Alexander County

1968 Alexander County Profiles - Portion F




The Herbert Home at 2606 Washington was built in 1876 by Thomas Halliday who later became mayor of Cairo. The green lawns were once the scene of fashionable lawn parties. Carefully preserved, the house is furnished with many choice and valuable pieces.


The house of eight lovely rooms is constructed of red brick veneer over wood. What is now the basement laundry was then the large Halliday kitchen in which elaborate dishes were prepared by the Halliday cook, Lizzie.

Southern homes in the period following the Civil War made full use of their basements, which were the protection from summer heats, and the balustrades descending to the basement of the home is solid cherry.

Tom Halliday built his home around generous halls with air chambers in between them. He gave it a broad open stairway with polished rail, high ceilings, a fireplace in every room except the kitchen, and elaborate chandeliers.

Interior Styling

The furniture in the dining room was brought from the St. Louis World's Fair in 1906. The pieces were prize winning. The period is mission oak furniture, plate rail, and drop art-glass chandelier. One of the most outstanding points of the dining room is the collection of blue and white delft from Holland. The plate collection on the rail contains the plate Queen Enemea gave to Holland when she was crowned in 1898. The mural in the dining room was painted by an early sign painter from Cairo. The motif was taken from a collection of colored glazed tile, which is now framed and hanging on the wall.

The house has three sun porches. The southern porch is enclosed in glass, with window boxes and hanging baskets adding to the charm with flowers. A desk, sitting at the far end of the porch, once belonged to Grandfather Herbert who had an office on Ohio Street, next to Grant's office. The porch is now used as a music room or office.

The kitchen, originally the Halliday dining room, has been modernized. Once it contained a huge cook stove, had servants, and a dumb waiter" which is now closed off and converted into a wash room. The "dumb waiter" brought the food from the kitchen downstairs to the dining room. This has now been transformed into a large comfortable kitchen with dining area. It's built like a family room with a TV included.

The downstairs hall possesses the water colors by Virginia Herbert, now Mrs. Ralph Gibson. Her most famous painting is "The Quiet Snow," which is a painting of the home after a snowfall. It has been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, International Watercolor Institution, Missouri Vicinity Show at City Art Museum at St Louis. Also on the wall is a picture of Mr. Herbert's home on 12th at Poplar. The lovely white house was torn down two years ago. In the hall standing by the library door, is a huge English Grandfather clock. It is equipped with two sets of chimes, Westminister and Whemington. On the other side of the door, on a table, sets a beautiful Chinese ginger jar in which the Chinese imported their ginger.

The library containing another one of Mr. Herbert's desks, including two maps, one of Cairo in 1839, and the other one of Illinois in 1837, were done by William Strictland, architect from Philadelphia. All the books are of history. Also Cairo's history can be found in this library. The collection of books were Mr. Herbert's and his father's. The furniture is antique and the rugs which are most unusual in the house are oriental. The home also contains lovely ornamental cartouche.

The living room, separated from the library by a double door, has Chinese oriental rug. The others in the house are Russian. To the right of the door sets a beautiful three fingered Lincoln rocker done in deep purple satin. The antique fans on the wall over the sofa were brought from Paris by Donald Herbert. Centered in the room is a lovely Steinway grand piano containing a picture of Donald Herbert. At one end of the sofa sets a Chinese vase made into a lamp. The vase is from San Francisco Chinatown.

The miniature portraits were painted by Mrs. Herbert's grandfather, John Fravel, who was a cabinet maker and portrait painter from Philadelphia. The lovely vases on the mantle made by Mr. Herbert's grandfather, are of the period the family moved into the house which is the Nouveau Art - antique collectors are now collecting them.

One of the twin bedrooms, which is the guest room is located at the far end of the hall. The room is papered in English wall paper. The cast-iron mantle is the original. The vases on the mantle are the Nouveau Art. The room is furnished in the Empire Period of furniture.

