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Cairo, Illinois

P. Marlin June 2017

Cairo is the southernmost city in Illinois, located where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. A vital steamboat port along the rivers in the mid-1800's, Cairo was made an official Port of Delivery by Congress in 1854. Also serving as a railroad and ferry hub, nearly 500,000 railroad cars were being ferried across the rivers in the late 1800's. Several famous people have been in Cairo over the years including Charles Dickens, who visited in 1842, Ulysses Grant, who made Cairo his headquarters during the Civil War (1861-1862), and Teddy Roosevelt, who gave a speech there in 1907. Cairo saw its highest population around 1920 when nearly 15,000 people lived there.

With the onset of more modern modes of transportation and railroad and automobile bridges, Cairo would eventually start its economic decline. The bridges caused the railroad car ferry industry to collapse and with steamboats replaced by modern engines, stops at the Cairo port were no longer necessary. With shipping, railroad and ferry industry jobs no longer available, the city would suffer further decline with decades of racial tensions. Flooding further contributed to the town's demise. Nearly 2,000 people still live in Cairo, but most of the town seems eerily empty.


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