Alexander County

1968 Alexander County Profiles - Portion B

MAGNOLIA MANOR - ROMANTIC SURVIVAL OF EARLY CAIRO

By CHRIS COMER

Introduction

"Twenty-seven hundred Washington Avenue is an old address in Cairo, historic and time-honored. Set well back from the street, sheltered by magnolia trees and jeweled with a sparkling fountain weathered in ivy is the stately fourteen-room red brick house which was constructed by Charles A. Galigher in 1869."

Magnolia Manor

Magnolia Manor, a stately 14 room brick mansion, was constructed by Charles A. Galigher in 1869. The foundation, after being laid, was allowed "to set" for one year and construction was begun again. The house was finished in 1872 with walls of double brick with a 10 inch air space for insulation. The house was finished and decorated with the finest furnishings of its time.

A noted visitor in the Galigher home was General U. S. Grant, who was stationed in Cairo during the Civil War. In 1880 after Grant was President he returned to Cairo, after a trip around the world, to visit his old friend, Charles Galigher. After his arrival there was a reception given in his honor; which was given this description in the Cairo Daily Bulletin of April 17, 1880: "A display of beauty and magnificence never before equaled in Cairo. The Galigher mansion is an honor to the suburban life of Cairo ... it combines all that abundant wealth and exalted taste stimulated by the proper degree of enterprise could suggest or procure . . . Hundreds of gas jets flashed brilliantly upon its grandeur and fell upon a scene of magnificence rarely to be witnessed anywhere."

Mr. Galigher, in 1910, sold the house to H. H. Candee of Cairo, who in turn sold it to a Chicago businessman, P. T. Langan, who became a Cairo lumberman. In 1948, Mrs. Langan sold the house to Colonel Fain White King, a noted archeologist and author. After a short time, the Kings left Cairo and the house stood empty for 2 years. Each owner kept the house in good repair appreciating it was a land mark of the City of Cairo.

Because the Galigher home was the scene of the Grant reception and visit and because of its ornate style of architecture, and being typical of fine homes of the Victorian period - it was included in the Illinois section of the Historic Building survey. Therefore, it was decided to undertake the preservation of this historic Mansion as the initial project of the Cairo Historical Association.

Architectural Significance

The mansion had one of the first air conditioning systems of its design in America. A lever in the attic raised the hall dome lid and in turn raised the sky-light. Each room has a grilled vent above and at the side of each carara marble fireplace also helped with the conditioning of the air.

Mr Galigher designed an intercom system for the summoning of servants and room to room conversations. This was accomplished by a network of tubes throughout the frame of the house.

This Victorian mansion also had a bathroom and a system of running water. Water was drawn from one of many wells and then it was pumped by hand to the storage tank on the fourth floor - with the bathroom on the second floor, gravity made a unique running water system.

Plays were very popular in the Victorian period, so many plays were given at the Galigher mansion in the 1800's. The plays were held in the drawing room, the stage was at the cast end and the entrances were made through the back windows from the back porch. The children's plays were given in the upstairs hall.

The original jalousies are still in use in the floor-to-ceiling windows over the entire house.

Several parts of the property have been destroyed with the modernization of the city. The carriage house, where the carriages and horses were kept, was on 27th St. A set of tennis courts were on the north lawn, these were lighted by gas lights for night playing and were also destroyed.

BRIEF ARCHITECTURAL HIGH LIGHTS
The Galigher Room

The plaster cornice, which encircles the entire room in an intricate, exquisite design of grapes and leaves, is one of the most beautiful in America. The ornamental arches and columns are dramatic architectural features which accept the splendor of the room. Also of significance is the patrician woman's head which is part of the archway motif; this is said to be a likeness of Queen Victoria who was greatly admired by Charles Galigher and who was supplied flour by the Galigher's mills through her agent, L. R. Finch of New York.

The twin mantles of fine Italian marble beautify the room, and the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Galigher were given by their son, Fred Galigher, who restored many fine original furnishings to the Manor.

The Library

The green and gold leaf wall paper was discovered by Richard Hagan in a warehouse where it has been in storage for over 50 years. The library alone contains over 1,000 books dating from 1854.