Another bedroom located at the right of the hall, was Mrs. Herbert's until she died some years ago. In Mrs. Herbert's bedroom with its white wood work and fireplace, is a large pineapple poster bed, which is the symbol of hospitality, of Empire Period with small walnut steps going up to the bed from Iberville, La., near New Orleans. English imported paper of dark Victorian red roses and blue ribbons accents the room's beauty and warmth.

On the dressing table is probably the oldest object in the house, a rosewood jewel case, lined in pale green velvet, which was once the possession of Flora MacDonald, who saved Bonnie Prince Charles' life. The case dates to 1740 and is flanked on either side by very old scent and cologne bottles. Before the Victorian desk is a swivel chair which was once a part of a Mississippi river packet. Across the room is a Napoleonic sewing table from Louisville, dated 1820.

Another bedroom located next to Mrs. Herbert's room, is Virginia Herbert's room, now Virginia Gibson. The four poster bed is a very early piece with carved knobs made to attach a rope mattress. On the white mantle a pair of French porcelain horses flanked on either side by pink Bristol vases dated 1825. Above this mantle hangs a large original Currier and Ives print - "The Three Sisters" in an unusual lace like frame. The bedroom wallpaper is a copy of a 200 year old lace effect garlanded with roses found in Louisiana.

In the hall are three beautiful Navajo Indian rugs. On the walls are early prints of Boston, New Orleans, and St. Louis.


The Herbert Home is one of three Halliday homes still standing. Tom Halliday had a large family up to thirteen or more. The family lived on all three floors.

The Herbert's moved in toward the turn of the century in 1907. They brought the kitchen up on the second floor, Herbert's made the kitchen where the Halliday's had their dining room.

Oscar Louis Herbert, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Herbert, came to Cairo just after the Civil War period. His wife, Alberta Bradford Herbert, came from St. Louis in the year 1906.

Just two people live in the house now, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph K. Gibson. Mrs. Gibson is the former Virginia Herbert. Mrs. Gibson has had paintings exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and the Chicago Art Institute. Her studio is in the garage. The two-car garage was originally the barn for the Hallidays. She calls her studio the "Hayloft." Mr. Gibson is a sanitary engineer for the Tri-County Health Department.


The Herbert Home has housed three generations within its lovely walls. The first, the Halliday family; second, the Herberts; and third, the Herbert Home is now the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph K. Gibson.

A native St. Louisian, Mrs. Herbert became an integral part of Cairo life, and her feeling for fine furnishings combined with the artistry of her daughter, Mrs. Virginia Herbert Gibson, has meant the preservation and enrichment of the original atmosphere of the gracious home.



Cairo, the southernmost city of Illinois, has long been proud of the two sister rivers, the Mississippi and Ohio, which surround the city on three sides and eventually meet a mile south of the town. Sister bridges to span the rivers and to connect the states of Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, however, were not thought of until World War I, when Cairo became a strategic position for moving soldiers and military equipment. The ferry system just wasn't swift enough for that purpose; in case of future wars, bridges would be essential, allowing equipment to be moved at a very fast rate.

Two of the first men to realize the need for bridges at Cairo were E. A. Smith, a merchant-farmer, and John C. Fisher, the editor and publisher of the Cairo newspaper. During the early 1920's, Smith sought to have the federal government build a Y-shaped bridge to connect the states of Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri at Cairo. Fisher, in turn, gave strong support to Smith's idea through his newspaper by arousing the interest of the people in the Cairo area. Finally, a bill for the bridge was proposed to Congress but the federal government flatly turned it down because of the great cost. Consequently, Cairo's hope for the Y-shaped bridge was slowly and reluctantly abandoned.

Beginning to make headway, however, was a new idea; to build a bridge across one river, then later build another over the second river.

The memorable Florida and Gulf Coast development, which caused thousands of motorists to move from the North to the South through the natural gateway of Cairo, greatly helped gain support for a bridge at Cairo.

Harry E. Bovay, who had once constructed a toll bridge in Arkansas, one day crossed the ferry from Missouri into Illinois and saw the need for a highway bridge across the Mississippi River at Cairo. Immediately, he went to see the Cairo Association of Commerce, whose officials quickly approved the idea. With the cooperation of local bankers, who financed $2,500,000 of the cost, and the citizens of Cairo and the surrounding area, who raised $600,000 for the project, the Mississippi River Bridge was finally completed in 1929. Dedicated by Governor Louis L. Emmerson of Illinois on October 18th of that year, this was the first toll bridge at Cairo.

