Alexander County

1968 Alexander County Profiles - Portion A

THE HEWER - CAIRO'S PRICELESS TREASURE

By TOM AYDT

Introduction

At Ninth and Washington Avenue, in Halliday Park, in Cairo, Illinois, stands the statue of the Hewer. It was Miss Mary Halliday, a resident of Cairo, who commissioned George Grey Bernard to sculpture it in 1901. It was completed in 1904, and put on exhibit at the Columbian Exposition at St. Louis as one of the priceless art works of the period.

Description

The Hewer is a bronze statue, six feet high, weighing 1,850 pounds. It is full of strength without strain. The swing of the mighty arm brings into play all the powerful muscles of the shoulder and chest. The figure shows not only sculptural 'bigness" - that breadth of treatment which is essential in great art - but reveals an unusual emphasis in the matter of straight lines and planes, which give it remarkable carrying power. Close at hand, some of these planes may appear a trifle arbitrary, but at a distance, their value is felt in the assurance of structural strength and adequacy, which mere rounded bulk never conveys. In 1910, Lordao Taft deemed The Hewer to be one of the two best nudes in America.

History of the Hewer

Miss Mary Halliday, a citizen of Cairo, brought the Hewer to Cairo. She had commissioned George Grey Bernard, her personal friend, to carve The Hewer in 1901. The letter Miss Halliday gave the Cairo Public Library in 1954 tells that The Hewer was first conceived in marble, but it was changed to bronze because of Cairo's extreme weather conditions.

The artist tried for ten months to complete the work in Cairo, but without success. Bernard finally sent his sketch to New York, where a price of $3,000 was made to him. It was begun in 1901, and was not finished until 1904, at a total cost of $6,000. It was then placed on exhibit in St. Louis, Mo., as one of the priceless art works of the period.

Bernard's conception was correct of Captain Halliday's character, and depicted him as a hewer - one who is capable of hewing out his own pathway and doing so. The Hewer, because of these things, has become a part of Cairo's' tradition.

The Sculpture Says:

In a letter to Mrs. J. Frederick Grieve in 1937, when she had spear-headed a movement to remodel and modernize the monument, Bernard said:

"The Hewer disappeared to my mind and the world when the terrible flood threatened your brave city, but you all stood like Horatio on the Bridge and saved your city." "My Hewer was created (strangely but true) from just such a vision of men laboring on the shore of a flood, hewing and dragging wood to save people from death and destruction." "My conception is: 'God's work is perfect and the only thing divine, so who has the right to change it or better it?"

WHERE EARTH AND HEAVEN MET

By PHYLLIS BAKER

A hundred years had not yet passed when one of the most serene structures in Cairo was dismantled and put to rest in the heart of all Cairoites.

St. Joseph's Church (St. Joe to the people who knew it well) was one of the most divine places of worship in Cairo. The Gothic exterior was of orange-red brick which was burned right here in Cairo in the home of Mr. Jacob Klein. Four stained glass windows of God's own children lined each side of the building. The welcoming recessed doors were shaped like an arch, and through them passed peoples of all faith and races. In the steeple hung three bells which Catholics and non-Catholics alike considered the most beautiful sounding church chimes in the surrounding area. These bells were donated by three prominent families of Cairo in memory of deceased members of their families. After St. Joe was torn down the bells were placed in the tower of St. Patrick's Church, which is also located here in Cairo.

The interior of the church was even more divine than the exterior. Between the stained glass windows, which were donated by the people of the parish, hung the twelve stations of the cross. Among the sacred statues it housed were the almost life-sized ones of St. Joseph, The Blessed Virgin, and The Guardian Angel. The altar and communion rail were of wood, inlaid with gold designs of holy origin. To receive the blessed sacrament of Holy Communion the congregation knelt on a felt covered kneeling rail. From the ceiling hung two chandeliers which provided for the main part of the church lighting. The church also contained a choir loft which proudly held an adult's mixed choir, an all men's choir, and a student choir.