Over the white marble mantle is a painting "Scene of the Nile" which was purchased from Marple of St. Louis for $500.00 by Mr. Galigher. Many original Galigher paintings are throughout the house. One of many very famous is "Ambrois Pari" - painted in 1561.

Damask Room

The Damask Room, originally the dining room, is now used as the refreshment center for various social events and for club meetings held at the Manor. All the furnishings are original and the handsome chairs are from the original set used by Grant. The thickness and quality of the wood of the doors is outstanding. The meals were prepared on a large iron and brick stove in the kitchen below and were sent on the dumb waiter to the butler's pantry to be served.

Grant Bedrooms

The southwest corner of the house is the master bedroom used by Mrs. Grant when she and her husband were guests at the Galigher home; this bedroom is now being restored. The southeast bed chamber was assigned to Mr. Grant after the reception. The ceiling's original decorations remain as seen by Grant. Many furnishings have been carefully chosen to create an authentic setting. The richly carved bedstead of solid walnut is the actual bed used by Grant during his visit.

Northeast Bedroom The furnishings of this room are of exquisite antique cherry. The bedroom is papered in blue with silver designs from the same source as the Library paper.

Museum

On the fourth floor is the museum which displays features of the Civil War, American Indian Arts, and the implements and apparel of the Victorian Period.

Just above the museum is the cupola, the fifth story, when in the early years of its occupancy, the excellent views of the city and the rivers could be obtained.

1870 Victorian Kitchen Restored

The kitchen was designed by Charles Galigher to accommodate many servants, and its size demonstrates that its function was to prepare savory dinners and party foods for the Galigher's many friends and visitors. The original brick and iron stove was purchased in Cincinnati.

Walnut and oak were used with abundance throughout the kitchen. Thick walnut shelves now hold the heavy Victorian cooking utensils. The most interesting use of walnut may be found in the high dados and the floor with alternating walnut and oak boards. The kitchen furnishings are of sturdy oak pieces created for utility. The lighting was unique. The fixtures are of the Gas Age, with a hooded kerosene lamp in the center of the room, and bracket lamps on the side walls. The original fixtures are now wired.

Award of Merit (November 1962)

Dr. Clyde C. Walton, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society presented an award to Mrs. Albert Dudley, director of the Cairo Historical Association. This award was one of only three presented in the state. It reads, "The Illinois State Historical Society, Springfield, Illinois, presents this award of merit to the Cairo Historical Association for long continued interest in our Illinois heritage, for outstanding service, constant fidelity and active encouragement of the educational aims of the society, and in a broad sense for support of the historical ideals of our volunteer and independent union of America". (Signed) President Doris P. Leonard."

CAIRO'S FIRE DEPARTMENT

By JUDY DUNKER

Cairo, Illinois, has maintained a fire department since the year 1860, when the city formed its first organization. This began with a group of volunteers consisting of different companies called the "Arabs", "Rough and Readies", "Hibernian", "Deltas", and the "Anchors". There was much rivalry between these companies.

Out of the five companies, the "Arabs" were the best equipped. They operated with one steam engine, the "Jack Winters" named after a former mayor of Cairo, a hook and ladder wagon, and one small hand pump which can still be seen today. Also, when the "Arabs" were on duty they answered calls to Mound City and Anna, Illinois, besides the ones in town. This particular company was located in the building which is now occupied by the Cairo Water Company.

The other departments, which were not as well equipped, were situated throughout various points of the city. The "Rough and Readies" were located at 710 Washington Ave., which is now the present No. 1 Fire Station; the "Hibernian" company headquarters were at 1301 Washington Ave., which is now used as an office for Dr. Chambliss: the "Deltas" station was at 1711 Commercial Ave., where the Auxiliary Fire Department is now located; and the "Anchors" building is now a two-story frame residence.

The present Fire Department had its early beginnings in October 1893, and it was located at 1109 Commercial Ave. This early branch of the department consisted of five men equipped with two horses and a wagon, which was purchased from Chicago, Ill.

