Cairo with family and friends. I would love to see Cairo revived again. It is sad to go through Cairo. It just seems like a place of no hope. It is encouraging to know that people are working to make Cairo good again. This is definately worth praying for.

    1. tresa

      I have a history with Cairo Illinois all my life in one way or other!! My mom,dad,brother ,sisters,aunts,uncles,cousins & grandma all used to come from southeast Missouri through Cairo every harvest seasons,going to Illinois,indiana,Michigan & many other states to pick fruit for a living . We always went to Cairo & I still remember that old ,narrow ,scary bridge !! It was & still is my worst nightmare.

  19. Kim

    I think this is wonderful!! I love to see little towns coming together trying to bring life back. However, this isn’t the case in most small towns. Some residents don’t want change or growth or if they are the recipient of the growth they are involved and try to squish the dream. Still holding out for my small town dream!! Thanks for all you do and bringing awareness to small life America!

  20. Joanna B.

    Two years ago we stopped there for the night on our way from Texas to Indiana. It reminded my so much of my hometown, once a bustling town with now crumbling infrastructure. There were so many houses that were once grand, now sadly falling down, how I wish I could get one and restore it! We ate dinner in the only dinner open in town and I am sure the girl was shutting down for the evening but welcomed us like family.

  21. Lori Lovett

    I hate to see old towns crumble to dust. That is why I love my new hometown of Savannah Ga so much. They are leaders in historic preservation. Our school here, SCAD ( savannah college of art and design) even offers a degree in historic preservation of old buildings.

    What could be more important than teaching young people how to preserve old buildings.

  22. Bill

    Drove through Cairo in the seventies and bullet holes on the buildings and asked a person there what the heck went on. He took about 30 minutes telling me about how Cairo was where the gangsters came to hide from Chicago and other cities. Their enemies would come down hunt them down and there would be a killing there about every week. I thought then what a great place to rebuild. Sounds like it is the same today. Sad but true.

    1. Stephen

      That didn’t happen. I was living there in the 1970’s and what bullet holes there were in buildings was from a frequent gunfight between police and pyramid court housing project. It was part of the racial turmoil.

  23. Paul Curran

    Is there a hotel? If investors were to spend a little they need to build a casino, or have river boat casinos there. Build it- they will come

    1. Gary Harvell

      I was born in Cairo at St. Mary’s hospital. I would love to see it restored back to the way it was when I was growing up

  24. Ron Hayes


    Great story on Cairo. Unfortunately, one of many hundreds of midwestern towns that are but a shadow of their past, along the big rivers and in farm country. In many cases, the rivers gave and the floods took away. True along the Des Moines river as well as the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio.
    I want to see your Nashville store as I have been to the Iowa one. I just returned to Iowa to help my Mom and look for a career as I was not finding any in Tennessee over the last year. Being a native Iowan, with family roots back to 1820’s in Washington county, it is nice to be back here for awhile. I do miss Tennessee and the fine lady I met in Murfreesboro.

    Warm regards,
    Ron Hayes

  25. Marianne Halcomb

    I love the blogs and of course the show and all the interesting people you have the privilege of meeting. When I see old towns or old buildings all I think of is who lived there and what life was like back then. I am a child of the 50s and sometimes long for those good old days. Please keep educating the younger generation as history is one of the only things everyone has in common.
    Someday I hope to cross your path that would be awesome!

  26. Lacy

    My hometown of Hickman, KY is much like Cairo, IL. Hickman is situated on the Missisippi River. It has such potential for great success! I imagine Hickman could be a beneficial location and bring many industries. There are great landmarks in Hickman with potential to be restored. I would love for my hometown to be brought back to life. The people there are the definition of southern hospitality. They would welcome the idea of Hickman being rebirthed. It has seen industry before. It would be great to see that again.

    1. Floyd

      My mom was born and raised in Hickman. Used to love going down to see Grandma and Grandpa a few times a year. The drive behind the sea wall, out to the ferry, going up on Magnolia for the view. Lot of memories. Always used to cross over in Cairo, on that scary bridge.

  27. Jeanne Lauber

    What a wonderful story! I love your website. Your travel stories are so interesting. i, like many others, had never of this town. Now it has been brought to everyone’s attention. I hope the town of Cairo can get back to being a nice place to live and visit and shop. Keep up the good work!

  28. Ray H.

    Some 40 yrs. ago, I was living in w. KY & selling medical supplies . Cairo was part of my territory and had a hospital , several doctors, and a wholesale drug company. Was sad as I witnessed the deterioration of the businesses and town. Lots of river traffic there but not much else.

  29. Jevon Howle

    I spent a few of my younger years in Cairo.
    My parents worked at the hospital, I went to Camelot Elementary school, and we lived in a restored early 1900’s house a block or two from Magnolia Manor, and a block from the home of the super rich shipping family with the twisted stories surrounding it.
    I remember the fantastic brick streets, the huge 100 year old houses, Mac’s BBQ, Elias True Value, watching fireworks across the river, and everything else that made those years of my life seem right off of a page in “To Kill A Mockingbird” to me.
    This would have been in about 78-82 as far as I can remember.
    I’ve been back many times and it chokes me up to see what has become of that beautiful place.
    The last time I was there a building was left laying where it had fallen across the main drag along the river. Just laying there spread out across the street like a corpse left to remind people that the town was dead.
    The race riots may have had a huge effect on the city, but by the early 80’s it was all optimism. People from Ballard County KY across the river came there to shop because it was closer than Paducah, and because there was beer. There was still a little industry left in the area and the main north south highway route in the area came right through town.
    What started the final death throes of Cairo was Paducah and Metropolis getting Hgwy 24 turned into a mega highway, and metropolis getting the river boats that were initially promised to Cairo.
    After that it was like dominoes falling. 57, 51, and 62 were simply forgotten roads, through travel stopped overnight, and soon the factories were looking to locate to somewhere they could get their good on the move easier.
    51 near future city actually had weeds and trees growing up through it the last time I was there, and travelling 57 was like driving on a poorly maintained gravel road on Mars.
    I still have family in LaCenter, Wickliffe, and Barlow, and I make sure to check on the shell of Cairo every time I visit, but it’s incredibly hard watching it rot back into the river mud it sprang from with such promise once upon a time.

  30. Ralph Callaghan

    Good day, nice piece Mike, maybe they should built a pyramid with casino, walking like a Egyptian tours with a side order of riverboat cruises! I will come when it finished for the grand opening EH!

  31. Linda

    I spent a few days each summer at my Aunt’s house in Cario. They ran a uniform factory there. She would let me press the pockets that went on the uniforms. But my favorite place in the factory was the cutting room. I loved to watch them cut the several layers of fabric. The gentleman doing the cutting made it look so easy! Sad the factory and so many others places in Cario are gone!

  32. Richard Overby

    So tickled u happened to stop in Cairo and then show interest enough to create the blog for interested people to share their comments on Cairo. My grandparents lived in Cairo so as youngsters we visited regularly because we lived just across the river in Wickliffe, Ky. Many stories I could tell–some would excite while others would bore–so I’ll get to the point of my post. I have watched my younger brother collect or as he would put it–pick up stuff from Cairo– for several years until one day I got interested in whiskey jugs from Cairo–and they abound–but r hard to find and even harder to get people to part with them. So while looking for jugs I also got interested in post cards. Long cut short–I now have over 800 different post cards from Cairo and I must say that they r hard to find and harder to pry away. To most people it would be unimaginable what Cairo looked like from the time of the Civil War up until after Proabition times. At one time in the late 1800’s there were more than 56 bars, saloons, and taverns operating in Cairo–and this was just the ones that were advertising –and therefore able to verify.
    Just a really pleasing thing to know you r interested!!

  33. Kim

    My husband was born in Carbondale and spent his summers with his grandparents in Murphysboro, working on the farms and orchards of course. Although we don’t get out that way anymore, Southern Illinois is still who my husband is. It saddens me to see towns with such potential abandoned and left to die. I am so happy to see the future of Cairo is getting brighter. Attracting the right investors, those who want to PRESERVE the history while also bringing it into the 21st century, is the key. Bring in local businesses to create jobs and a whole new generation of people will starf fo raise their families there. Maybe even get SIU to open up a satellite campus or resesrch center for their agricultural program. There really is no limit to what the good people of Cairo can achieve.

  34. Tomma Hogue

    When I was a child , Cairo was booming. We traveled from the Dongola and Ullin area every weekend to go shopping in Cairo. I can remember all the stores and of course the vender in the little caboose that had the best hamburgers ever. The smell of the frying would always make my mouth water. Such great memories I have of Cairo. How great it would be if she could regain her former glory!!

    1. Tomma Hogue

      Oh yes one of the most important things my firs child was born in the hospital there . Best memory every!

    2. Morrissa Clanahan

      Tommy, the hamburgers, were they in the little brown buggy like thing with wheels parked on the corner near Blums or P n Hirsch? That wasn’t a caboose but my mother and aunt had a little diner made out of a RAILROAD car called The Dixie Diner. It was there until the late 60s. They had wonderful food. It was located between Showers and Bourland Paint Company and across the street was Khories, P n Hirsch, Dotty Shop, Gibson’s, Mildred Gates, Wealders Mens Clothing, Maxines, all of these stores were in the 2 blocks across from the Dixie Diner. I went to school at Douglas for a year in first grade but we only moved 8 miles up the road to Mound City, and Cairo was the only place we went to shop, go to the movies, and I had family still there. I live in Olive Branch now and get to Cairo about once a week. It will always have a piece of my heart. It’s not fair what has happened to them. And I still say the racial problems in the 60s didn’t kill Cairo, it was already on its way out. It didn’t help but their problems started way before that and it was mostly political and greed.

  35. Kim Swartz

    I live near Cairo and that county, Alexander it’s ones of the poorest in the state. The floods this winter did more to damage that community and because it is so sparsely populated did not qualify for fema help. The public housing authority is corrupt and ppl live in conditions that livestock would be ashamed of.
    As much as it seems doable the community is beaten down. Most residents are poverty stricken, the public health dept is only open on Wednesdays for a few hours. There are no jobs, these are the poorest of the poor stuck in a flood plane. If they own a home they cannot get insurance, most have lived their whole lives here. The govt said they would buy out the flooded houses but the money had never come. There is a levee that broke this January and the Corp refuses to fix it.
    It’s a sad state, look at another town in the same situation, Grand Tower,IL. which is just west of my town. They are trying to raise money for a new pump to get their farmlands dried so they can plant. This is some of the richest farmland in the Midwest.
    I love this part of the country that my family came to make their home, salt of the earth ppl. We help our neighbors, as my town did when the river started rising we didn’t whine we just said, What can we do to help?.
    Nothing would be more welcomed than to revive these once vibrant towns.

  36. James kern

    I thought this was a very interesting story I hope the town is rebuilt,it looked like it was a beautiful town I live in Georgia there are some towns in this state also bareley hanging on when industry leaves the town starts dieing.