The movement by the German Catholics to build St. Joe was begun in 1870 because the congregation felt that they had outgrown the capacity of St. Patrick's Church, and also because they decided to have a church of their own in which they hoped to have services in their own language.

The lots at the corner of Cross and Walnut Streets were purchased and on Sunday, October 22, 1871, the cornerstone was laid. The sixty-five by one hundred foot building was built by Mechler and Son of St. Louis, Mo. The cost of $20,000 was donated by the members of the parish; some of which gave as much as $1,000.

The opening ceremonies were held on April 22, 1872, during which both an English and a German solemn high mass were recited by the Reverend Cornelius Hoffman who readily won the love and confidence of his parish.

The first trustees of St. Joe were William Kluge and Peter Saup who faithfully served their positions for many years.

In 1879 St. Joe stopped being solely a German church when Bishop Balter established a line of division between St. Joseph's and St. Patrick's Churches.

During its years of existence St. Joe Church contributed a number of young men and women to the religious life. Nine women became nuns and seven men were ordained into the priesthood. Currently there are three boys from St. Joe studying for the priesthood.

St. Joseph's Church also established a school which was erected on the lot behind the church in the winter of 1905-1906.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame taught and still teach in St. Joe School which stands today. Along with the establishment of a school came the building of an auditorium which was completed in 1928.

The monsignor Rudolph E. Jantzen was the priest who served the longest pastorate during St. Joe's 90 years of existence. During his pastorate the ladies of the parish formed the St. Joseph's Circle which took many steps toward progress in the church. One of their outstanding contributions was the purchasing of an electric organ to replace the old and worn pipe organ. Monsignor Jantzen also reactivated the Men's Holy Name Society which is still in existence today.

Another outstanding achievement of St. Joseph's Church which is presently recorded in the annals was the faithful and zealous thirty-five years of service rendered by Miss Anna Aydt who was the housekeeper of St. Joe's rectory.

In ninety short years St. Joe came to live and thrive in the hearts of the Catholic and non-Catholic, Cairoites alike. Though it has been destroyed, the memory it left behind is one which will never perish.

ALEXANDER COUNTY COURTHOUSE

By PHYLLIS BAKER

Introduction

Tall columns, an iron trimmed balcony, wide entrance steps, and deeply recessed windows with arched frames show the dignity possessed by the classic Greek lines of the Alexander County Courthouse.

History

"The county seat of Alexander County is to be moved from Thebes to Cairo." These words were officially printed in the Mound City Emporium on November 10, 1859.

As early as 1848 there was dissatisfaction with the location of the courthouse at Thebes. Anyone wishing or having to attend court hearings and other county affairs would have to travel from Cairo to Thebes by steamboat which caused many delays. The courthouse at Thebes was also at the point where it had seen better days - prisoners were even escaping by digging away a portion of the wall. Something had to be done!

A Cairo newspaper owner, Addison H. Saunders, actually started the movement for a new courthouse. His pleas, however, were ignored for many years (the war played a big part in this). It was not until 1859 that any real progress was made. On February 8, the Illinois Legislature passed a law to hold an election on the first Tuesday of November to see if the people desired to move the county seat to Cairo. The results of the election (which was held on November 8, 1859) were quite favorable. A look at the records shows 570 people were for the move and 390 were against it.

On January 8, 1863, a special term of the court which petitioned the Senate and House of Representatives was held. Later in that month the legislature authorized the county of Alexander to issue bonds to construct a large and commodious courthouse at Cairo.

Citizens lost no time in getting bids for the awarding of a contract to build the courthouse. This contract was let to Mr. J. K. Frick on March 2, 1863, for $28,000. After he had done a large portion of the work Frick surrendered his contract. A new contract for completion was drawn up and let to John Major for $32,000.

In the early part of 1865 the citizens of the county saw their "dream come true" - their new courthouse was completed. People lost no time in moving into their new courthouse. The first court term was held in July, 1865. Judge John Mulky presided over the Court of Common Pleas.