From its beginning, however, the Mississippi River Bridge met with continual bad luck. The first blow came when the Florida and Gulf Coast boom ceased, thus decreasing the revenue from tolls. The stock market crash of 1929, however, delivered the knockout punch. Many local investors in the stock of the bridge lost all but a small per cent of their investment. But, a least, Cairo had a bridge across the Mississippi River.

In the late 1930's, however, revenue from tolls steadily increased, and it seemed that the bridge would succeed at last. Thus, the Cairo Bridge Commission, established by Congress in 1934, received authority from the federal government to purchase the bridge from the local investors so that it could be freed after the remaining debt was paid. The commission was also given authority to build a bridge across the Ohio River at Cairo.

Thus the Ohio River Bridge was completed on November 11, 1938. Cairo's dream of two bridges was finally realized!

The Ohio River Bridge always carried heavier traffic than the bridge over the Mississippi River. Thus, it paid off its indebtedness of $3,115,000 in the remarkably short time of ten years, and it would have been freed before that had not World War II caused a great decline in traffic. Consequently, the Ohio River Bridge was opened free to the public in 1948.

The Mississippi River Bridge, however, did not fare as easily. Although the freeing of the Ohio River Bridge added to its traffic, the bills still could not be paid completely. The Cairo Bridge Commission worked diligently to increase movement over the bridge. They persuaded shippers to route their trucks over the bridge; even the federal government helped the fate of the bridge by giving it support and acclaim. Consequently, the bills were finally paid, and in May, 1954, Governor William G. Stratton of Illinois and a representative of the governor of Missouri jointly cut the ribbons which freed the Mississippi Bridge.

Today, the two steel structures, Cairo's dream for 40 years, are crossed daily by 15,000 to 18,000 cars and trucks. Each with its shiny silver surface adorns the last bit of Illinois ground which a person sees going south and the first bit of Illinois land which a tourist sees proceeding north. From either, a traveler can also see two of the mightiest rivers in the nation flow together to form an even mightier river; the black, muddy waters of the Mississippi and the clearer, bluer waters of the Ohio.

Cairo is proud to be the site for the meeting of these two powerful rivers, but it is even prouder to be one of the few cities in the nation to have such excellent bridge service for the public's use.




Occupying its sixteen lots with pride the Cairo Public Library stands tall and stately amid a shady, restful, tree-filled lawn as if it somehow realizes its grave importance explained so well in the words of John M. Lansden in his History of Cairo: "It would be hard to find an institution which has been more useful to the community in which it exists."


This fine library is situated at 1609 Washington Avenue in the A. B. Safford Memorial Building in the city of Cairo at the southernmost tip of Illinois. As early as February 9, 1877, the Woman's Club and Library Association of Cairo organized it. In the beginning it operated in a one room building on the Ohio River levee. Then in July, 1877, Mrs. Alfred B. Safford, the daughter of a prominent citizen of Cairo and a member of the Woman's Club, bought the present site and had the building erected as a memorial to her deceased husband. The half block on which the building was erected was formerly a part of Lake Edwards during high water. The Woman's Club gave its collection of books (about 1,500) which now number some 31,000 volumes. In return, a room in the building was given to the Woman's Club to use for their meetings. Mrs. Safford specified that the library should be governed by a board of directors composed of four men and five women the latter being members of the Woman's Club).