  37. John Moxley

    I grew up across the river in Wyatt, Mo. We would go to Cairo every weekend to shop and get ice cream at The Dairy Hut. During harvest season I would go thru Cairo 12-15 times a day hauling grain to the elevator in Cairo or Mound City. We still haul there every year so it has been sad to see the steep and rapid decline of the area. There are still plenty of neat old buildings but MANY have been torn down or burned in recent years. The hard truth is there is little hope for recovery in Cairo. There is not enough interest in the area and although some have tried, most have failed to get anything started or thrive. Subway opened a shop last year in an old grocery store. I went thru earlier this week and it is already closed up. It would be hard for a large business to justify opening when even the simplest of chains find it unprofitable. I know this may sound negative but it is the reality of Cairo. I do hope that people like Mike could at least save some of the hidden jems of the town. There are buildings with amazing architecture and detail all around that are crumbling to pieces. I see it every year and without someone to recognize this it will all be pushed into a scrap pile to be hauled away to a landfill.

  38. Jim

    My knowledge of the Civil War tells me that Cairo was an important supply depot and headquarters for the Union Army for its western campaign against the Confederacy.

  39. Dorene Finch

    I loved reading this post and all the comments on it. I do hope the town comes back, those buildings are awesome and what they could do to develope the rivers is endless..

  40. Terry breed

    Thanks for sharing this!!great read as well as the comments…I love urban exploration and would love to check out this place…I don’t think we have as many of this type of place here on the west coast,I hope this place comes back in some way,the location has great promise!

  41. maryann harter

    Went to college in Carbondale, and so spent weekends driving around the end of Illinois. Passed through Cairo many ties. Hate that its in even worse shape than I remember. Neat old town. And indeed perfect place to start something and make it a tourist destination. If they can do that with “Lajitas, Texas” (visit THERE some time) it could be done with Cairo.

  42. Sherri

    We go to Cairo at least once a week. Some of the best people you will find. Even in the midst of many buildings and businesses closing and/or crumbling, hopes remain high for many and there are still some beautiful homes and buildings there. We feel very welcome and have found priceless gems among the people there, in addition to some of the most beautiful architecture we’ve seen. It is ready to be redeveloped– land/buildings selling for next to nothing. A smart risk-taker needs to take note. This place is worth the risk.

  43. Lisa

    I too fell in love with the potential of Cairo when I first moved to SoIL in the 1990’s. I saw the potential for another Beale Street of Memphis or a 6th Street in Austin. The city is filled with rich history and beautiful architecture. However, after working economic development and regional planning for a few years in the early 2000’s with the city and county, I understood how the city has become the ghost town it is. Although the City of Cairo participates in the FEMA flood plan, and is available for flood insurance, at that time the county was not. This was not major stumbling block that kept investors from revitalizing the city. It was the city and county leaders themselves. Until the political climate changes in Cairo, it will continue to decline and become a true ghost town!

  44. Toni Hopkins

    I always feel sad when I read about such amazing towns such as Cairo in ruin. I am a native Pittsburgher, and you are correct, this town has so much potential being based on two amazing Rivers. Pittsburgh adjoins 3 rivers, the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. We have certainly had our share of floods. I had never heard of Cairo until I read this article. Riverboat gambling and casinos are big business now. If you build them, they will come! Hopefully someone will see the potential here and assist in future endeavors. God bless the residents who keep hope alive, because for the grace of God go I. It can happen to any city, in any state.

  45. Mary Wild Richardson

    Cairo is my hometown and I still love it though I live 40 miles away now. I can’t afford the utilities.
    Wish I could have taken you around to see what is still wonderful about Cairo.
    The roundhouse in the park. We used to ride our bicycles in it near the perimeter and the boards would sing.
    The city park, St. Mary’s, is beautiful, too. From where I lived, I could here the crack of the bat from my bedroom window.
    Stafford Library which is gorgeous inside and out.
    So many loved and still functioning places around town.
    A vibrant history with many nightclubs and organisations. I was born in the 50s and until the mid 60s it was an idyllic place to live.
    My grandmother, born in 1890, told me Cairo loaned money to Chicago for development.
    I love this small hometown.

    1. Carol thorogood

      Hi my name is Carol l live in England during the war 1944my mum knew. A soldier called “”whitey “” Davis his mum was called daisy and she had another daughter who had a baby she called Caroline . I have some of the letters daisy wrote to my mum . And I’d Iove to know if any. Of this Davis family still live locally? Anyway l know it’s a long shot but all l know is daisy sounded very nice and came from Cairo .thanks

  46. Laura Roberts

    My nearly 99 year old Grandmother, a lifelong resident of Cairo passed away this past December. She grew up and raised her family in Cairo, a town that was once vibrant and industrious. She would share stories of her Father’s store downtown, Little Jim’s Grocery. She lived for a time in historic Magnolia Manor. She devoted her life to preserving Magnolia Manor and tried desperately to keep Cairo alive. She watched as a once vibrant city crumbled.
    My Grandfather was the postmaster in Cairo. He was the youngest Man to be made postmaster (at the time).
    It is very sad to see the town that once was the hub of the waterways crumble.
    There are some lovely people still living there, trying to rebuild the city.

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Whoa. Thank you for sharing that personal touch with us, Laura. Sounds like your grandparents really left a mark on Cairo.

  47. Billie Nenninger

    Hi, our family has watched a large number of your shows and always enjoy them. I grew up in Edwardsville, IL. I remember driving through Cairo on trips to KY with my family to visit relatives. Also, as a Girl Scout I hiked a trail called Three Rivers Trail, it went along the Ohio river, across some smaller river and back down the Mississippi. We were the first girls awarded the medal for finishing the hike. I still have my award and that was over 60 years ago. It was quite a long hike and I don’t know who sponsored it. I’m so sorry to hear of the despair and downfall of the town. We live in Oregon now with our family. Hope something can be done about Cairo. Keep up the preservation work. There is a lot of good work going on in Oregon.

  48. Harrison

    What a beautiful historical town this sounded like with the hope of rebirth ! I would like to travel through someday…great story Mike .

  49. joe snyder

    Mark Twain’s immortal book “Huckleberry Finn” spoke often of Cairo, Illinois as a bustling Mecca on the river.

  50. Katha

    I was born in Cairo. It was the perfect small town to grow up in the 50s. Greed and buses full of protestors destroyed a quaint little town in the late 60s. Cairo never recovered.It died.

    1. Jim Tom Atherton

      I was raised in Mound City, just 7 miles North of Cairo. I am 79 yrs young and remember the Glory days of Cairo. Cairo had a swimming pool (whites only), many car dealerships, 3 movies theaters, Commerical Street was filled with business, Mack’s BBQ, What-a-Burger Stand, Ben Fishel’s, Rex Package Store, I could go on and on. One must remember in those days, extreme Sou. Ill. Was segregated , Mounds, Md. City, andCairo had segregated schools. Cairo’s Black H. S. was Sumner H. S, Md. City was Lovejoy, Mounds was Douglas. Pop. Of Cairo back then was appro.12k–13k. Md. City was much smaller, Like Mounds

      Oh Those we’re the Days my Friend, Thoughti they would never End.

      Jim Tom Atherton–class of 1955 MCCHS

  51. Tony

    I would like to put a team of investors together and buy a bunch of properties, with fellow rehab contractors like myself. in Cairo and make that a great little town again.
    Tony from NY

  52. Jeanna nance

    Next time you come through Cairo stop for lunch at NuDiner or Shemwells bbq-you won’t be disappointed! The Blues festival should be in September (good time to check out the town!) I enjoy teaching kindergarten at Cairo and there’s just something special about that town that kinda pulls you in. Really hope some people will seriously look into restoring such an interesting place.

  53. Rochelle Rada

    Awesome story Mike, I love to check out a town like that, go back in time, see architectures and artisans work of the past. Revival would be cool but flooding not so cool. Lot’s of technology out there could possibly help with that. It’s a cool story. The windows of that white building, are there ghosts in the windows? Care-o maybe change it to be said as (Ki-row) the other sounds like syrup. I would visit it if I would be safe.

  54. Samuel Mark Brockes

    This is a wonderful article. To many towns have drifted away to time in the past 100 years in America. The THIS PLACE MATTERS shirts are a great idea… At $25 each if the 2800 people that live in Cario buys a shirt that’s $70,000… Mike you have done a good thing by adding it to your website. I wish more people cared about their cities & towns here in the Mid-West and the history of their area. My home town (the town I still live) was once known for being one of the top producing lead mining areas in the world. Flat River, Elvins, Esther, Rivermines, (first 4 cities Consolidated and is now called Park Hills, MO) Leadwood, Bonne Terre, Desloge, and Leadington all located in St Francois County in southeast Missouri. The people of Cario IL and this article have given me hope for my home town & others all over the mid-west. I applaud the residents of Cairo Illinois and the hard work they are taking on for the future of their city. I am glad I took the time to read this article. I have driven through Cario a few times but have never stopped…

  55. CWalker

    When I was a child my family drove through Cairo many times on the way to Saint Louis. Thought it was coll there were two huge rivers with bridges. I remember the statues, a hamburger place I think it was called water burger and a little diner/truck stop where we ate breakfast. Sorry to here the town is literally a ghost town. Hope it can revive life back into it.

  56. Gordon Billingsley

    My family, but not me, lived there 60 years ago. In high school, played basketball there when the schools were very divided. Rather tense. … I read a long time ago that the downward slide began many decades before when riverboat pilots began to bypass the town because of corrupt officials shaking them down. Newer boats didn’t need to stop for fuel or provisions, and so they just kept going.

  57. Rideout

    I’m from the KY side of that area, another river town. You mention in your post wondering why Cairo (ceh-roe to the locals) isn’t a sort of epicenter. You stumbled right across the answer. Cairo floods. You mentioned a lot of folks left after the flood in 2011, but that was nothing compared to the flooding 1993. Now I don’t want to oversimplify, there are more reasons for the plight of Cairo than that. One thing I remember my Dad pointing out to me once on a visit there… You can still see the bullet holes at the Courthouse from when “the governor of Illinois had to dispatch 11 companies of the state militia to Cairo to restore order.” I’ve always wanted to go back there to do a good photo essay.

  58. CWalker

    I remember driving through here many times as a kid. Remember a statue of the thinking man, a burger place I think was called what a burger, the Catholic Church, and diner at the corner of route 3 where it turned to go north. Hope it gets revived with a much larger flood wall.

  59. lisa

    Great story the agency I work for, Family Counseling Center opened services in Cairo in August. You can look around and just imagine all that was. It is a community with heart though.

  60. lisa

    Great story the agency I work for, Family Counseling Center opened services in Cairo in August. You can look around and just imagine all that was. It is a community with heart though. My family visited your Iowa location a few years ago. You are in a beautiful river town

  61. David Bradley

    This has been one of the best articles you have ever produced. I read every line of every reply. You have been very blessed with what you do and where it takes you, as well as the people you meet.
    Question: is there any pickin to be had in central Indiana???? Say like Redkey???