In 1901 the department then moved to 1711 Commercial Ave., and by September of 1901, another department was organized. This group, consisting of five men and a horse-drawn wagon, made its location at the present No. I Fire Station on Washington Ave. This station was known at that time to be Fire Department No. II. Then, in 1910 the Fire Station No. III at 3100 Sycamore was built and equipped. It also had five firemen with two horses and a wagon.

In 1916 the Fire Department was reduced to two stations and then purchased its first motorized piece of equipment. This equipment was a Robinson truck with a 1000 gallon pumper. It was put to use in the Fire Station No I and a few months later a Studebaker hose truck was purchased.

In 1917 the No. II Station was given a Briscoe hose truck costing $800. By this time, nineteen men occupied both stations.

Then, in September 1925, the first American La France truck was purchased to Fire Station No. I and later in 1928, another one was purchased for the other station. Today these trucks can be located in Wyatt, Mo., and Pulaski, Ill. Another truck called the Mack "Quad", was purchased in the year 1944 and is now being used in Cairo. This truck, located at Fire Department No. I, consists of water, a pump, hose, and ladders. The Mack "Triple Combination", which was brought here in 1946, is one of the fire engines now being used. This Mack truck, which consists of water, a pump and hose, is in use at Fire Department No. II at 31st and Sycamore.

The latest piece of equipment purchased was the American La France in 1960. This new engine is also located at No. II Fire Department.

Today, the Cairo Fire Department is modern and efficient. These two stations, Fire Departments No. I and No. II, besides the Auxiliary Fire Department, have played a very important part in this city. Number One station on Washington Avenue consists of a two-story brick building, the first floor devoted to housing equipment and the second fioor furnishing living accommodations for the firemen. This station has been in use since 1900 and is well located to protect property in the central business district.

The Number Two Station at 31st and Sycamore, is also a two-story brick building. It has been in use since 1909 and is well located to protect the adjoining industrial area and the uptown residential district.

Now, operating at Fire Station No. I is one Quad truck loaded with 2,500 ft. of 2-1/2" fire hose, 250 gallon booster water tank, 3/4" booster hose with 300 ft. in length, and 300 ft. of ladders, ranging in length from 8 to 50 ft. They also have numerous small tools such as axes, hammers, wrenches, crowbars, and others that are necessary. Besides this truck, this station is equipped with the Emergency Unit which contains resuscitators, cutting torch, mobile light appliance, and other small tools used in rescue work.

The Auxiliary Fire Department, another arm of the fire department, found its beginning in 1941 when J. W. Mason became Fire Chief of the Cairo Fire Department. The members of this organization were trained under the supervision of the regular fire department and Chief Mason.

In April, 1943, the Auxiliary Department was equipped with two trucks and two 500 gallon trailer pumps. Through the efforts of Chief Mason, this Auxiliary Department was located at 1711 Commercial Ave.

LUMBER - A MEMENTO TO CAIRO'S HISTORY

By MARY JANE DUNKER

Introduction

In 1890, Cairo was one of the great lumber centers and distributing points in the United States. Previous to that time, it had but two wholesale dealers. No lumber was yarded here, and the hundreds of mills south and west looked to St. Louis as their only market. With all the forests around Cairo, and her location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, it was soon realized that Cairo would be the perfect spot for lumber industries.

Once brought to the attention of lumbermen, firm after firm sought location here; and in a short time Cairo had become one of the leading lumber centers of the country. It was to reach a high point in our city in later years.

Operation

Forests were plentiful within the radius of 50 to 75 miles of Cairo. The logs were cut there and delivered to the mill by river. The logs were loaded on the barges and delivered to the mill for sawmilling and veneering.

When the logs were lifted to the mill, they were rolled off the carriage and went to the dragsaw at which point they were cut into lengths required for the manufacture of the products on order.

After they had been cut, the bark was removed from the veneer logs in preparation to cut the veneer.

Both the lumber and the veneer products were then taken to the lumber and veneer yards for air drying. There the lumber required 90-100 days to dry to make it ready for the manufacture into products. The veneer, being much thinner, required only four to ten days air drying, according to the weather conditions.

