Cairo, Illinois: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The massive gate that closes the town's protective levee is visible behind the railroad bridge
Name origin: Cairo, Egypt
Country United States
State Illinois
County Alexander
Elevation 315 ft (96 m)
Coordinates 37°0′47″N 89°10′49″W / 37.01306°N 89.18028°W / 37.01306; -89.18028
Area 9.1 sq mi (24 km2)
Population 3,632 (2000)
Density 198.9 /km2 (515 /sq mi)
Founded 1858
Mayor Judson Childs
Timezone CST (UTC-6)
 - summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
Postal code 62914
Area code 618
Location of Cairo within Illinois
Location of Cairo within Illinois
Wikimedia Commons: Cairo, Illinois

Cairo (pronounced /ˈkɛəroʊ/, KAIR-oh[1] ) is a city in Alexander County, Illinois in the United States. The population was 3,632 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Alexander County. Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and is the southernmost town in the state of Illinois. The rivers converge at what is the southernmost point in Illinois at Fort Defiance State Park, an American Civil War fort that was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant, making Cairo the only city in Illinois completely surrounded by levees.

It is part of the Cape GirardeauJackson, MO-IL Metropolitan Statistical Area. Several blocks in the town comprise the Cairo Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The Old Customhouse is also on the NRHP.



Embarkation of Union troops from Cairo on January 10, 1862
Abandoned Cairo Downtown.

Cairo was founded by the Cairo City & Canal Company in 1837, and incorporated as a city in 1858. For fifteen years, the town grew slowly, but the sale of lots (commencing in 1853) and the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad attracted settlers. By 1860, the population exceeded 2,000.

It was an important steamboat port in the 19th century, with so much river traffic that the government located customs officials there. The United States Customs House (called the Old Customhouse) was designed by Alfred B. Mullet, the Supervising Architect during Reconstruction. One of only seven of his Victorian structures remaining in the nation, the building has been converted into a museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the Civil War, Cairo was a strategically important supply base and training center for the Union army. For several months, both General Grant and Admiral Foote had headquarters in the town. The town has numerous examples of prosperous 19th and early 20th century architecture, including the Italianate Magnolia Manor and Second Empire Riverlore Mansion built by Capt. William P. Halliday. Much of the city, even in some areas of decay, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the decline in river trade, as has been the case in many other cities on the Mississippi, Cairo has experienced a marked decline in its economy and population, from a 1907 high of 20,000 residents [2] to 3,632 in 2000. There is a movement to stop abandonment of the city, restore Cairo's architectural landmarks, develop tourism focusing on its history and relationship to the river, and bring new opportunities back to the community.

Cairo abandonment

Sharing in the culture of the South, many Cairo residents supported racial segregation. In 1909, a mob of hundreds lynched black resident Will James. Racial discrimination remained part of the society. In 1969, Cairo was the site of an intense civil rights struggle to end segregation and create job opportunities. The threat of violence resulted in the National Guard being called in to restore order. The United Front civil rights organization led a decade-long boycott of white-owned businesses—which encompassed virtually all the businesses in the town. Its economy crippled by the boycott and the shift of traffic away from the river, Cairo has emerged slowly from the years of conflict.

The city today faces many significant socio-economic challenges for the remaining population, including poverty, issues in education, employment and rebuilding its tax base. A community clinic offers medical and dental care, and also several mental health services.

Cairo at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

Cairo’s turbulent history is chronicled on a concept music CD called Greetings From Cairo, Illinois, released in 2005 by musician Stace England.


Cairo is located at 37°01′N 89°11′W / 37.01°N 89.18°W / 37.01; -89.18Coordinates: 37°01′N 89°11′W / 37.01°N 89.18°W / 37.01; -89.18.[3] The elevation above sea level is 315 feet (96 m). The lowest point in the state of Illinois is located on the Mississippi River in Cairo.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.1 square miles (23.6 km²), including 2.1 square miles (5.4 km²) of water (22.78% of the total area). Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi River and Ohio River, near Mounds, Illinois.


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1850 242
1860 2,188 804.1%
1870 6,267 186.4%
1880 9,011 43.8%
1890 10,324 14.6%
1900 12,566 21.7%
1910 14,548 15.8%
1920 15,203 4.5%
1930 13,532 −11.0%
1940 14,407 6.5%
1950 12,123 −15.9%
1960 9,348 −22.9%
1970 6,277 −32.9%
1980 5,931 −5.5%
1990 4,846 −18.3%
2000 3,632 −25.1%
Decennial US Census

As of the census[4] of 2000, there were 3,632 people, 1,561 households, and 900 families residing in the city. The population density was 515.1 people per square mile (198.9/km²). There were 1,885 housing units at an average density of 103.2 per km² (267.3 per sq mi). The racial makeup of the city was 35.93% White, 61.70% Black or African American, 0.08% Native American, 0.72% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.36% from other races, and 1.18% from two or more races; 0.74% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

There were 1,561 households out of which 30.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 29.3% were married couples living together, 25.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.3% were non-families. Of all households, 39.7% are made up of individuals and 17.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 3.08.