  62. Jill Joe

    I’d give anything to be able financially to restore this town. I’m a die hard lover of history and historical buildings. I always say, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask God to show me what it was like “in its prime”. ” I so wish I were able to dig through things like you! I’ve been a “treasure hunter” my whole life. Wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid. I’m living the wrong life!!

    Please keep us posted on this town!


    1. Laurence Bennett

      Hi Jill-

      I am right there with you. I so wish I could win the lottery. I have plenty of good things in mind to do with the money if I ever did- projects like Cairo being one of them.

      I did have to smile when I read of your love of history and how you wanted to be an archeologist. I pretty much wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was growing up- so when I got to decide between archeology or music (another one of my intense passions), I chose to go to music school instead. Definitely no regrets at all- but I do catch myself daydreaming about what would have happened if I chose the other path 🙂


  63. richard reis

    Drove thur this town in 1968 and it was headed down then. At that time I did not under stand that race had any thing to do with it’s undoing.
    Now as an old white guy I have come to under stand the evil of race hate and people like my family of whites that supported intergration but out of ‘white privilege’ did not really understand.
    Now as an old white guy living on Social Security I don’t money to give but I will offer my prayers
    and my one indulgence is revisiting Kentucky’s 120 counties, got to 99 so far but will try to make that edge of the State . I had only planed a quick stop at the Mounds Park but well go up over the bridge and stop in Cairo and buy my food and if there are places to stay spend the night.
    Buy spending what ever we can there we will help. rr

    1. Reba Scott

      If you make it to the western edge, the 4 river counties, you should visit Columbus Belmont State Park….the best state park I’ve been in…..and spend the night at the Iron Banks Lodge. It’s an old restored family home/hotel now a b&b (a continental style breakfast) with millon dollar views of the Mississippi River.

  64. Bernie L

    Visiting Illinois in August (I know. Hot), and of course Le Clair. I’m really excited about seeing Illinois and a little bit of Iowa. Love small towns and hope see some historic places. Suggestions anyone?

  65. Kimberly Hollis Silveus

    I was born in Cairo in that hospital (1959). It was St. Mary’s Hospital then. My parents and I moved to Michigan in 1966, just before the racial tension got really bad. However, I was there visiting my grandparents when the riots and a lot of violence began. I don’t know if you ran across any stories about a Hamburger Wagon that use to sit on the corner of Commercial and I believe it was 9th st. It was made from a Model A ford Truck. I don’t know who the original owners were but by the time I came along It belonged to my Great Grandparents (Hammond Matthews) who used to work it. I remember as a child going down there to work with them. I would hang out playing on the outside of the vehicle walking the bumpers, when I wasn’t eating a burger or popcorn from the popcorn popper installed in the fron. it was stationary by then and was permanently parked there until it was pulled off the street in 1976 when my uncle decided he no longer wanted to work it. No one else in the family wanted to work it so it was pulled off the street and was parked beside my Great Grandpa’s home garage. It was eventually sold to someone outside the family after the passing of my Great Grandpa. Someone who used to come to town and grab a burger from the Hamburger Wagon (which by the way had the best burgers in town) inqired about it’s whereabouts and upon doing a search found it in a junk yard in extreme disrepair. He purchased the Model A truck and took on the daunting task of restoration. The last I knew it was fully and was sold to the city and is now in the Customs House Museum. http://www.pilotlight2000.com/historic/hamburg.htm

    After having said all that, I did a drive through the town on Google and it is sad and a little eerie to see the town in the condition it’s in. I have vivid memories of the town in my head, but it looks nothing like those memories now. Back then it kind of reminded me of “Bedford Falls” from the movie “It’s a Wonderful LIfe”. It was a small town , but it seemed so big to me then. Now I find myself trying to figure out where some of the buildings used to be and wondering how they ever fit that many buildings in there.

    1. J. C. Fox

      The hamburger wagon was originally built and owned by Elbert Role Dupoyster, who was my great grandfather.

      He built and owned many of these and also sold popcorn and carmel corn. The hamburger wagon on display in the museum was originally owned by Dupoyster and operated by Hammond Loving Matthews who eventually bought it. My father remembers Matthews as a short man who wore false teeth, who would occasionally take them out and would look like he had no chin.

      He invented the little wands that rotate at the bottom of popcorn cookers that keep the kernels from sticking; which he sold to Kreaters Popcorn in exchange for some nominal amount.

      His claim to fame in Cairo was when, in 1937, the city was in danger of being flooded and the authorities could not open the flood gates. The gates were frozen and was rusted. The city by then had been evacuated, and he figured out how to soak the gears in position with penetrating oil, freed them up, and opened the gates; saving the city.

      The city honored him with a lifetime supply of “city stickers” which was the equivalent of a registration tag for a vehicle.

      He had a one story home at 313 8th Street, that he first put a second story on, and later lifted the entire home up to put another story under the original first story. He ran the home as a large family home and a boarding house.

  66. RSHOC

    I have traveled so many back roads and the coasts. There is 18 million vacant homes, resorts, buildings, Corportation, etc abanded. That 1 displace/homeless person to every 6 homes, that we could put in. We only talk about certain cities, towns, states that have been left vacant. We are a disposable United States. When people do there research and find the serious issues of how people leave due all the above reasons. What we all forgot it that theses locations we find in our history the past brings what solutions? I am grateful to see that this was brought to the attention of these fine explorers. By the way were I am visiting and I am no spring chicken, there are so many Vehicals that are sitting for years in the area of the pacif northwest. That are hidden treasures. When I went though the most vacant town in poverty in Wilcox, Arizona, home of the museum of Marty Robbins, Rex Allen museum and where Wyatt was killed, you take a moment and ask why. Then you travel though the shores of Ohio, Pa, NY, VA, TX and Alantic City, you are shocked when you go though the middle of the night Gary IN. It is not just Flint or Detroit or Saginaw. The towns of California, Orgeon have vacancy, too. Before I got to MT Rainer, the diary farm left. How about the Alamo set? Military bases. We could do what one town in Italy did to bring people back. I covered the midwest, but those who live in thoses area already know there is free land to those who want to live there and build. Thank you so much for what you all do. I am very grateful. Once again traveling the United States back road including all neighborhoods.

  67. Steven T

    I would like to THANK YOU for stopping in our little town and hope you return one day. WE STILL HERE and I believe in a GOD that will perform his mighty acts in ty his town. There are some still swinging my visiting friend and that have dedicated their time and efforts to Stay in the Fight #PRAYERWORKS

  68. polly shakespeare

    I love your blogs especially the history of these places like Cairo the old buildings looks like they could be renovated but it takes love and courage
    Good luck to all in Cairo and you Mick for all you do on your great Two lane blogs.
    We also love your show to bits from all of us in UK

    1. Bill

      The town of Cairo Illinois explains so much of our history of the United States. It is a reflection of how our country’s evolved to the point we are at in 2016.

  69. Torrie Klein

    My beautiful home town. Born and raised my husband as well. We are in Ripley Tennessee but do go home often our family still live in and around the area. Went through all its dark history but it’s home and will always love it. Pray that it could become what it once was. Had a wonderful childhood.

  70. Katie

    Cairo is near and dear to my heart for 2 reasons. First, it’s just over boarder from my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Kentucky and every time we went to their house we would drive through Cairo. Secondly, my dad used to go there every summer and do habitat for humanity there with our church. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to go with we had moved and joined another church and they had other plans for their habit trips. I imagine rebuilding that city would be amazing. Growing up I was told that investors moved out of Cairo and into Kentucky and that is part of why the city crumbled. That’s what I remember my parents telling me. I think rebuilding the city would be amazing! Lots of people and cities are built on flood plains. My aunt and uncle had (until they passed away) a house in the bottoms of the Mississippi river in Quincy Illinois. It can be difficult but we can do difficult thing. Quincy and the surrounding area suffered a massive flood in the 90s and their town survived; so could Cairo. It won’t be easy but it will be great. I would love to see this city mean something again. I would love to share it’s history with my daughter just like my dad did for me.



  72. Walter A Bradford

    There are huge numbers of stories like Cairo. I came from the Eastern Shore of Maryland & Virginia on the Atlantic Coast. What our area was burdened with was the steadily encroaching climate change. Assateague Island, A National Federal Seashore and lovely wildlife habitat has been eaten away by hurricane activity and rising tides. In 1857 the island was huge, today, there has been so much erosion and damage done by the 2003 storm that the government is no longer willing to spend anymore money on beach reclamation. Even the launch site on Wallops Island under the control of NASA and a host of private launch companies is also endangered and the fed. has decided that no more money will be spent on preserving the site. It is due to be relocated in a few years to possibly the Carolinas. My point of the above rambling is that though Cairo is a beautiful location and could, at this point be revitalized, I don’t know who would be willing to pitch in with cash when it is in such a precarious location and no doubt if the community to grow, there would be the need for the construction of 22nd Century emergency drainage systems, and levees of the like we haven’t seen. The Earth is now more than 3/4’s covered by water, soon I am sorrowfully forced to say, our global land masses will be 30% the size of today. And that is if the “Grim Reapers” predictions are not too conservative. I agree with an earlier post prior to mine suggesting the relocation of Cairo to a easier defended location for human habitation and to create a water park or a federal. state or local wetlands habitat that invite human interaction.

  73. Patty Bennett

    I was born and raised in Charleston Mo. A skip and a hop to Cairo. I remember as a kid going there and loved going down the street where you could see the river over the flood wall. Such a ominous site to see that massive river flowing and seeing the barges with tier tugboats . We would pass on the outskirts to cross over in to Kentucky when going fishing as I got a little older. I moved to Florida in the 80s and was saddened when drugs and gangs started to take over there and filter into my home town. Then the flood happened. It would be a shame to see that part of our county and history to be wiped away.. Thanks for trip down memory lane!!
    Patty (Harwell) Bennett

  74. Laurence Bennett

    Being related to one of the families that came across on the Mayflower, I have always felt a definite connection to our lands. It is always heart-breaking to see our towns and cities become neglected. I see it here in my home State of Connecticut as well. Once thriving, these areas have their ups and downs, but that is why it is even more important now that we try to save them. Why? Because our hamlets, villages, towns and cities are a fabric of our society and of us- the American people. I sincerely applaud Mike’s and his partners’ efforts around our beautiful Nation. Our heartland is called by that name for the right reason. I had the incredible experience to travel to Moline, IL and yes, paid a visit to Le Claire, IA back in the early Spring and fell in love with our Country even more than I already had. It is that same connection that I spoke of above. And I believe that almost all of us, out across our Nation, share that passion.