When it had dried, it was ready for movement to the mill to be cut to size into the manufactured product.

There were many lumber companies in Cairo during the early 1900's, and as the raw materials were becoming short, some of the companies were moving to the south where the timber supply was adequate.

Had these companies practiced reforestation as is done now, the timber supply in this area would have been sufficient for operations of lumber plants as they were during earlier times.

Important Lumber Companies

The Weis-Peterson Box Company, an Iowa Corporation, came to Cairo in 1896. J. P. Peterson was the founder. In 1917 it became an Illinois Corporation, and the name was changed to Peterson-Miller Box Company. J. W. Peterson, the son of J. P., succeeded his father in 1929.

This company, being privately owned, employed 200 to 250 men. They were extensive manufacturers of whitewood cold storage, sawed and veneer egg cases, box shooks, and beer boxes. Their location was at North Cairo. In fact, the Weis-Peterson Box Company produced all small package box shooks with the exception of lock corner boxes.

The Singer Manufacturing Company, who also operated great manufacturing establishments in Scotland, New Jersey, Indiana, and Canada, established a wood working factory in Cairo in 1881. The enterprise had proved in all ways so satisfactory to the company that the company decided to make this point its main place for supply of wood materials in the rough to be used in the manufacture of the famous Singer Sewing Machines.

The buildings occupied the space between Thirty-fifth and Thirty-eighth Commercial Avenue and Sycamore streets, and it extended to the Ohio River, where it had a logging and wharfage front. This company gave employment to 300 hands the year round (during its peak, 1200 employees), and millions of feet of Mahogany, Walnut, Maple, Oak and Gum were converted into veneer table tops and bands.

The Chicago Mill and Lumber Company operated a colossal plant between Sycamore and Ohio Levee Streets. With their employment of 700 to 800 men and boys, they manufactured lumber, veneer, box shooks, washboard material, sail stock, and kindred articles.

A leading concern in its line and one that took an active and highly effective hand in the "Gateway City's " commercial expansion, was Kelly Brothers Lumber Company, located on Commercial Avenue. With the large planing mills and lumber yards, they manufactured window sash and doors, blinds, and other building materials, and were dealers in these products. They also sold Rubberoid roofing, along with paints, oils, glass, and hardware. Kelly Brothers could have furnished a home!

Few business firms in the City of Cairo were better known to the general public throughout the entire country than the Vehicle Supply Company, whose products traversed the most remote section and were handled in nearly all the large cities. They were manufacturers of wagons buggy and agricultural woodwork, double trees, single trees and neck yokes, ironclad and unironed, wagon and buggy material, finished or in the rough. Their large plant, including factory, warehouses lumber yard and offices were located at 3rd and Jefferson streets with mills at Wickliffe. Ky.

Though only established in 1904 at Cairo, this business grew to such large proportions and their trade so wonderfully increased that they thought it would later be necessary to find a new, larger location.

Conclusion

The above lumber centers were only a few of the many great lumber industries in Cairo.

Today most of the veneer and box industries have relocated closer to timber supply. Demands have changed, and paper boxes are taking the place of the wooden box; but the memory of large lumber and veneer box operations still remains in the hearts and minds of those who knew them.

THE STREET THAT NEVER SLEPT

By PATTI DUDLEY

Introduction

I will try to review for you in this essay a bit of the excitement, glamour, intense activity, great movement of traffic, and the luxury for the times, of Ohio Street in Cairo during the middle 1800's and early 1900's.

A review of Ohio Street, known from Cincinnati to New Orleans, will in some measure also give you a small glimpse of the gracious, to a great extent formal, but easy-going type of living found in the community at this time. This grace and charm can still be felt in sections of the city, and the attitudes of the people of Cairo today.