The age distribution was 30.4% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 22.0% from 25 to 44, 21.6% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there were 79.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 70.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $21,607, and the median income for a family was $28,242. Males had a median income of $28,798 versus $18,125 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,220. Of the population as a whole, 33.5% lives below the poverty line, as compared with 27.1% of families. Out of the total population, 47.0% of those under the age of 18 and 20.9% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.


The city is served by Cairo Unified School District 1. Based on census estimates, the Cairo school district has the highest percentage in Illinois of children in poverty, 60.6%, which ranks fifteenth highest in the United States.[5]

The district has two elementary schools, Bennett Elementary School and Emerson Elementary School. Middle and high school students attend Cairo Junior/Senior High School.


Cairo's location on a spit of land that lies between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers made multiplexing US 51, 60 and 62 briefly through Illinois more practical than directly connecting Missouri and Kentucky. The result of Cairo's position as a critical highway junction is that Missouri and Kentucky are the only states to border each other with no direct highway connection between them.

In popular culture


  • In 1916 Billy Murray had a #10 hit record with "When You Drop Off at Cairo, Illinois".
  • Other songs that refer to Cairo include "Road To Cairo" by cult American singer-songwriter David Ackles, later covered by Julie Driscoll Brian Auger (Trinity); and "Way Down in Cairo" by Stephen Foster, the great American songwriter of the 1800s.
  • Josh Ritter's "Monster Ballads" also refers to Cairo.



  • Cairo had its own minor-league baseball team (variously known as the Egyptians, Champions and Giants) in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League from 1903–06, 1911–14 and 1922-24.

Notable residents

1997 aerial view of Cairo, with Ohio River in foreground, Mississippi River in background

Sites of interest

The Riverlore, built in 1865

See also


  1. ^ Jones, Rachel (2006-01-29). "Singer Evokes Turbulent History of Cairo, Ill.". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2009-09-19. "England, 43, grew up on a Wabash River farm in central Illinois. Cairo, pronounced "Care-O," didn't became a creative inspiration for him until he started writing music and playing the guitar in the late 1980s." 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  5. ^ "If you're poor, you have to work harder... nothing is fair" Chicago Sun Times, January 10, 2008
  6. ^ Life on the Mississippi 173-6 (1883)

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CAIRO, a city and the county-seat of Alexander county, Illinois, U.S.A., in the S. part of the state, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, 365 m. S. of Chicago. Pop. (1890) 10,324; (1900) 12,566, of whom 5000 were negroes; (1906, estimate) 13,910. Cairo is served by the Illinois Central, the Mobile & Ohio, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St Louis, the St Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern, and the St Louis South-Western railways, and by river steamboat lines. The city, said to be the "Eden" of Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, is built on a tongue of land between the rivers, and has suffered many times from inundations, notably in 1858. It is now protected by great levees. A fine railway bridge (1888) spans the Ohio. The city has a large government building, a U.S. marine hospital (1884), and the A. B. Safford memorial library (1882), and is the seat of St Joseph's Loretto Academy (Roman Catholic, 186 4). In one of the squares there is a bronze statue, "The Hewer," by G. G. Barnard. In the N. part of the city is St Mary's park (30 acres). At Mound City (pop. in 1900, 2705), 5 m. N. of Cairo, there is a national cemetery. Lumber and flour are Cairo's principal manufactured products, and the city is an important hardwood and cotton-wood market; the Singer Manufacturing Co. has veneer mills here, and there are large box factories. In 1905 the value of the city's factory products was $4,381,465, an increase of 40.6% in five years. Cairo is a shipping-point for the surrounding agricultural country. The city owes its origin to a series of commercial experiments. In 1818 a charter was secured from the legislature of the territory of Illinois incorporating the city and bank of Cairo. The charter was soon forfeited, and the land secured by it reverted to the government. In 1835 a new charter was granted to a second company, and in 1837 the Cairo City & Canal Co. was formed. By 1842, however, the place was practically abandoned. A successful settlement was made in 1851-1854 under the auspices of the New York Trust Co.; the Illinois Central railway was opened in 1856; and Cairo was chartered as a city in 1857. During the Civil War Cairo was an important strategic point, and was a military centre and depot of supplies of considerable importance for the Federal armies in the west. In 1862 Admiral Andrew H. Foote established at Mound City a naval depot, which was the basis of his operations on the Mississippi.

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