  75. SaDonna

    I am from the surrounding area and have been through there many times. Years ago they did have several shops and we went over there weekly but now there isn’t many reasons to go to Cairo. They have some of the most magnificent homes from the past. I fail to see many people who respect the town or the homes. Every so often it seems like someone just has to set a match to property, and that is a shame. There is so much history there but a large portion are not interested in saving it, just slowly burning it down. It could be a beautiful place.

  76. Miss Brenda

    i have to be your long lost sister(probably twice removed)!!! I love all things historic, preservation,spider monkeying through other people’s treasures(and yes I can give you some competition on spider monkeying) and my most favorite meal in the world is a hotdog…kosher,all beef, chicken and by products,I love them all! Thank you for living out my dream job and sharing it with your audience. And I love what you’ve done with the marathon building. I go there occasionally just to enjoy its present state with the hints still in place of its former glory! And I’ve bought a thing or two from you as well

  77. Richard Kearney

    I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in Cairo, 1943, and lived in the City till 2006. This was a wonderful place to grow up and raise a family in. By the time I finally gave up and moved18 mile North of Cairo, most Businesses had closed and the town was in such poor condition, that I felt the need to move on.
    Richard Kearney

  78. John N. Lewter

    We retired to west Kentucky within an hour’s drive of Cairo. Though we could squint and use our imaginations to see what might have been there, nothing is whole or untouched by neglect. At the public library and the Custom House (two magnificent but decrepit buildings) and in the Nu Diner, people who call themselves natives but no longer live in the town can break your heart reciting the list of losses. Every empty, weedy lot as a story of what was and there were few stories of what is. None of what will be. Each cited the corruption of the town’s government and of Illinois generally as the source of the decay as well as the horrendous race riots that drove away the local tax base. Objects in the Custom House are covered with deep layers of dust and other historic buildings smelled of mold and rot. But the older people we met was so dear and welcoming and, though regretful, their stories showed their pride. But I can’t help but compare Cairo with Detroit in the last few years — an example of what local human pride and determination can accomplish with the financial incentive that has to come from elsewhere.

  79. Rosemary

    We moved to Cairo in 1978 built a sonic drive in on Main Street Has some of the finest people live there I have ever known.Miss my church Mighty Rivers so much I have never been able to commit to another.Christopher Jackson or George Washington from Hamilton as we know him now was raised along with my son in that church who has had the same preacher Rev. Larry Potts for 50 years. Ran across hard times in 80s with desert storm so we along with 80 family’s moved for financial reasons .Have always said I would go back .Lots of history and sadness in this little big town.I loved my people in this town it was my first so called home so it will always be in my heart.

  80. Janet

    I grew up in Cairo also, and I have went through many emotions over the years as I’ve watched the town I had loved so much fall apart, and feeling helpless to do anything.
    I do get frustrated by what I consider a one-sided view of events that happened there in the past, which leaves a distorted and less-than accurate image of at least parts of Cairo’s history.
    I wanted to mention, for those who think Cairo itself has flooded, as far as I know, the town itself has never been flooded by rivers overflowing the levees. It is protected by levees and they have done their job. Although I did see an old postcard with images of flooded houses once, so perhaps it has flooded at one time, maybe before the levees were built, or raised.
    The sinkholes are common in the streets nearest the levee, and I have seen water in yards or basements when the pumps could not pump the water out fast enough after some rains.

  81. Craig Sanderson

    Back in the 80’s while still in school ,we would go to the two famous bars King Tuts,and the Olde town Speakeasy. Always was welcomed there. Other than a speed trap by the state police. Many of the small towns are being neglected in the Illinois,Missouri,Kentucky area. Mayfield Kentucky is my hometown.

  82. Jené Simmons

    I am a native Southern Illinoisian and music teacher. I like to teach my students the history of Cairo, IL through song. We talk about how at one time Cairo was bigger city than Chicago.
    And now a riverboat work song for you:

    Goin’ down to Cairo!
    Goodbye and a goodbye.
    Goin’ down to Cairo!
    Goodbye Liza Jane.
    Black my boots and I make ’em shine.
    Goodbye and a goodbye.
    Black my boots and I make ’em shine.
    Goodbye Liza Jane.

  83. Ron

    I came to Cairo during a photography project to photograph all the Illinois’ courthouses. Alexander Counties’ courthouse was sad compared to other counties in Illinois, but I was fascinated by the city of Cairo. Is it pronounced Kairo or Kyrao or Kayro?
    Love American Pickers.

  84. Debbie

    My church has recently started a ministry called Love goes to Cairo. It is still in the beginning stages. We have gathered many donations for food that are bagged and taken to the schools on Friday for the children to take home for the weekend. We are also collecting uniforms for the students (school required) so they will have new ones. We are going to try to rebuild the park putting in grills and repair the swings etc… We have so much more in store for that little town. My heart has always went out to Cairo!

  85. Dan Johnson

    My Mom and I went to Arkansas from Michigan this past spring. When I was a kid in the back seat of the car making the same trip, we would always ask if we were at the old Cairo bridge yet. I really never was able to see Cairo the City or maybe just forgot about it. But this Spring my Mom and I stopped in to see Cairo and it was a mystery to me what had made this city turn this way. You could see that it was very nice at one time. If only the buildings could speak , well I think they do. They show you what it once was and could still be. We stopped and I peaked through the windows and thought wow what happened? Thanks for doing this article because it makes it clearer for me.

  86. Jaime

    I think it’s interesting how the name of the town is pronounced Care-o, versus Kay-row in Georgia, and obviously Cairo Ki-row in Egypt.

    I’d move there if someone gave me an old Victorian home (full of ghosts of course) and I had a job where I could make enough money to live and fix the house up. I’d be there in a minute.

    1. Ev

      A friend of ours is trying to sell her big old Victorian for two thousand dollars. Last I heard, she still had no takers. It’s a great house! Come on down! Jobs are available, if you don’t mind commuting. But my 10 mile commute in Tucson took longer than my 40 mile commute in Cairo.

  87. Dan Paluscsak

    Cairo was the one major ship building ports on the northern river system during the Civil War. Countless paddle wheelers were converted to military use as well as most of the river iron clads were built along the river. Ironclad U.S.S. Cairo was named for the city, and the highest decorated iron clad of the war, the U.S.S. Carondelet were built there.

    1. Ev

      Cairo is also where the Sears houses were prefabbed and shipped from. That’s part of the reason we have such excellent rail systems in the area.

      1. Kay

        I live in Southeast Missouri about 25 miles from Cairo. And my house is a sears home built around 1917 and lumber and home kit came from the Sears factory located in Cairo. I have several books on sears homes and one shows drawings of sears facility in Cairo with railroad tracks with lumber sheds on both sides, and lumber and supplies to completely build each home was loaded into railroad car. The homeowner had to live near a train depot. Own the lot and have solid foundation already built for house. My home is 28 foot wide and the floor joists are about 10 to 12 inches thick and 28 foot long!!! Lumber came out of Cache River Bottoms.

  88. Ev

    My partner and I moved to Cairo in 2009. It’s certainly been an adjustment (we came here from Tucson, AZ), but it’s a great place to live if you don’t need to much in the way of services. We do most of our shopping in Cape Girardeau, Mo and Paducah, KY, but we still get our BBQ at Shemwells.

    Considering Cairo’s history of racial strife, the people who stuck around seem to have worked out the racial tension; it’s actually the most racially harmonious place I’ve ever lived. People here value their neighbors and help each other out. What Cairo needs most at this point are young people with an entrepreneurial spirit to start small businesses and stick with them for a while. Maybe those people will see this article and give us a look.

  89. Larry Morehead

    I grew up in Southern Illinios in a little town called Makanda. Our great grandma lived in Carol and we would go visit her or pick her up to stay with us a while. It was a quiet little town back in the mid 70’s. Sad to hear it’s all rundown now. Headed south coming into town on the left used to be a What A Buger restaurant, I haven’t been there in almost 40 years so figuring it’s gone now.
    My wife and I are on a 2 week vacation now celebrating our 32nd anniversary and stopped by your Nashville store last week and tomorrow will be at your Iowa location. Love the show!!!

  90. Mike McCoy

    Great pcs, well written.

    I think as we get older we like to hear, see, and remember the past. Thanks for the pictures and writing the pcs.
    Looking forward to the next one!

  91. Mitch Barkett

    Cairo went down because every failed democrat social program has been exploited right there. Democrat ideas of growing the dependent class to ensure their votes is a despicable way to govern that promotes mediocrity. You couple that with a population of uneducated, unskilled labor, poor schools and you have recipe for failure. Cairo is a welfare state with a bleak future in a state that is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Illinois is a tail wagging the dog state because Chicago and it’s problems sucks the life blood out of the state. It’s a good state to be away from.

  92. Theresa Taylor

    I live in Alexander County Illinios and Cairo is our county seat. The flooding has hurt many towns in our county and I am thrilled that you visited true southern Illinois. A local boy wrote a song “Dry Up or Drown” about small towns in southern Illinois and the flooding. The video was shot in Alexander county during the New Years Day 2016 flood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqM7kjGequE&feature=youtu.be

  93. D Moutell

    I love Cairo dearly, and I love the memories. I am not trying to be negative when I say that some of this information in the blog is inaccurate. The Famous building was demolished before this was even posted? I went on Memorial Day weekend and the building was in rubble. I cried for an hour. What a magnificent structure now crushed by a machine. There are only 2 of the old buildings left on Commercial now. The old Board of Trade building is still standing on a road adjacent to Commercial. Most of Cairo was boarded up and abandoned well before 2011. One can look at google street view and see that. The buildings in the picture at the top of the blog have been gone for a good deal of time. There are some great beauties left but as for store type buildings to be restored – there are few. I would have given anything for all that to be saved – but a lot of it feel prey to fire. Find that old postcard showing Commercial Ave way back. It is easy to find. All that beauty is gone. There is/was also a Pictorial History of Cairo available via The Gazette Democrat paper in Anna IL. Magnolia Manor is still glorious… Riverlore is still amazing but for sale. Some magnificent churches are still there. The library and the Customs House are amazing!! The Customs House is a museum full of some treasures! However, just like St Louis… there are beauties that have been fully restored standing next to potential beauties that are falling in. The last real grocery store closed in Dec 2015. Cairo has a magnificent history – and that does not mean it is all positive. It all breaks my heart. I am glad there is a positive nature there and hope they are successful.