Description

From the time of its completion until 1935 the courthouse saw only minor repairs (one being the ventilation of the vaults to prevent dampness). In 1935 it underwent a refurbishing done by W.P.A. However, many a cry of indignation was voiced when the paint arrived. It was, unfortunately, the dreadful color of horseradish mustard. After many heated arguments it was learned that it was "use this paint or none." With much dissatisfaction it was finally painted and it was 1941 before our courthouse was restored to its beautiful white.

All the things done by the W.P.A. weren't like the paint incident. With W.P. A.'s help the grounds were landscaped; irises, roses, and althea lined the driveway and walk. The V.F.W. cannon was given a bright coat of paint. Magnolias and sycamores also added to the beautiful landscaping.

There are three main floors in our courthouse: the basement, the first (main) floor, and second floor. All three floors are handsomely done in the original white oak furnishings.

The basement contains the maid's and cook's quarters, the kitchen for the jail, the Deputy's Office, a small vault, and the county jail.

The first floor contains the Circuit Clerk's and Recorder's Office (Mr. John Dewey has held this office for 48 consecutive years), the County Clerk's Office, County Sheriff's and Tax Collector's Offices, the County Court Room and County Judge's Office. The original vaults which are located between the County and Circuit Clerk's Offices are also on this floor.

The second floor contains the main courtroom (for circuit cases and big county cases), the County Superintendent of School's Office, the State's Attorney's Office, and the jury room.

In 1958 a new vault was built for the County Clerk's Office and a new addition for the County Superintendent of Highways was also added. At an earlier year the original back porch (on first floor) was closed in for the office of the County Assessor and Treasurer.

Conclusion

Our courthouse has been the scene of many dramatic events; murder trials, death sentences, and life imprisonments. Oratory of the highest order has echoed through its walls as prosecution and defense attorneys pleaded for and against the lives of prisoners. It has also been the scene of many public and political gatherings. It has been threatened by fires and floods. It could tell numerous tales of human misery and wrongdoings. On the other hand, it could tell of many delightful events.

Next year our courthouse will be a hundred years old; next year our courthouse will be torn down. Progress? Yes, the old must make way for the new. The old front and two new additions will remain as a basis for the upcoming courthouse which, we're all sure, will capture the beauty and dignity of our present courthouse.

SISTERS OF THE HOLY CROSS

By MARY ANN BUCHER

October 21, 1861, was the beginning of many years of service in Cairo, Illinois, for the Sisters of the Holy Cross. On that night, the Sisters at the Saint Mary's Academy, Notre Dame, Indiana, received an appeal from the Governor of Indiana. He wanted them to serve as nurses on the battlefield. As soon as they heard the message, they willingly volunteered their help. No later than the next day six nuns departed for Cairo to meet with General Grant, whose headquarters were now in Cairo.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the hospital facilities were over-filled. Houses churches, school buildings, and every possible place provided shelter for the soldiers wounded in battle.

On October 24, Mother Angela Gillespie and the other five volunteers arrived in Cairo, yet she was not to meet with General Grant until two days later. When this day came, Mother Angela was warmly welcomed by Grant. He looked at his visitor with a kind smile and said, "Mother Angela, I am very glad indeed to have you and your Sisters with us."

From here the Sisters received their orders for service in areas near Cairo. Mother M. Liguori, provincial superior, and a band of six nuns went to war. They served in St. Louis, Mound City, and Cairo. On December 14, 1861, Sister M. Ferdinand came to Cairo with three other Sisters. Then she accompanied Mother M. Angela to Mound City, leaving the others at the hospital in Cairo under the direction of Dr. Burke. On December 31, 1861, a third group of Sisters arrived in Cairo at the request of the Secretary of War. The next day they saw the frightful condition of the hospital which was called The Bulletin (later changed to St. John's Hospital). Dr. Burke, the Surgeon in charge requested Mother Angela to allow the Sisters to remain here in Cairo. The three Sisters who stayed began work immediately and within a few days the hospital was comparatively clean.

