Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Cairo's better side

Last week I blogged about the sad town of Cairo (pronounced KAY-roh), Illinois--and what I wrote for certain will never be linked to by the town's chamber of commerce web site.

But Cairo is not just a rotten borough--although I believe it could end up beconing a ghost town.

Cairo is situated just north of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Because of its strategic location, it served as an important supply station for Union forces during the Civil War. The peninsula town's population peaked at 15,000 in 1920, it has been declining since then--just 3,600 people call Cairo home now.

Much of Cairo is literally crumbling. Things are a little better on the west side of town, and in this post I'll focus on the better parts of Cairo.

Magnolia Manor, pictured on the upper-left, counts Ulyssess S. Grant as among its overnight guests. the Italianate-style home was built in 1872, and in 1880, the owner of the house held a celebration in Grant's honor. In 1999, a Magnolia Manor tour guide told the Chicago Tribune's Alan Solomon, "A lot of places say 'Grant slept here,' we've got the actual bed." On the upper left is a mansion built in 1865, The Riverlore, built in 1865. The Second Empire style home has had only four owners, the latest of which is the City of Cairo. Like Magnolia Manor, The Riverlore is open to the public.

In Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope, he wrote about a barbecue held in his honor by the Laborers' Union Ed Smith. Obama doesn't identify the location in his book, but I can't see any other place in town that could have handled the crowd other than St. Mary's Park. Last year I blogged about Obama's trip to Cairo, which you can read about here.

The red brick building on the right is the A.B Safford Public Libary.

On the left is the Cairo Customs House. It was constructed in 1872, and like Magnolia Manor, it is listed by the National Register of Historic Places. It's now a musuem. It's architecht was Alfred B. Mullet, who also designed the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building), and St. Louis' Old Post Office.

Obviously Cairo is a town of contrasts. It possesses the jewels pictured here, but it also has the rubble of Commercial Avenue.

Next: My pentulimate post in this series, Jonesboro, site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Previous My Mississippi Manifest Destiny posts:

Lincoln and Kentucky
The Varsity Theatre in Martin, Tennessee
Carl Perkins
Coca-Cola museums
Prison laborer in Louisiana
Teddy Bear
What Mike Espy is up to these days
Mound Bayou, a town founded by freed slaves
Blues Trail
Johnny Cash's boyhood home

Shiloh posts:

Shiloh Part One
Shiloh Part Two
Shiloh Part Three
Shiloh Part Four

Tupelo posts:

$aving$ in Tupelo
Elvis Presley's birthplace
Where Elvis bought his first guitar
The Battle of Tupelo

Natchez Trace posts:

The Natchez Trace Part One
The Natchez Trace Part Two, Indian Mounds
The Natchez Trace Part Three
The Natchez Trace Part Four, Ghost Town

Natchez posts:

The Father of Waters
Natchez Part One
Natchez Part Two, Forks of the Road
Natchez Part Three

Vicksburg posts:

Vicksburg Battlefield, Part One
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Two, State Memorials
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Three, Illinois Memorial
Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Four, The USS Cairo
Vicksburg Battlefield Part Five
Mississippi River at Vicksburg
Memorial Day tribute to our ally Australia
Memorial Day--a time to remember

Leland posts:

Highway 61 Blues Museum
Leland's Blues Murals
Birthplace of Kermit the Frog

Clarksdale posts:

Clarksdale, Home of the Delta Blues
Robert Johnson's Crossroads
Clarksdale's Old Greyhound Station

Cairo posts:

Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
Cairo, Illinois--Slum Town

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Anonymous said...

The governor wants to move 100 state IDOT jobs out of Springfield to Harrisburg for economic development.
Using this logic, how many jobs do you think Cairo deserves? The entire Department of Transportation? Perhaps the governor should move his entire operation there for a couple months. That'd be an eye-opener.
Thanks for your posts. I find Cairo a fascinating, albeit, tragic tale that really deserves more attention.

John Ruberry said...


Of course "Blago" won't even live in our capital in central Illinois.