  94. JohnHenryD

    I was born in Cairo, lived nearby and spent a great amount of time there through the sixties up until the present. I have been in the antiques business for years myself and was “picking” that area 40 years ago with an older gentleman who taught me the trade. We used to drive around like Mike and Frank, I drove, my buddy rode along in our pickup truck, and when he saw an old home or sheds with someone standing around he would say, “Pull in here.” I would always ask him if he knew them and his reply was always, “No, but I’m fixing to.” In all the years we worked together I don’t recall anyone actually running us off once they got into a conversation with us. He always told me, “I have the gift of gab.” When people would ask us what he wanted, he would always say, “We buy stuff” and they would ask what and he would always reply “Anything from soup to nuts.” We could always tell if they wanted to sell anything if they asked, “What all do you buy?” If not they would say, “I don’t have anything I want to sell.” That never discouraged my buddy as he would spot something laying around that looked like junk and make a ridiculous offer on it to get the action going. It almost never failed to work. Anyway, we have been through attics, basements, sheds and went into places that were falling down around us, actually it was me who went in, he would stand back and direct me to what he wanted to buy. Anyway, I could write a book about our adventures in and around that area but some of the stories might not bear repeating. All this being said, there isn’t much left to pick in Cairo anymore, most of it has been gone through several times and the old buildings are pretty much gone as are a lot of the old line Cairo families. I would love to see the town come back but if it did it would have to be on it’s own merits and not it’s past as most of it is gone.

  95. Carlin S Box

    I was born and raised in Cairo. A good majority of my family still lives there. Cairo has always been a quiet little forgotten town at the bottom of the state with amazing, unfulfilled potential. The high school at the north end is a nice facility that once housed a golf team, tennis team, and a multiple State champion track & field team. The baseball field has dimensions that rival those of major league ball fields and the basketball team is competitive every season. The infrastructure of the city is designed to hold maybe 5 times the current population. There are several school buildings which need little repair and they are ready to be used as private schools, charter schools or to be reintroduced back into the current school district, given a population increase. What the city needs more than anything are strong, compassionate financial supporters and a progressive leadership team. Cairo is a gold mine…if you know how to dig. Next time you are in the area, drive through the Park District. I promise you, you won’t find more beautiful homes anywhere in southern Illinois.

  96. jerry m. davis

    I lived in cairo ill from 1950 to 1954 and graduated from the old high school. cairo was a great town in those days. we had our first black young man to enter the school system with very little problems. we lived upstairs over a dry cleaners as cairo was going through a boom time with the kevil plant being built across the river in ky. housing was scarce. across the street was a little park with a statue of thinker or also called the huer. the building next to us was a bar called the mark twain just down the street was the best bbc called shemwells. i held many jobs after school i usherd at the gem theatre and the brokerage a dry goods store, some nights i made doughnuts in the basement of a fellow who had a shop in his basement then help him deliver them to various business in town. i usually didn’t get to sleep till ipm in the morning. i usually slept in studyhall. those weregreat days cairo was a beautiful town the girls in skirts and bobby sox cherry cokes at deegs drug store on the corner of washington ave. my wife alma mother worked at keller’s resturant on 8th st lees resturant was just around the corner. i have to mention macs bbq on the north end of town and whata burger just out and under the train overpass. my wife and i left cairo in 1954 and moved to evansville in. we have three daugthers and a son. jerry & alma davis.

  97. J.A. Moad II

    I’m a writer, and I’ve written a play, part of which takes place in Cairo. It will be performed this fall in Minneapolis. It’s entitled, “Outside Paducah – the wars at home”.

    I’m using some images throughout the performance and was planning to make another trip there to take some pictures. I’m curious about the possibility of using two of the photos here. They are perfect for the piece. Any chance you could put me in contact with the photographer?

  98. Doug P.

    I grew up in Southern Illinois about an hour north or Cairo in Pinckneyville. Cairo, we pronounced it ‘Kay-Row’, always had incredible basketball teams coached by Bill Chumler. You never knew what to expect when they came to play, and they always had a small fan base who took a lot of pride in their teams.
    It’s sad to see what’s happened to their little town. Between the crime and flooding it became a place to stay away from and that’s when people started leaving at the end of the 80’s. I can still name a dozen great basketball players that played for their high school.
    Nice article!

  99. Mary Beth

    I lived just across the bridge in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, from 1976 to 1980. As I recall, we used to go to a great, sprawling tavern in Cairo called “The Purple Crackle.” The story goes that the original owner intended to name it after a bird, the Purple Grackle, but the guy who painted the sign outside spelled it wrong and the misnomer stuck. I fell in love one night sitting at the bar at the Crackle. Lots of memories made there.

      1. Mary Beth

        Oh, yes! You’re right! Thanks for reminding me about East Cape. We did travel through Cairo a lot, though, during those years, and for several years after when I lived in Paducah. Seems like no matter where you were going, you were bound to pass through Cairo.

  100. Don Pomranky

    This article makes me want to pack my bags and move!
    I love old towns with history, and it saddens me to see old buildings being torn down. I love that they are repurposing materials to rebuild.
    I wonder if there would be a need for a small antique shop, or a classic country band, as that would be something I could provide for the community.
    I’d love to live in a place where the people are friendly and all working for a common cause.
    Seeing this town restored to its former self would be amazing.
    Wishing Cairo all the best!!

    1. Tim Slapinski

      Cairo is not a ghost town. If you don’t believe me, then google ghost town, then google Cairo Illinois population. Also check out Magnolia Manor on Facebook.

  101. nancy Heil

    Anyone interested in Cairo, Ill should read a best seller book Maude. It was a diary of a young girl growing up in Cairo in early 1900 hundreds. It was published in 1937 by her Grandson. I have pictures of her and her house and many of the businesses in Cairo.

    1. Amy Thomas Laughhunn

      I treasure my antique copy of “Maude”. Inside the cover is the signature of each Cairoite who has read this particular copy. I felt honored to add mine. By the time i got it, the cover was threadbare, I recently had it lovely repaired.

  102. Shannon Garrett

    We stumbled across Cairo on a road trip early this Summer. We noticed the neat and quaint architecture. It left us with a very melancholy feeling. We wondered what happened to the town and why such a neat place was abandoned. Thank you Mike for the history lesson. I hope the town can recover and be restored.

  103. JM Hughes

    I had family across the river in Cairo. Until the civil unrest. Then they quickly moved back to Ky. Cairo was never a busy town but it is a total speed trap ghost town now. We drove thru a couple weeks ago & I wondered what it would take to get the non-productive criminals that are still there to move? If those elements were removed, maybe (and just maybe) it could be rebuilt. But I don’t see it happening. There is no potential workforce available. They no longer have a grocery store even. The tax base is virtually non existent. Most of the residents are on all forms of government support. It really is sad.

  104. Lynda

    My great grandparents (Thomas Benjamin Farrin and Julia Farrin) moved to Cairo after the Civil War. They lived in a big house on 23rd street. They raised 12 children there. My grandmother Julia Farrin Clutts was one. The house is no longer there. My grandmother married J E Clutts and they lived at 712 23rd street. My mother Martha Clutts Wallace was born there. I was born in 1939 at St Mary’s. My father Ward Wallace worked at the Cairo Citizen newspaper. We moved when I was five but I spent many summer vacations with my grandparents. I loved Cairo and have many fond memories. I broke down in tears when my husband and I drove through town recently. We were married at the Cairo Baptist Church 56 years ago. My grandparents home is no longer there

    1. Stephen

      I remember the house but was too little to really remember your grandparents. I lived in the house across the street. I remember there was a sunny pantry off the kitchen that had shelf after shelf of green depression glassware.

    2. Jim Miller

      Lynda, I’ve never been to Cairo or any closer that Chicago when I was in the Navy but, have been trying to find information about my grandmother Anna Belle (born Butler according to the adoption papers) Farrin was her adopted name. She was adopted by George Merless and Hattye B. Guion Farrin on Oct 8, 1915 from the Orphans’ Asylum for Southern Illinois at Cairo. I ran across the Farrin name in your comment and am assuming you must be related to them. Are you? I’d sure be curious to find out if you have any information about my grandmother or the adoption. George escorted her at the age of 15 and an R.H. McCauley across the border to Cape Girardeau, Missouri who was 21 at the time to be married. 6 months later my grandmother gave birth to my dad’s oldest sister. (Sounds like a shotgun wedding to me) I haven’t had much luck trying to get information about the “Orphans’ Asylum” or obtaining information about her birth parents so any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!!!

  105. Rob & Sherry Ray

    We’re taking our 1st vacation in ages….as many could easily say, I’m sure! And, like many folks, have decided a trip “home” would be perfect! Especially since “home” for my husband is Flatrock, MI…just southwest of Detroit! Yeah, the one experiencing an mazing “renewal” at the moment! And, we’ll get to “SEE” some of it! I’ve “jokingly” told him that on this trip he has to show me this “enchanted” land they speak of in commercials called “Pure Michigan”! I’m fully aware I have no true reference for the state of Michigan, having only been to the Flatrock area & into downtown Detroit, all by way of the I-75 interstate. But, it’s been tons of fun giving Rob a hard time whenever one of these commercials comes on. On our 1st trip after we met, he took us to all the regular places….the home where he grew up, the schools he attended, etc. He also took us to Detroit…downtown Detroit…in the summer of 2003. Our childhood memories of the Riots were starkly different…him living so close to it all & I watching on the nightly news (from the safety of the TV). He would always tell us how “it still looks like it just happened yesterday”. But we had no real appreciation for what he was saying & really just couldn’t imagine it…especially the kids. And then we “SAW”…and as he drove, we were speechless. Rob & I have always shared a belief that the most interesting “places & people” are to be found down a good ‘ol two lane road…whether it still is one, or once was! We also believe it’s what make us “truly blessed” to live in this country! Keep travelin’ folks! There’ll always be a two lane road!

    PS: We send our deepest gratitude to Mike and to all those working with him for this cause!!!
    It is those like you all who are & will be one of this country’s true heroes as history is told!

    Rob & Sherry Ray of
    McCaysville, GA
    (at the corner of TN, GA & NC)
    located in the beautiful
    “North GA Mountains”

  106. Rob & Sherry Ray

    Follow-up to CAIRO/DETROIT post above at 2:53 am 9/1/2016:
    Okay Ya’ll…..Take a minute & enjoy “A Really Good LAUGH”. When I began the post above, it was to say we would be adding Cairo to our list of interesting places to see on this vacation, even though it’s not a part of Michigan, pure or not! I guess my lack of experience in posting is showing. This is maybe my 3rd in my life! Sorry ’bout that!

  107. Michael Johnson

    I grew up in Cairo, until I was 9 and lived there off and on for years after. My family still owns property there. Everyone may see this place as a historical dream come true, what I remember is the hatred, racism, violence. Those buildings shown in these photos where the first ones I ever splunked, and they hold as much potential as the city. Watch out for the police, a few of them have committed serious crimes, they are easily bought off, and took shots at two of my family members as revenge for a high school debt. Rebuild on the ashes, after a cleansing rain washes it away. For any locals, you may not remember me, but my family and i remember you. The last good family there were the Klein’s, and I hope they ran as far as they could.

  108. Dave

    When i was in college, I learned that Cairo was not pronounced as is the one Egypt, but rather like the syrup. It was the first regional pronunciation i learned from that guru (Charlie Lynch) @ the SIU College of Communications who wielded the NBC style book like Thor’s hammer. I recall him thundering its pronounced the way the locals say it.!