The service of the Holy Cross Nuns had been so outstanding that they were confronted with the request to open a hospital here. In October, 1867, Sister Augusta and Sister Matilda came to start a hospital or perish in the attempt to do so. Within a few days they had raised $153 by means of a house-to-house Canvass and on November 26, 1867, St. Mary's Infirmary was opened in a house on Eleventh Street between Poplar and Commercial. Before much time had elapsed they found it necessary to move to a larger building. On January 1, 1868. they moved to the Pilot House located on the site of the present Armory.

There was still a lack of room until the Cairo Trust Property came to the rescue by giving an entire block to be used for a hospital site. A large two-story building, now the annex, was obtained. It had previously been used as a river warehouse and a detention barracks for soldiers during the war. Since it was too large to be moved across the street, it was necessary to take it down, haul it to the new site, and rebuild it. The new hospital was opened December 18, 1869.

Additions to St. Mary's Hospital were built in 1892 and 1902. As the hospital grew it acquired new and modern equipment. St. Mary's even had an x-ray machine that took away man's last privacy, that of his insides. At the time of the third addition, St. Mary's Hospital was the largest and best hospital between Memphis and St. Louis,

St. Mary's Hospital, now under the directorship of Sister Mary Clarissa, has brought more to Cairo than many of her industries. This service to Cairo was all made possible by Holy Cross Sisters. These remarkable women were begged to come to Cairo, and their skill, quietness, gentleness, and tenderness made them invaluable to St. Mary's Hospital.

VICTORIAN CUSTOM HOUSE

By JACK BUIE

As I sat and looked out the water frosted glass windows of the Cairo Public Library, mighty torrents of rain fell and the winds howled around the 85 year old structure across the street that stands like the Rock of Gibraltar. I am referring, of course, to the Custom House of Cairo or what is more commonly known as "The Old Post Office." It is a living monument to the history of Cairo, Illinois, and its people.

Traveling back more than a century into the past to the 18th day of February, 1859, one year before the Civil War, the legislature ceded to the United States jurisdiction over block thirty-nine in the city for the construction of a building for a United States Court, a post office and a custom house.

"The trustees of the Cairo Property, on the 28th day of April, 1866, conveyed to the United States the said block, bounded by Washington Avenue, Poplar Street, and Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets; and in the years 1868 to 1871, various appropriations, amounting to one hundred and eighty-four thousand dollars, were made by Congress for the erection of the building on the block."

The entire cost of the property and building is said to be over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The government began the erection of the building in the year 1868 and was completed in 1871.

The architectural building consists of four stories in a rectangular shape with two wings, a story lower and extending on out toward Washington Avenue and Poplar Street from opposite sides of the main body. It is constructed of stone and has a metal framework.

The interior is one of marked beauty with offices on the 1st, 2nd and 4th floors. On the third floor is the court room with its ornamented carved fireplace. The walls are very thick for insulation and the ceilings are vaulted high to keep it cool in hot weather.

The building was planned by the supervising architect at Washington, D. C., Mr. A. B. Mullett. He designed the structure so the main floor of the building would be on the same level as the levees. This was the latest in safety measures.

This recalls the fact that before that time, it was the desire of the people to have all the buildings of a permanent character erected to the grades of the levees; and the city established such a grade just in case of high water from the two rivers, Ohio and Mississippi, that make up Cairo's boundaries.

The building in the prime of its life contained the post office, United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, clerk's and marshal's offices, and the Signal Service Bureau. The latter was the most complete in equipment and of great value in determining weather forecasts to the whole country. Later, when the new post office was built (1940) most of the Government Offices were transplanted into the new and present dated building.

The Old Custom House since 1940 has contained numerous offices, but at the present date houses only the Cairo Police Department, which occupies the first floor of this beautifully constructed building of the past.

Whirling back to the present, the sky has cleared and the setting sun's orange rays are gleaming against the proud historical building that for so long has stood for the glory of justice.

ILLINOIS CENTRAL BRIDGE - LINK BETWEEN THE NORTH AND SOUTH

By TOM E. BURNS

On October 29, 1889, a tremendous feat of engineering, and in the 19th century a sometime called wonder of the world, the Illinois Central Railroad bridge was opened. A gigantic "S" shaped structure some four miles long, it was hailed as an engineering feat of the century, but for one to fully appreciate the feat we must go back to the beginning.