Halliday Hotel

The "Halliday" was one of the main buildings on Ohio Street. There was a saying that everything around the Hotel was built to compliment it. The Hotel was first opened in January 1859 under the name of the St. Charles Hotel. The Hotel changed hands only two or three times during its existence. In 1880 the Halliday brothers bought the Hotel. They completely redecorated the entire building, creating a friendly and luxurious attitude throughout. The rooms were large and tastefully decorated to create a home-like atmosphere, and had sitting rooms and baths, which was unusual in Hotels during this period. The Hotel had been closed during the alterations, and was re-opened in July of 1881 as one of the finest in this part of the country.

The "Blue Room" was decorated with blue walls and blue drapes. This room was a delightful place for small meetings with service equal to that in the main dining room.

The Main Dining Room, opening off the large lobby, had tables set with fine damask cloths and napkins, the finest china, crystal and silverware. The waiters were well trained Negroes who were very proud of the excellent servlce they gave patrons of the Hotel. All of the waiters wore white coats, dark trousers, and the required linens necessary for their trade. The Headwaiter at the Halliday was Alonzo Locke. Everyone up and down the river knew Alonzo Locke, and made it a point to stay at the Halliday whenever they could be served by him. Just before the Halliday burned, in the early 1940's, Alonzo moved to Memphis and went on to gain an even better reputation as Headwaiter at one of the establishments there.

In the Bar, which could be entered from the river side or through the Hotel Lobby, General Grant sat on only one particular bar stool where he could look out on the river. To honor him, the Bar was named the Grant Bar. Also a white circle was painted on the floor around his favorite bar stool, and a star on the bar top. The bar itself was of hand carved, fine grained, solid mahogany.

There was also a Barbershop in the Hotel. Many of the people of Cairo went to get their hair cut there by "Buck," a Negro barber. One of our neighbors, a most gracious person, Mrs. Fredrick Grieve, got her first haircut there as a child.

Across the street on the river side, there was a park for the pleasure of the Hotel guests and the people of Cairo. One went up a few steps over the Levee wall into the park. Here were steps down to the river where there was a boat house with many pleasure boats. The entrance to the park was guarded by a pair of huge iron eagles, each perched on an iron ball.

There is a story that the Hotel was a part of the underground system of transporting slaves. Boats from the South would drop slaves off at this point, where they were hidden in dungeons beneath the Hotel until they could be taken by north-bound boats up river. During the Civil War, these dungeons were used to keep prisoners.

Springfield Block

The section between Sixth Street and Eighth Street was called the "Springfield Block." The main building on this block was the City National Bank of Cairo, erected by Governor Matteson and opened on February 7, 1855. The second and third floors were occupied by distinguished Army Officers during the War. In 1861 General Grant occupied the second floor on the North side of the building.

There was also a room reserved for the first Public Library, however, there was only one shelf of books.

Further down the street was the Enterprise (Savings) Bank of Cairo. This bank was opened on March 3, 1869. These two banks merged in January of 1907 and became the First Bank and Trust Company, which is presently operating on the corner of Eighth Street at Washington Avenue.

Gladhand Saloon

This saloon was typical of the times. The owner was John Ford, and he carried a pistol at all times to keep order of a sort among his customers. As it was told to me by a lifetime resident of Cairo who was there, when the customers did not listen to Mr. Ford, he simply "Drew his pistol and went Bang!" accounting for the four notches on it.

Ohio Street was truly typical of a river town, and perhaps, in some respects, retains some of the less violent atmosphere of the early days.

The Blue Front Restaurant

The Blue Front Restaurant was named this simply because they painted the front blue. Mr. Echenberger, the owner, threw the key into the river on the day he opened his restaurant for business, for he said, "Anyone is welcome at any time, day or night, in my restaurant." Its reputation was known for miles around and continued to draw customers even when moved to Commercial Avenue until just a few years ago when the building burned down.

The Planters Hotel

The fact to be most remembered about this Hotel was its beautiful lace ironwork. This ironwork was put any and all places on the building where it would fit. Although it was not in operation as long as the Halliday Hotel, it was considered quite elegant in its day.