    1. Mary Beth

      That’s interesting. Back in the late 70s, I was in St. Louis attending an NBC TV network correspondents luncheon — kind of a traveling show where the NBC news anchors and reporters attended events for local media and dignitaries in cities across the country with NBC affiliates. A very close family friend was the PR director at NBC News at the time, and he invited me, a fledgling reporter working in Cape Girardeau, to come to St. Louis for the event.

      After the luncheon, my friend and I took a driving tour of St. Louis in a limo along with several NBC superstars of the time: Garrick Utley, Judy Woodruff and Carol Simpson. They were delightful. And when I told them I was working as a news reporter in Cape Girardeau, their reaction was “Oh! That’s near Cairo, Illinois!” They not only knew all the details of the civil unrest, but also of the devastating earthquake in the 1800s that actually caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards. And best of all, they knew how to pronounce “Cairo” and talked about their news producers making sure they didn’t pronounce it wrong on the air.

  109. Sam

    I grew up right across the river in Ky, my entire family has been right across the river from it since time began lol. Cairo is literally falling into the river, it wouldn’t be worth trying to rebuild it just to see it fall into the river. Cairo has been a don’t stop and drive one under the limit kind of place since I was a kid. Between crime and floods it isn’t worth it. The city has been flat broke for years even having the police squad cars repossessed. Pass through and keep going.

  110. Kellie Prince

    I am originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri
    (right across the bridge), but I have lived in Hodges Park, Unity, Mounds & Cairo Illinois for a short period of time. I now have been residing in North Carolina f’or the past 21 years. However, Cairo will always, have a “huge” part of my heart due to the history & one of the beginning places of my #TERRY & #SANDERS descendants & current relatives place of residence. I am the oldest granddaughter of my grandmother who’s maiden name is Terry, so i would love, to be able to go back to Cairo & deeply dig for more of my ancestors land, homes & possibly businesses & grave plots. All of the neighboring & surrounding cities residents, basically knew of eachother & are family. It is also the city to go through, to easily get to..other parts of Kentucky, Missouri & Illinois. I used to love viewing & imagining the history before i was born in 1970. I would be honored to see this city to be built back into what it once was… but even better. I hope that some of the residents that have left, due to the flood are able to come back & continue their lives & reunite with neighbors, family & friends. Cairo deserves it’s chance to be great again! Much love.. Kellie

  111. Derek Wilke

    I went on a ride specifically to go there about 3 years ago.. I’ve been enamored with the small town ever since.. I stopped at the theater and Fort defiance park.. For about 20 min I was at the most southern point of Illinois (I thought it was cool).. My wife mocks me about the little town because I talk about it often just because it was such I vibrant city and now it’s dwindling.. I hope someone will see the potential that so many people do and built it to its former glory leaving the stigma of its racial past behind..

  112. Keith Martin

    I spent many days over a four year period visiting during the Late 80’s in Cairo, Shemwell’s was always on the menu when I was in town and typically I ordered two pulled pork sandwiches they were so good. I am sure a few of the folks I met along the way are gone now like Dr. Wong and Dr. Ingram,…some folks I can’t remember their names. It would be a great town to see rise up and be revitalized,…between fishing, hunting and history of the area it deserves to be,…

  113. Robert Clements

    I use to live in Paducah, KY when I was a young boy in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and Cairo was an active town back then. Known to be a little wild I believe you could gamble and by alcohol on Sunday. I was in Paducah several weeks ago and thought I would driver there but time slipped away. Wish I had gone after reading this article.

  114. HeathGross

    I recently made a trip to Cairo in hopes of taking some abandoned building photo’s. Structures that I had seen on google and or youtube. Unfortunately, the good majority of the downtown district is no more. Most of the buildings you might find from the past have been razed. I was sad to see that I missed my opportunity by a few years. While in town we did take the opportunity to look around. The abandoned hospital is still there and there are a few former mansions that now operate as a tourist spot. Unfortunately, outside of the Shemwell’s BBQ, a place called the NU Dinner, a Dollar General Store, and a Ford Dealership, there doesn’t appear to be many legitimate business’ left in the city. All of the main drag motels are abandoned (and exposed) and I only noticed one or two functioning gas stations that you really didn’t want to stop in at. We were in town for about six hours one fall day and the town truly has an abandoned feel to it. Not a lot of activity going on. I will say that the few locals I interacted with were very nice. The 2010 census stated that some 2800 people lived in Cairo at that time. I am most certain that number will be vastly decreased when an official count is taken for the 2020 census. You could definitely feel the history of the city, but I honestly cant imagine this city lasting another 20 years. From what I have heard the city is broke. I am guessing that is one of many reasons you see so many burned out homes and derelict business’ still standing in various states of decay. If the money was there to clean the city up I am sure a good 30% of this city would be removed. I myself would love to visit the city once again in another five years. I took lots of pictures on my visit, and can only wonder how much of the city will remain if/when I do visit again.

  115. Barb

    I lived in Cairo from 1970-1979. It’s disheartening to see what happened. There is such potential for this town but doesn’t seem like much hope. I would love to see someone restore it and fix it up. There is still a piece of it in my heart.

  116. Kim Jarrett

    I am intrigued with small towns and this one breaks my heart but gives me hope. I can’t wait to read the next chapter in this story. I am up for a road trip if you are organizing anything for the town.

  117. Chad Fairless

    I drive through Cairo eveytime I visit my grandmother in Dexter MO however I must say what a dream it would be for someone to build this little small town up for a future with possibilities for decades to come.

  118. Edna

    The scariest place I ever stopped to get gas in America! The convenience store clerk took pity on me as a lone woman and let me pump my gas without leaving my credit card inside. Locked my kids in the car to go 10 feet inside the barred front door to pay!

  119. Mary Stroube

    My mother and uncle were born and raised in Cairo. They were born in the early 1920’s. My grandfather, William W. Bloss, was associate editor of the Cairo Evening Citizen newspaper. His wife was Elsie Kern Bloss. My father, Hal Stroube, wrote for the Citizen for a few years. My mother, Mary Alice Bloss, went through school in Cairo before leaving for college and marrying my dad. Her brother was Bill Bloss. My sister and I used to visit our grandparents in Cairo summers through the 1960’s. I still remember the BBQ at Shemwell’s. My sister and I plan a trip to Cairo soon, hopefully this Spring.

  120. Stephanie

    One thing Cairo does have going for themnis the River industry. The barge companies keep traffic going thru the Cario area.
    One reason Cario is in such ruins is IL government. Southern IL does not get any help from the governor or their tax dollars. The state see Southern Il as Mt Vernon area and that’s as far south as anything goes.

    1. Ev

      I live in Cairo and I can tell you that we get more state money per capita than almost anywhere else in the state. But as soon as the money hits the city’s coffers, it vanishes. We get grants and incentives all the time: to build a hospital, to upgrade our sewer system, to fix our roads…and it all disappears without any work being done.

      The very first thing Cairo needs is for someone to address the corruption. Then we can start on all the other things.

  121. Nelda

    So many thriving towns died because of the interstates. Take a drive through some in Southwest Arkansas. There’s Hope, birthplace of President Clinton and birthplace and growing up years of Governor Mike Hucklebee, Prescott, home to a recent years Miss Arkansas, Delight, home to the great Glen Campbell. All these places are dead or almost dead. Thanks to President Eisenhower that put everyone in a hurry with our interstates.

  122. Tim Orender

    I love Cairo. I love history and Cairo has so much. The civil war put it on the map for sure. General Grant had a fort built there. Cairo was called the gateway to the south. And for some time there was great growth. Unfortunately the gateway to the south had race issues. After the war. Then in the early 20th century, in the 1960’s. That hurt the town. Numerous floods, being bypassed by A interstate. The New Madrid fault has been touted as dangerous. Various things lead to the decline. But I love that place and wish Little Egypt as its been called could be recognized for its history and unique location. The lowest place in Illinois 315 feet above sea level. The confluence of two great rivers. And so much potential. Yes I believe something should be done to revive Cairo.

  123. Zack

    My family and I went through Cairo a few months ago on our way from St. Louis to Tennessee and we were incredibly intrigued and terrified. The place looked so interesting with all the historical structures. However, it was just plain sad to see all the shady people walking on the streets and the only business with any cars outside being the strip club…

  124. Torrie Klein

    Thank you so much for bringing my hometown to light. Myself and my husband were born and raised there we still have family in my hometown and in the area I could not have asked for a better life in Cairo. So much bad has been publicized about my little city but people don’t know the true Cairo and the true hearts and souls that still live there. You can find bad anywhere you go anywhere in the world but Cairo will always be in my heart will always be in my blood and is my hometown thank you again for doing this article on it I pray that someday she can be restored to her beauty God bless.

  125. Ginger Avery

    My great aunt had a rooming house in Cairo in the 50’s & 60’s. We use to spend the night with Aunt Myrtle Zeigler coming home from Kentucky. Back then the grown ups would talk about the 2 rivers washing the ground away from under the town and soon it would collapse. That was what big little ears heard many years ago.

  126. Kathi Gilleland

    My husband and I have traveled through Cairo several times, and have always envisioned a revival of the town. Our dream has been to have Oprah swoop down and start the work and bring the much needed publicity to the town. We feel like the town could become an artists’ colony and maybe modeled after Jerome, AZ, which was basically a ghost town. It seems like it could be a wonderful destination for boat traffic as well. We fell in love with Cairo and would love to see it restored to its former beauty.

  127. Ronald Burcham

    I grew up across from the Mississippi River in Ballard County, Kentucky. Cairo served to purposes in life, a place for beer and whores. A city makes a choice of what it wants to become. As a result Cairo has paid a penalty. In the 60’s Blacks burned so much of it to the ground defying law and order that it never became a viable place to live again. Sounds to me like they should just burn the rest of it down, move the existing population away and if decent people want to build a city their who will make good choice so be it. Otherwise it could be a good seaport.

  128. Ronald Burcham

    I grew up across from the Mississippi River in Ballard County, Kentucky. Cairo served two purposes in life, a place for beer and whores. A city makes a choice of what it wants to become. As a result Cairo has paid a penalty. In the 60’s Blacks burned so much of it to the ground defying law and order that it never became a viable place to live again. Sounds to me like they should just burn the rest of it down, move the existing population away and if decent people want to build a city their who will make good choice so be it. Otherwise it could be a good seaport.

  129. Jim Tom Atherton

    I grew up 7 miles north of Cairo, Mound City9 Ill. I am 79 yrs young,graduated fromo MCCHS 1955. I remember Cairo being a town of 12k-13k pop ,there were 3 movie houses, many car dealerships (Ben Fishel, Stenzil,Watson andu a few others)o ai great hotel (Cairo Hotel)i a swimming pool(WhitesOnly) Commerical Street was filled with business’s and last but least many many Taverens .

