“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Memphis in Shelby County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Cairo, Illinois

Panel #65 Mississippi Riverwalk


— Mile 954.0 AHP —

Cairo, Illinois Panel # 65 Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, May 18, 2010
1. Cairo, Illinois Panel # 65 Marker
Cairo's position at the confluence of the Upper Mississippi and Ohio made it an important river and rail junction in the steamboat era. Changes in America's shipping patterns reduced its role in the 20th Century but it remains an active port and industrial area.

This area’s importance was recognized by the French explorer LaSalle in the late 17th Century. He foresaw Illinois’ future as the link between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system, but flooded lowlands long discouraged settlers.

Named for the venerable Egyptian City on the Nile, the first settlement failed in 1818.

Another attempt at town-building was more successful in 1837. Levees were built to keep the land dry, but the British company backing the project went bankrupt after three years. A group of eastern investors involved in the Illinois Central Railroad bought the town in 1846, and its luck changed. The 705-mile rail line between Cairo and Chicago was the world's longest when it opened in 1855, and the town prospered as the rail and river link for north-south trade.

The Civil War was a period of growth and
Crossing the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, August 12, 2012
2. Crossing the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois
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prosperity for Cairo, which became the Union Army's western headquarters and supply depot. But the war also cut off its river connection to the South. The region’s grain and stock began to bypass Cairo, moving directly to Chicago by rail. When the steamboat era resumed after the war, Cairo continued to prosper, and its population grew to 20,000. But railroads replaced river shipping by the turn of the 20th Century and Chicago became the focus of Mid-America trade. Cairo's prosperity and population diminished.

Today, Cairo is a shipping center for Southern Illinois and bridges over both rivers connect the town with Kentucky and Missouri. Lumber, woodworking and agricultural processing have become major industries.

Photo of confluence of Upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers
Erected by Mississippi Riverwalk. (Marker Number 65.)
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: ExplorationIndustry & CommerceSettlements & SettlersWar, US CivilWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical year for this entry is 1818.
Location. 35° 8.968′ N, 90° 3.507′ W. Marker is in Memphis, Tennessee, in Shelby County. Marker can be reached from Island Drive, 0.8 miles south of West A.W. Willis Avenue when traveling south. Located
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in Mud Island River Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 125 N Front Street, Memphis TN 38103, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Mississippi Riverwalk (here, next to this marker); Island No. 20/Cottonwood Point/Booth Point, Tennessee/Linwood Bend (here, next to this marker); Head of Passes/Pilottown, Louisiana (here, next to this marker); Venice Louisiana/Fort Jackson, Louisiana/Fort St. Phillip (here, next to this marker); Ostrica Lock/Buras, Louisiana/Empire Lock/Nairn, Louisiana (here, next to this marker); Point a La Hache, Louisiana/Magnolia Plantation, Louisiana (here, next to this marker); Junior Crevasse/Poverty Point, Louisiana/Jesuits Bend (here, next to this marker); Belle Chasse, Louisiana/English Turn Bend/Caernarvon Crevasse/Poydras Crevasse (here, next to this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Memphis.
Also see . . .  The sad story of Cairo, Illinois' abandoned downtown. If you head to their historic downtown district, you'll find a veritable ghost town-- abandoned storefronts, boarded up buildings, rusted street signs, and a lack of any sign of human life marks the once-busy street. (Submitted on March 8, 2018, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on March 8, 2018. It was originally submitted on March 8, 2018, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. This page has been viewed 249 times since then and 46 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on March 8, 2018, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
Editor’s want-list for this marker. Wide shot of marker and its surroundings. • Can you help?

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Oct. 4, 2022