Such a bridge had been a dream of many people since the formation of the Illinois Central Railroad. Shortly after the Civil War the Paducah and Illinois Bridge Company was formed and the spirit behind this company, Judge Lawrence S. Tremble, the president of the New Orleans and Ohio Railroad (now part of Illinois Central Railroad) wanted to build a bridge across the Ohio River at Paducah, Ky. but these plans failed to develop.

The state of affairs remained quiet until 1879 when W. K. Ackerman, president of the Illinois Central, conducted a survey to find the most feasible point on the Ohio above its emptying into the Mississippi this point was Cairo.

The next logical move would have been to start construction at Cairo, but pressure was put on Congress and Kentucky legislation to build the proposed bridge at Paducah. In March of 1886 the Kentucky Act provided for a bridge "at Cairo or any point within five miles above the upper corporate limits of Cairo and Paducah."

Oddly enough, the border between Illinois and Kentucky is at the low water line on the Illinois side. Thus at low water practically the whole river belongs to Kentucky. The Illinois Central was convinced that it would be better to let the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad build the bridge because there would be less obstruction in the Kentucky legislatures and the Illinois Central did control this railroad. The reason this company was chosen was that it was a southern branch railroad.

So a contract was signed with the Union Bridge company and George S. Marison was obtained as head engineer.

On July 1, 1887, work was begun on the caissons; and on July 26, 1888 work was begun on the steel work. And on August 28, 1889 the bridge was completed.

The original bridge was 20,461 feet long. The metallic portion was 10,560 feet long and the bridge proper 4,644 feet long. There were borings 86 feet deep on the Illinois side and 193 feet on the Kentucky side. The clearance above low water was 104.2 feet and the total height of the bridge was 284.94 feet. The cost of this tremendous structure was $2,952,286.00.

October 29, 1889, a never to be forgotten day in the history of Cairo, the Halliday House was full as were the other hotels. Early on the morning of the 29th nine seventy-five ton Mogul locomotives arrived, and shortly the first cab started across the bridge with the president of the Illinois Central in it. Before long, all nine locomotives were on the bridge with a combined weight of six hundred seventy-five tons; thus dispelling the fear that the bridge wouldn't support heavy weight. Immediately following the locomotives was the first regular scheduled locomotive to cross the bridge with Martin Egan at the controls.

This bridge closed the last transportation gap between the North and the South. Also, it was so well constructed that no important changes were made until 1949.

From 1890 the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge was in constant use by the Illinois Central lines and the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio, helping to link the North with the South in railway transportation.

In the early 1940's laws were made limiting the amount of load a train could carry and the speed of a train crossing the bridge. This was because through the years there had been no major repairs and the bridge was beginning to show the wear and tear of the years. In the late 1940's these laws began throwing the trains off schedule and costing the railroad money. Something had to be done!

The Illinois Central decided on a complete reconstruction of the bridge. A joint contract was let to the Massman Construction Company and the Kansas City Bridge Company, with the concrete furnished by Edgar Stephens and Sons Ready Mix Concrete Company and the steel for the superstructure was furnished and erected by the American Bridge Company.

In 1949 the work on the bridge was begun. The work was very complex and very difficult. A wooden ramp, approximately 350 feet long was built from the Ohio levee protruding over the Ohio River. The concrete trucks would then back down this ramp and dump their concrete into buckets on a barge waiting below. The barge would then take the concrete out to the bridge where coffer dams had been built around the peers and pumped dry. Tremie tubes, known in construction terminology as "elephant tusks,'" had been lowered into the dam: and a special "high early strength concrete" with a water-proof additive, which was especially made by Marquette Cement Company of St. Louis, was poured in them. By this time water had entered the dam and all of this was taking place under water. The concrete was allowed to set for awhile and the tremies were then removed. This operation could not be stopped once it was started, and they sometimes worked day and night for fifteen and sixteen hours to finish. A difficult and time consuming task, the above procedure had to be performed on every pier of the bridge.