    You have to remember, back in those days everything was segregated . The Blacki H.S. We’re Sumner(i Cairo) Lovejoy( Moundi City)i andi Douglas ( Mounds). All ofi extreme Southeri I’ll was segregated . Mound City hadi a ship yard, ini fact, it builto ai few Yankee Gun Boatsi ini the War ofi Northern Aggresion (Somei calli iti Thei Civil War)

    Cairo started downi hill ino the8 early 60’s, withi the race divide. Blacks couldi noti shop ino Cairo,i they werei bussedi either to Paducah our Capei G.

    It breaks my heart to return therei now and see the despair and crumbling buildings. I do not know how they keepo the towni afloat?

    Class of 1955 -MCCHS

  130. Jim Tom Atherton

    I grew up 7 miles north of Cairo, in Moundi City,Ill… i I am 79 yrsi young and rememberi Cairo being a city of ofi 12k–13k in pop.
    They had 3 movie houses, many cari dealerships. (Ben Fishel,Calvin E.i Watson,Johnsoni Chevy,Stenzil;i andi many others.au swimmingo pool(Whitesi Only). .Commerical Streeti wasi filledi withi businesss,i a greati hoteli Cairo Hotel andi many, many Taverens(clubi 18,Thei Turf Club, Mark Twain..Thei Eli Patio)

    Mound City hadi ai shipyard,,in fact it built guno boatso for thei Yankees, in theu War againsto Northern Aggresiono(some callo iti Thei Civil War)

    It breaks9 my heart to see the town in such despairo andi crumbling buildings.

    Those of wereo the days my friends , I thought they wouldi never end

    Classi ofi 1955–MCCHS

    1. J.A. Moad II

      It’s really interesting to see all those posts, especially from Jim Atherton. I’ve been driving through that area for the last 18 years since my parents moved to Barlow, KY in 1998. I’m a Veteran, and also I’m a writer. The trips through that region inspired me to write a short story and then later, I merge it with other pieces that turned into a play called “Outside Paducah – the Wars at Home. I performed it this past fall in Minneapolis. It’s a triptych of stores. One takes place in Mound City, another outside of Cairo in KY and the last in Granite City, IL. At some point, I’ll end up taking the show on the road, and my goal is to take it down the river from Minneapolis and even perform in Cairo at some point… yes… Cairo…

      if anyone wants to read the Mound City one, it’s very short, and entitled, “Our Ghost” and it’s available at my website: http://www.jamesmoad.com/.

  131. Sarah B

    My maternal great grandparents grew up near Cairo, my grandmother in Olmsted as a child then Sikeston, MO as a teenager. My grandfather in Bandana, KY. Eventually they both ended up in Olmsted where they met and eloped to get married in Kentucky because my grandma wasn’t old enough to marry in Illinois. Grandma told the story that she was washing clothes and grandpa just showed up and asked if she wanted to get married at the end of the day. My aunt took over grandma’s chores plus sewed her a new dress that very day while grandma went and had her hair done. They eloped that afternoon. When I asked my grandma, about a year before she passed away in her 90’s, why she agreed to date grandpa she told me, “well hon don’t you know he was the most handsome man in town!” Anyhow, they both always spoke of Cairo and how bustling it was. That was the “big city” where they went to do their shopping for things they couldn’t get in Olmsted. Eventually the railroad took my grandfather to Decatur, IL for his job and this is where they both retired and passed away. It makes me sad to see Cairo become what it has especially after grandma had fond memories of it. It was, and still is, a special place full of history and mystery. Now I live in south central Illinois outside of a tiny town near Mt. Vernon and we play Cairo in the state basketball tournament this weekend. Such a small world and a tight knit web we are all tangled in.

  132. Darin Wadley

    My dad grew up in Cairo and my brother and I was born there before moving to Cape when my dad was hired by P&G (Charmin) in’69. One thing I remember, while always going back to visit family, was getting a butter top coffee cake from one of the backeries. The. Eat coffee cake on the planet.

  133. Ronnie

    Lived in a old hotel in Cairo as a kid for a few months in 1960 until my dad found a house in Mounds to rent. Guess I was about 8 at the time. We lived there for about a year before moving to Texas. I never will forget the people that lived in the hotel on a regular basis, loved going to Cairo to movies on Saturday. Wish I knew the name of the hotel to look up the history.
    Hope to visit Cairo again someday.

  134. amy

    I’m from southern Illinois..i lived in Cairo for awhile then moved to Mounds..i hope Cairo gets the change it needs but first they gotta get rid of all the gangs and drugs..i now avoid cairo bc of those 2 things..and if by sum chance I absolutely have to drive thru there I make sure my doors are locked and my windows are up..

  135. Brent Jones

    My dad, Carl Jones, was born in Cairo in 1935. His dad, also Carl Jones, was a police officer. His grandfather, Nova Jones, owned a tavern there. My dad was an only child. His dad had three brothers, Frank, Enlo, and Eslie. His mother’s maiden name was Helen Horton. I’d love to know some family history, but, well, we didn’t talk about Dad’s side of the family much. If anyone knows anything, contact me at jbrentjones@yahoo.com

        1. Stephen

          No, I was pretty young when Enlo died and he was a neighbor, not family. He lived next door to Hammon Matthews, the guy that operated the Hamberger Wagon downtown. The house is still there. It is at 711-23rd st. https://www.google.com/maps/place/711+23rd+St,+Cairo,+IL+62914/@37.0052009,-89.1817734,3a,75y,152.47h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1svxd4L5KfPjuvn7lLhCMDng!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x8879c6c5335078b1:0x1885e447240ab05!8m2!3d37.0050557!4d-89.1816394

    1. Don Sitter

      My dad delivered bread and such after WWII in Cairo. He was a pilot. One of his friends was “Donut” Jones or just Jonesie. Any recollection? Dad’s name was George Sitter

  136. Jill Wright

    My family is from a little town called Ridgely, TN, down river from Cairo. My great-grandmother was born in southern Illinois, and left at an orphanage while her parent went down the Mississippi on a flat boat to look for work. I have a lot of family history digging to do in that area! I didn’t know Cairo even existed. Who knows, that might be the town my great-grandmother was from.

  137. Rita

    I lived the first 7 years of my life in Cairo, IL before my parents purchased a small farm in Pulaski, IL so I’m all too familiar with what happened to that grand old river town Cairo. It’s truly truly sad now. I haven’t been back there since 2006 but I imagine that it’s even sadder now than it was in 2006. All of those lovely old homes and public buildings as well as very pretty old churches are now nothing more than husks for the most part.

  138. June Williams

    I am from Highland, Il and had never been much in Southern Illinois. I married a man that worked in and about Cairo, his office was in Marion. He was familiar with Cairo, one day I rode with him and a fellow that had a business gave my husband a key to the city. I was overwhelmed with the Magnolia trees, they are so beautiful. Little do I know but it seems odd with the two major rivers that Cairo does not rebound. The town which is where Super Man is from seems to have come around, surely someone or some investors will see the potential.

  139. Philbert Bridged

    Part of my family migrated to Cairo back in the late 1800’s, on both mother and father’s side. My father Philbert George, was murdered in Pyramid Courts back in 1980. Before then my mother, who had moved to Decatur and then Wisconsin by then used to take my sister Stacey and myself back there to visit my dad. My grandfather, Philbert Albert used to work at the then Union 76 gas station. I remember Shemwells very well back in the late 70’s. But what is disturbing to see when reading some of these posts is the elephant in the room that only a few people care to mention, racial division. Just like the cause of the civil war, racial hatred and subjugation, was the cause of the tragic event. Cairo has such a deep and rich culture and history that it would be a shame should Cairo cease to exist. Cairo and its future will need to depend upon racial reconciliation and/or respect for one another if it is to ever become a vibrant economic engine again. To overlook this would be repeating history all over again. But apparently it is a hard thing to do, since we will just pretend it doesn’t exist.

  140. Shane Abing

    What a wonderful find. Let’s bring Cairo back to life! This is a millennial entrepreneurs dream. How do we attrack motivated people to bring back industry and to help it grow while still preserving its wonderful amazing history?

  141. Bobbie Hutton Denherder

    Most of my family came from Cairo My grandparents are bureid in Plulaski Ilinois They had a small farm in Plulaski as a child I spent a lot time in Cairo and at the farm.My grandfather worked on barge there. I met my husband in Cairo he was from N J and was stationed in Fort Campbell Ky. he was a paratrooper. We were married in Cairo almost 60 years ago.My love for Cairo goes deep it makes me hurt to see it like it is now.

  142. Lorraine Heins

    My dad was born and raised in Cairo. His name was John Schmaeng. His older sisters were the Reisinger andSpence families.

  143. Jim Miller

    My Grandmother Anna Belle (born Butler in 1909 according to the adoption papers) was adopted by George Merless and Hattye B. Guion Farrin in 1915 from the Orphans’ Asylum for Southern Illinois at Cairo at the age of 6. I’ve been trying to track down her birth parents or even records of her being a resident at the “Orphans’ Asylum” to confirm how long she was a resident there with no results. She was escorted at the age of 15 by George to Cape Giradeau, Missouri with R H McCauley who was 21 and married there. 6 months later she gave birth to my dad’s sister, Maxine. (Shotgun wedding no doubt). Anyone having any suggestions on how or who to contact in Cairo would be appreciated.

  144. S. L. Estes

    Cairo was destroyed by many things. White flight, drugs, violence, and government money! A town can not exist on federal and state funds alone. It must function and be self supporting to a greater percentage than Cairo has been for many years. My father started a business there in 1942 but was killed due to the war and by 1950 we left for California. I lived across the street from St. Mary’s Park. Attended my first school there, loved the Gem and Uptown theaters, spent hours in the beautiful library, as well as at Lincoln and Elmwood schools. I rode my bike on the brick roads and never felt I met a stranger whether black or white. After my father’s death we were poor, but never considered ourselves such. I have many great memories of Cairo, but will never go back again. Our last trip through there was more than I could bear. Even my father’s grave site in the Spencer Heights Cemetery has been destroyed and many others now buried over the top of him, filling in our family grave site. If there is greed it has come lately evidently.

  145. Ken Nolte

    I was recently through Cairo for the first time in almost 35 years. I went there a number of times as a much younger man hauling freight into and out of the area. I traveled through here a few months ago on my motorcycle. The sadness I felt in seeing the city was real. I remember this as a busy place years ago. This time I rode through and around some of the streets downtown. Appalling is not strong enough. It is sad to see what has happened there. I do not know the reasons behind the decline of the city. I remember reading and hearing about Cairo as a child and thinking it had to be a big city and wonderful and exotic place to live. I came from a small town in Illinois without a post office or local school. I will go back to Cairo one day soon to visit again for some reason. I remain hopeful that some would see this city for what it could be and not what it is now.