The Reed Foundry

Mr. J. B. Reed originally had his foundry in St. Louis. When he realized that Cairo was becoming a thriving city with both boat and rail shipping passing through it, he moved his business here. He had just become well established when the Civil War started, and he went into the business of iron-cladding the gunboats. This business was run by the same family at its original site until late 1940's or early 1950's. The original Mr. Reed built a large brick home typical of the period, beautifully finished with the finest woods, bricks and materials on 20th Street, which has just recently been torn down.

Train Depots

There were five railways in Cairo; the Big Four, the Illinois Central, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio, Missouri Pacific, and Baltimore and Ohio. One of the depots was on Second and Commercial Avenues for the Big Four. The other was in front of the Halliday Hotel where the remaining trains came through. If you were going to a nearby town, you would go to the red brick station on Washington Avenue where the Iron Mountain train came in. Ohio Street was built initially for railway traffic, but was paved with bricks on one side to accommodate buggies and wagons.

Pot Pourri

Completing the picture of Ohio Street one could find all the business necessary to a Commercial center such as Cairo was. This included Livery Stables, Grain storage bins, retail grocers, wholesale produce companies, whiskey warehouses, hardware companies, boat stores, other banks, a theatre, restaurants, and additional hotels.

Conclusion

The people of that day called Ohio Street the "Street That Never Slept." Many of the boats would be passing through at the wee hours of the morning and would stop at Cairo to replenish their supplies. Any time during the night or day one could go down to the Ohio Street and find activity and Cairo's famous "Southern Hospitality."

Ohio Street was indeed a wonderful place, and lives today in the hearts of many who were a part of its life. It was a cross-road of rivers and rails and took its place in history as part of one of the most thriving cities along the river.

GROWTH OF A CITY - HOW IT WAS MADE POSSIBLE

By PATTY ELIAS

The name Halliday is synonymous in Cairo, Illinois, with progress and enterprise.

The family consisted of five brothers and three sisters of which I shall talk about the brothers. They were: Captain William P. Halliday - master mind of the brothers, Major E. W. Halliday, Thomas Halllday, Henry L. Halliday, and Samuel B. Halliday.

Since these brothers came to Cairo around the time of the Civil War, there were numerous business opportunities; and they took advantage of them.

Henry L. Halliday along with his four brothers established the H. L. Halliday Milling Company in 1865, but his brothers left the business and he reorganized it in 1891. This company had a milling capacity of 800 barrels of flour per day which was sold throughout the south and exported to the West Indies and Europe. Along with the Milling Company, Henry Halliday erected the H. L. Halliday Elevator at Ohio Levee and Second Street. This elevator had a capacity of half a million bushels.

The brothers together founded the Cairo Electric Street Railway Company, the Cairo Electric Light and Power Company, the Cairo City Coal Company, and the Ice Plant. The street car system had been enjoyed in Cairo since 1891. The cars ran from one end of town to the other, with fare for the round trip only five cents. The power plant furnished the motive power for the street cars, and also for shops, printing presses, small manufacturers, hotels, and private homes. This plant was one of the best equipped in the state. Hallidayboro, the name of their coal mines, was located near Du Quoin, Illinois; but their office was in Cairo on Ninth and Washington Ave., where the Cairo Hotel was. There was also an artesian well built by the brothers on Ninth Street to be used in regard to the coal. (This has long been capped over.)

Other enterprises included the H. H. Halliday Sand and Gravel Company which is still engaged in pumping sand from the Ohio River for building purposes. The material is shipped in large quantities to dealers in the surrounding area.

The Carey-Halliday Lumber Company had plant and yards extending from Sycamore Street to the Ohio River, on which veneer and planing mills, and a large box factory were located.

The Halliday brothers, excluding Henry L., also had a part in the banking of Cairo. They founded the City Bank of Cairo, later known as the City National Bank, and the Enterprise Savings Bank, which was the first exclusive savings institution organized in Southern Illinois. These two banks were merged in January, 1907, and became the First Bank and Trust Company, which up until a few years ago belonged to the Halliday family.

Another great credit to Cairo was the magnificent Halliday Hotel. This hotel was on a par with the best hotels in cities like St. Louis and Chicago. Admirably located, apart from other buildings. It afforded at one glance a view of three states and of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at their point of meeting to form the mightiest waterway of the continent.