Besides the strengthening of the piers, all of the steel trestles had to be replaced. This could have meant closing the bridge for as much as two or three years, but a method was developed so that the bridge was never closed for more than four or five hours at a time. This was accomplished by cutting trestles in sections and dropping them into the river. As soon as a section was dropped off one side of the bridge the new replacement was brought in by barge from the other side and lowered into place by a crane. Later, divers used underwater torches to cut the old trestles into small sections so that they could be removed from the river easier. They had to be removed as they were a hindrance to navigation.

This operation begun in 1949, was completed in early 1952 at a cost of $6,500,000. An amazing factor is that in all the time of this highly dangerous procedure, and much to the credit of the contractors, only one man was killed.

The Illinois Central Railroad Bridge may have lost some of its glory from days of old, but it is still an important link in the Illinois Central chain and will continue to be for many years.

CAIRO - IT'S BEGINNING AND DEVELOPMENT

By JANIS CARTER

In this paper I will try to show the beginning struggles, and development of a town whose principal advantage lay in its splendid geographical situation. We know there was an awareness of the value of the site as early as the first French explorers. Indians probably used the site as a camping ground long before that, since both hunting and fishing were good. Indian mounds found in the area testify to the presence of Indians at an early date.

Several attempts were made to establish a town on the site of Cairo. The first of these attempts failed because of lack of financial backing and small faith in the site, because of the surrounding rivers. Progress was definitely slow because of the flood conditions of the area.

The early settlers were rough and rugged. The first building was a tavern, the second a store. These were followed by a woodsman's shanty. The history of Cairo includes men who left their imprint on Cairo both in ideas and buildings.

Marouette and Joliet, the first white men to explore the upper length of the Mississippi River, glided past the site of Cairo in 1672. They noted the formation of the land at the confluence of the rivers. In 1682, La Salle's expedition reached the site of Cairo and noted the joining of the rivers, the low banks, marshy land, walnut trees and other timber.

In 1702 Charles Juchereau de St. Denys, Lieutenant General of th? Jurisdiction of Montreal, obtained a royal concession near the mouth of the Ohio River, where he established a tannery in 1702.

In 1721, Charlevoix, a Jesuit missionary, wrote at Kaskaskia that the place at the confluence of the rivers was not fit for settlement. His advice was not heeded and settlement was made on the Mississippi from Alton to Chester, Illinois, north of the site of Cairo.

In 1778, George Rodgers Clark entered the Illinois Country with a small force and captured the British posts at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. In 1779 in a letter to Thomas Jefferson he gave his opinions and ideas concerning this land. The area was subject to seasonal rises of the rivers and for that reason the fort, named Fort Jefferson, was built on the east bank of the Mississippi, five miles downstream from the site of Cairo. This fort was so placed to maintain possession of the frontier. Fort Jefferson was attacked in 1781 and after the siege all left except several members of the Bird family. The Bird family settled on the west bank of the river opposite the site of Cairo. This area is still known as Bird's Point.

Archie Henry surveyed for the Federal Government township 17 comprising the site of Cairo in 1807. Shortly after a keelboatman landed at the junction of the rivers and found a polehut on stilts, a canoe and stakes driven into the water as mooring posts.

The crew of the New Orleans, the first steamboat to go down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, saw Indians in canoes among the trees on the land flooded by the Mississippi at the mouth of the Ohio.

In 1817 Captain Henry W. Shreve, builder of the first double-deck steamboat, showed that the rivers could be navigated by shipping a full cargo from Louisville, Kentucky, to New Orleans and back in twenty-five days. This trip convinced traders and builders that the Ohio and Mississippi were to be avenues of trade and travel. The land at the junction became a desirable investment and the site of Cairo was purchased four months later.

In 1817 William and Thomas Bird took about 300 acres of what is now the south part of Cairo. At the same time John Gleaves Comegys, a merchant of Baltimore and St. Louis, took 1,800 acres. William and Thomas Bird planned no settlement other than a spontaneous outgrowth of shops and dwellings caused by the development of the midwest. Comegys, however, obtained an act, passed by the Territorial Legislature incorporating the City and Bank of Cairo. "The bill provided that a city be platted; that a third of the money derived from the sale of lots be used to construct levees; and that the remaining funds be invested in the Cairo Bank. The city was named Cairo because of the supposed similarity of its site to the land at the Nile delta."