  146. Suzy

    Traveling thru “Cay-ro” is hard to take. People and buildings languishing from a turn of the “cold shoulder”.
    One can see that at one point in time it was a jewel, and than life walked away. May it come back to life with a renewing of the heart and soul that was once there!

  147. Don Sitter

    So here’s a Cairo test.
    Who was Seth Washum
    Who was Ben Fishell?
    Who was Ray Matheeny?
    Who was Del Meachum?
    Who was Ed Shelton?
    Who was “Donut” Jones?
    Who was Bob Swaboda?
    2 out of 7 is good. Get all 7 and i’d like to speak with you.

  148. Stephen

    I was there a couple of weeks ago and the town has deteriorated considerably in the last five years since I’ve been there. Even Riverlore looks in bad shape. Doesn’t appear there is any hope for the town.

  149. Ron Eckler

    Mike, you should be President. You truly love this country and it’s history, and truly “get it.” It all starts with Main Street, and the small business, and the community that builds around it. Community that cares for itself and takes pride in itself. God bless Mike Wolfe!

  150. Gloria Withers

    This reminds me of my hometown of Leary, GA. It use to be a beautiful active little town with beautifully kept homes and buildings, and flowers everywhere, till the hurricane went through in 1994. The hurricane just sat on the southern part of Georgia which took out part of I-75 and flooded the entire state of Georgia seemed like. It took a long time for the water to recede in Leary. A huge amount of people left town because the businesses couldn’t operate and it never really recovered. It’s not an actual ghost town but it’s very close. Just as a side note, we actually had a house in town that was considered haunted.

  151. Wayne Tallman

    My earliest memories of Cairo were trips from Nashville to Iberia Missouri. In 1957 we stopped in Cairo at the Mark Twain restaurant for breakfast. The next time through was in 2000 headed again to Missouri for a family reunion. It was hard to believe how the town had fallen into disrepair in those years. About a month ago I crossed the rivers there but did not drive north through.

  152. Sean Kelly

    The main problem is it is located in Illinois, no one wants to invest in a place that is anti business & anti resident. Illinois will be a ghost state, the only reason more tax payers aren’t fleeing is because you will take a huge loss if you are lucky enough to find a sucker to buy your house.

  153. Marilyn Falcon

    One thing not mentioned in the article, is that during the mid 1800’s, Cairo was an extremely important city when it came to the Union Army and the US Civil War. Both the river access and the railroads made Cairo an ideal location to centralize and train troops. There was a huge base of operations in Cairo where the Union Army trained thousands and thousands of Union Soldiers who were from the “West” (Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, etc.). In fact, this is the city where Ulysses S. Grant got his first posting during the early days of the war. In June of 1861 (just a few months after the South attacked Fort Sumter), Grant was appointed commander of the District of Cairo. As an amateur Civil War historian, I wish more people knew about the major role Cairo played in helping our country stay together and in launching the military career of US Grant, who was truly President Lincoln’s savior of the Union Army, and who, eventually, went on to become the President of the United States, himself. It seems extremely sad to me that this vital city, with such an important and rich history, has become a ghost town.

    1. Marilyn

      I double checked my facts and it looks like the state of Michigan did not have troops in Cairo during the Civil War. Those boys in blue came mainly from Illinois, and also Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana. I just wanted to be accurate, however, nothing will change the fact that Cairo, Illinois, played a major role in our country’s history.

  154. Ronald

    The town died for a reason. Just another dead town. A symptom of the dying state of Illinois which was once a great state but now is a state that we and others like us fled as the state became unliveable. Thank goodness we still have the freedom in this great nation to move when conditions become intolerable as they have in the once great state of Illinois.

  155. Preston Berg

    I hope Cairo makes a comeback, and I think it could be an awesome tourist attraction with some big money backers on the rivers.

  156. Rick Kaye

    I remember this town from studying about the Civil War with my God-Daughter also the mention of it in the movie The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn its the place where the slave Jim wanted to escape slavery to. Great article

  157. Jerry Thornburg

    Aloha, In the mid 1950’s I was stationed in Memphis Tenn. and having my future bride near Davenport Iowa, the trip up Route 51 was a regular weekend trip. In that Cairo, IL, was a good place to stop for dinner, while heading North. The little Mom and pop restaurant had the best grilled cheese with cream of Tomato soup to satisfy a Sailor’s need to refuel. The trips ended in early 1955 when I was transferred (and got married). Thank you for the article and pictures. They were a painful memory. Should any of your staff read these blogs PLEASE ash someone to contact me regarding setting up “Pickers” in Hawaii. It would give Aloha a new meaning to have the guys scorer the Islands for hidden treasures. kinemail@juno.com. Phone number at request.

  158. DR.TED Fadler

    I selected Murray, Kentucky (over S.I.U. Carbondale as my next level of Education since it was known as a small but excellent teachers’ college for mid-west values and endeavours. Paul Simon and Everett Dirkson were references; Besides, I was a direct descendant of Col. Richard Calloway, Between 1965 and 1969, I travelled through Cairo between my home town in southern Illinois and Murray. Cairo was a logical stop for beverage, What-A-Burger ,and photos. The old Trailsway Bus depot served as a stop for those travelling south on Illinois Route 3 to destinations South. During the race riots in 1967=-8 Cairo was a dangerous place to be. My fiancee, was on a bus arriving in ’67 when a crowd of Blacks were protesting. They literally blocked the exit door and began to attempt the tipping of the bus on its side. I was allowed to approach the bus and remove my very scared fiancee. We left unharmed, but shaken.

  159. Kit

    This article has not aged well at all. My aunt lived in this town and has since passed away. We couldn’t even sell the house she owned in Cairo, it’s not even worth what she owed on it! The town is a cool and depressing at the same time when you drive around. You can have an amazing beautiful house right next to a dilapidated decaying one. But I see no hope for this town when a car at the local used car dealership cost more then a house in the same town.

  160. Rebecca L

    My step grandmother grew up in Mound City/Cairo area I’m the 20s/30s and was unfortunately fiercely racist. I remember many arguments as a teenager, trying desperately to convince her that we were all created equal. I even made her cry which looking back, I feel terrible about. She was a perfect example of being a product of one’s environment. Cairo’s racist history eventually killed the town off and the stains of hate wont be erased so easily. The town is cursed.

  161. Martin Donald Jones

    I was surfing the internet for abandoned castles when Cairo popped up. I am in Plymouth UK where this year we will be commemorating the 400 year sailing of the Mayflower 1620-2020. Which is why I think Cairo should be restored as it is an important part of your great country’s history not only as a collection of late Victorian buildings but as a reminder of the travelling involved along those great rivers. And also as a social history (segregation) which although was dark in the past we hope all have hopefully moved on from. The UK in the distant past being one of the main instigators of that problem by shipping thousands of people from Africa to slave in the fledgling early colonies in America. If the flooding can be sorted out I think there could be a good future for Cairo, the Dutch build huge polders (similar to levees) we in the UK call it embankments or dams. I have found the articles and photographs very interesting about Cairo. Here’s wishing all the people in Cairo the very best in what you do.

  162. Bill Dagenhart

    I was in Ft. Campbell KY in 62-64. I spent many weekend in Cairo then. I spent a lot of time at the old Club 18. I remember the Dairy Hut as well for eating. I met a girl at the Club 18 and we became very close friends. I spent lots of weekends with her and her family north or Cairo in Mounds. It was with the Reichert family and I always felt welcomed. They were a great family and I think of them often even though its been such a long time ago. The girls name was Sandra Reichert and her fathers name was Roy Reichert. I remember working with him some putting in posts on their farm. I remember army buddies Pete Duran, Jerry Hubbard, Ray Waligurski, and others.

    1. B R Jones

      When in the 101st stationed at Ft. Campbell KY, back in the late 50’s & very early 60’s a bunch of us guys would go to Cairo on our weekend passes. Cairo was one wild town back in those days. Spent many a good time in the Club 18. Dated a Cairo girl I met in the Club 18 by the name of Vivian Tullos (guess that’s how her name is spelled), she was a very pretty girl back then, guess if she is still alive she would be in her late 70’s (last time I saw her was in Peoria). Also dated a girl for awhile from Wickliffe KY I met in the Club 18 (cannot remember her name), but she was not near as pretty as Vivian was. All just memories now. Seem to vaguely remember that the female age to buy alcohol was 18 and the male had to be 21 also you could not move around with your drink.

  163. B. R. Jones

    I was stationed at Ft. Campbell from 59 to 62 (501st Sig. Bn. Fwd. Comm. right across from the jump school). Spent quite a few crazy week-ends at the Club 18. Cairo like Nashville was back then was wild. Met and dated a few girls I met at the Club 18.

  164. Terry Neville Crouson

    Well, today (May 14th) I was born in Cairo in 1941. My Mom and Dad moved with one son from Obion County, TN. We lived firstly on 34th St, and I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital. Dad joined the Illinois National Guard with one of my uncles (mom’s brother), and later served in WWII in the Army. Mom’s Mother and Step-Father lived on Commercial St and had a grocery store there. Mom’s sister and brother-in-law lived on 37th St, across from Rink’s Grocery Store. The brother-in-law worked for the Hunley Barge Line. Dad worked for the Illinois Power Co. While Dad was away to war, a man came into our yard wanting something to eat. He had a German accent. Mom fed him and he thanked her and left. He was picked up by the law as he was na escaped German POW. Mom was questioned but was forgiven, just being kind an not knowing the man was an escapee. May years later while I’m in Marine Corps Boot Camp, one of the trainees, who was from Portageville, MO (an area across the Mississippi River and a little further south) told me that during the War German prisoneers where held on his farm and they only had one escapee, who was arrested over in Cairo. I told him,’Iknow. My Mom fed him.”
    After the war, we moved to 708 38th St. And nearby a fortified home was built. It’s owner was Roy Shaw, and his live-in was Margarette. His body guard was Bill Owens. Roy had a 38 or 39 armored Cadillac Limo. Roy Shaw was running much of the illegal gambling (gang stuff) in Southern Illinois for either the Birger or Shelton gang. They be-friended us kids and were good to Mom and Dad. Margarette would would load us up and take down town to something new called “The Dairy Queen.” Dad would take us and many of the neighboring kids to the Uptown Theater every Friday night. I attended Elmwood School. But in May 1951, the family moved to Pocatello, Idaho. I still think of Cairo. And, oh, I used to deliver the Cairo Newspaper around town, and the then owner of the Magnolia Manor was one of my deliveries, as well as many other local mansions. And I still love Shemwell’s BBQ.
    Should any of you want to contact me, I am Terry Neville Crouson, P.O. Box 427, Newcastle, CA 95658. Email: crouson@ncbb.net.

  165. Victor Peshehonoff

    Cairo isn’t a few lines it’s a book. Spent a lot of time there in 1963 being in the 101st at Ft. Campbell. It was real. The people were and probably still are the best of them. River people. Don’t let anyone put that place on earth down. I left part of my heart there.

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