William Parker Halliday, master mind of the brothers, acquired the title Captain from his early adventures on the Ohio River. Having come to Cairo before the war, Capt. Halliday saw multiple opportunities which he ameliorated. Success and prosperity were now growing beyond his greatest expectations.

Even though Capt. Halliday did much for the poor of the community without ostentation or trumpet blowing, he was known to be a vain man. One example of this was when he died of cancer. September 22, 1899. Capt. Halliday wanted the people to remember him as a distinguished looking man. He requested that his casket be sealed and a huge portrait of himself placed by it. After his funeral, this picture was given to the Cairo Public Library where it is now seen hanging at the head of the staircase.

But this is not where William P. Halliday ends, in 1906 his daughter, Mary Halliday and the Halliday family presented to the City of Cairo the Hewer in memory of her father.

Considered one of the ten best nudes in America, this statue by George Grey Barnard can be seen standing in Halliday Park near the site of the original office.

THE HISTORY OF CAIRO, ILLINOIS

By MONICA HAFFLY

At the southern tip of Illinois, in Alexander county, two of America's mightiest rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio meet. Here stands Cairo, the picturesque, interesting and historic city.

The site of Cairo was first visited by French explorers in 1673. In the summer of 1702 a tannery was set up by Charles Juchereau de St. Denys, and at the same time a fort was built and named Va Bache. These were established about five miles north of the present site of Cairo.

There was an unidentified disease in 1703 which destroyed the expedition, and in 1704 Va Bache was abandoned.

Although Alexander County was established March 1819, during the period from 1818 to 1836 Cairo, or what had been planned to be Cairo, was a mere wood-yard, at which the steamboats would land to take on wood for their furnace fires. Besides these, there were trading boats, which, while trading very little at the point, found it a convenient place to stop for a time.

Cairo was not settled until 1837, after an endeavor in 1817 by John C. Comegys to found a city, and when Comegys died, with him died the proposed city.

Cairo was incorporated in 1837 but did not adopt the commission form of government until 1919. December, 1853, may be said to mark the beginning of contemporary Cairo.

Perhaps the most commonly known facts about Cairo were the low elevation of the town's site, and about the Ohio and Mississippi rivers causing many floods. The highest known floods of Cairo were: the flood of 1844 when only the cross levee constructed by Mr. Miles A. Gilbert helped Cairo withstand the water. The flood of 1849 where the water first poured through the old break in the Mississippi levee till the water inside the levees became higher than the Ohio river, and finally reached such a height to overflow the Ohio levee in different places. The floods of 1858 and 1862 when the temporary levee did, in the year 1858, give way, and the city was submerged to an average of twelve feet, and whereas, the rivers did, in the year of 1862, rise to a height of fourteen inches above the levees, and the city property was greatly endangered.

During the Civil War troops were sent to Cairo eleven days after the firing of the first shots in April, 1861. Cairo became a military camp, Fort Defiance, securing the confluence to the Union cause. A few hours delay and the Confederates encamped at Columbus, Kentucky, might well have invaded Cairo and changed the course of the outcome of the War.

The City Bank of Cairo was organized in the year of 1858 under the General Banking law of the state. And the First National Bank of Cairo was organized on the 24th day of July, 1863, under the National Banking Act of February 25, 1863. The bank continued to do business for many years, but its experience was somewhat varied. The First Bank and Trust Company of Cairo was organized on the second day of January, 1907, and was the successor of the City National Bank and the Enterprise (savings) Bank that was chartered March, 1869.

The Building and Loan Associations might properly have been called institutions of the city. By means of these associations hundreds of homes have been secured in Cairo.

Besides having many sites to visit and excellent transportation facilities by highways Cairo is served by five railroad lines and is also the year round head of navigation on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers It is the terminus for the main barge lines of these rivers.

Cairo is in the same latitude as Tunis in Africa and only about five degrees north of the latitude of Cairo, Egypt.
 

Extracted 30 Dec 2017 by Norma Hass from Alexander County Profiles, published in 1968, pages 16-26.


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