These facts show an awareness of the value of the site from early exploration and although it was years before a town was built references can be found as to the desirable land at the confluence of the rivers.

In 1828 the Birds brought slaves across the river and built a tavern, two frame houses and a store. Later Judge Sidney Breese enlarged Comegys plan which included construction of a railroad from Cairo to the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This railroad was to form a link between the rich farming region on the Great Lakes and large rivers of the south. Breese interested Anthony Olney, Alexander M. Jenkins, Thomas Swanwick, Miles A. Gilbert, and Donald J. Baker, who pooled resources with Breese and in 1835 bought all of the present site of Cairo with the exception of the Bird's property. Although Judge Breese's group was composed of astute men, it lacked the empire-builder necessary to promote the plan financially and politically. Such a man appeared in the person of Darius Blake Holbrook.

Holbrook met Judge Breese at Vandalia and instantly impressed him with his glowing conception of Illinois. When the State Legislature incorporated the Central Railroad in 1836, the name of Holbrook appeared as the treasurer of the company, along with those of John Reynolds, Sidney Breese, Pierre Menard, and fifty-five other incorporators who were commercial and political leaders of Illinois. In Washington a congressional committee approved a memorial to congress for Federal Aid to build the road. This measure was superceded by an act of the Illinois Legislature. In accord with the building of roads, bridges and canals the Illinois Legislature passed an act for a General System of Internal Improvement in 1837. This act made Holbrook practically owner and master of Alexander County. A large frame house was built for Holbrook's use, and, nearby, a spacious hotel was erected to accommodate in-coming settlers. The population of Cairo mounted to one thousand within a year. The precise status Holbrook intended for Cairo remains unknown; in 1840 his plan failed. The State of Illinois repealed the 1837 act stopping work on the Central Railroad. At this time news came of the failure of the John Wright Company in London. The rumor that the English farm controlled the Cairo Bank sent the value of its notes to nothing in St. Louis and Chicago. The town, with its bright future, became bankrupt. All the inhabitants who could rushed from the city. Those who could not leave continued to run the ironworks and shipyard. In 1841 the steamboat "Tennessee Valley" built by Cairo workmen was launched. This was the anticlimax of Holbrook's City. Industry stopped, population grew even smaller and the town was practically deserted. Holbrook seeing the end and knowing where the blame would be placed left before the storm broke. Then in 1842 as a final touch a flood entered the incompleted levee and put a definite end to the venture. It was at this time that Dickens, who had supposedly lost money in the venture, made his well-known remark as to the "desolate, dirty, dismal swamp which was Cairo." The life period of the town during this period was three years.

The Cairo City and Canal Company was succeeded by the Cairo City Property Trust.

In 1843 there were only about fifty persons living in Cairo. Steamboats were still going up and down the rivers. They stopped at Cairo for supplies and passenger transfer. The few residents of the village throve. There were no rents or taxes to pay.

When the Illinois Central Railroad Company was incorporated by the State Legislature in 1851, the growth of Cairo was stimulated. Industries came to Cairo. Ferry service was a thriving business. Many boats were using the river. To accomodate new businesses, homes were built, and stores opened. But labor methods changed and river traffic was replaced and the town began. Although Cairo may never be the great metropolis her builders thought it, it will continue to live.

People of Cairo are proud of the old landmarks, and homes built by men who had faith in the town. Along the water front may still be seen remains of business houses and hotels that did a thriving business during the time of great river activity. The iron grillwork of some of these buildings are works of art. The water front is now quiet. Although the struggle has been great the town was made from a dismal swamp. Its story has been rough, rugged and in some respects dramatic and certainly most interesting.

Extracted 30 Dec 2017 by Norma Hass from Alexander County Profiles, published in 1968,  pages 5-15.


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