Since its founding, the Cairo Public Library has grown enormously. Following the death of Mrs. L. L. Powell, the first librarian, her friends gave money for the erection of a bronze tablet, the addition of a children's room (the Powell Memorial Room); and the remodeling of the entrance. Then after the death of the second librarian, Miss Effie A. Lansden, in 1941, another bronze tablet was erected and the reference reading room (the Lansden Memorial Room) was added. During its eighty years of operation only four librarians have served: Mrs. Powell, Miss Lansden, Miss Elizabeth Hilboldt, and Mrs. Evelyn J. Snyder, the present librarian. Through the years bequests ranging from $100 to $5,000, historical documents and pamphlets, and shelves of memorial books have been given. This is evidence that the citizens of Cairo are extremely proud of their highly rated library. The Cairo Public Library is credited by the library authority in Illinois with having one of the finest collections of books south of Springfield, and they compare favorably with any library of its size in the state. The books are of two major types: reference and circulating. Its file of local newspapers dates from 1848 and has been microfilmed. The library purchases new sets of encyclopedias periodically and replaces its Atlases as soon as new editions are available. Bound volumes of many magazines such as Harper's Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic date back to their first issue. By cooperating with area schools the library has certain colleges using its wealth of material for the assignment of term papers, and its large circulation leads the region.


The construction of the A. B. Safford Memorial Building began in 1882 by Lancaster and Rice Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Missouri, and was completed in 1883. Few changes have been made in the lovely Queen Ann Architecture. Its exterior on the north, east, and south sides consist of two-toned glazed brick. The west side, of much cheaper brick, allowed for growth of the city and enlargement of the building. The windows, quoting from the Cairo Bulletin of July 22, 1884, "are broader than they are long," unique for the period. The niches on either side of the entrance doors hold bronze statues of Cleo. the Greed muse of history, and Concordia, a Roman goddess; which were presented to Mrs. Safford by citizens of Cairo in gratitude. The building now contains an "unfinished" basement; the first floor with the vestibule, the hall, the wide staircase, the reading rooms, the charge desk, the stack room, and the librarian's office; the second floor with a large square hall, the Woman's Club Room for meetings which is also an art gallery, a Woman's Club kitchen, an auditorium with a high ceiling of walnut, oak, and gum Paneling, and a historical reference room; and a small attic. The reading rooms are done in cheerful yellow and white with rubber tile floors. The children's reading room contains small shelves, and small tables and chairs in Chinese red decorated to please the taste of the "Junior patrons." Miss Mary Halliday, formerly of Cairo, gave the lovely Janet Scudder bronze statue fountain "The Fighting Boys" which frames the entrance of one of the most beautiful spots in Cairo. Some twenty-five paintings and much lovely statuary completes the picture and the cost is sustained by a municipal tax.


At the present time, 1963, the building is undergoing a fine remodeling. A large fireproof addition has been added to the west side of the building as the new stack room, and will contain all the adult books. It is made of brick, concrete, and steel with beautiful lighting, movable shelving, and a vault for valuable maps and books. The old stack room is being remodeled into a reading room for adults and office and workroom for the staff, but the furnishings and shelving will be of the same period as the building.


In the words of Mr. Rendleton Herring, president of the Social Science Research Council: "The public library in the United States is taken for granted. Predominantly local in character, both in support and management, it is deeply rooted in our national heritage. The community stands for much that is cherished in our tradition of equal educational opportunity and freedom of thought and communication. It takes its place along side the courthouse, the school, the church, and the town hall as an integral part of the American scene." The Cairo Public Library is the center of inspiration. Although all the ideals and ambitions of its founders haven't been realized yet, its history is one of honorable service to the community for nearly eighty years.



Shortly after the Civil War General Clark E. Carr wrote "Someday Cairo will be the largest city on this continent, and the time is sure to come when Cairo will be the largest city in the world." This observation was based on Cairo's location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. But with the coming of locomotion, river trade lost much of its value and this prediction failed to materialize.

Since pioneer days the people of Cairo - "The Gateway to the South" dreamed of the time when their city would be connected to its neighboring states, Kentucky and Missouri, by bridges. Part of this dream was realized in 1929 when a bridge was constructed over the Mississippi River to join this Southern Illinois peninsula with southeastern Missouri. Yet to come was the link with Kentucky. This would be quite an undertaking for the "Beautiful Ohio", usually serene and peaceful, could become a raging torrent when fed with rains and snow from its northern shores. During severe winters its channels were choked with ice floes that could damage a bridge immeasurably. Any structure spanning its waters must be built to withstand its fury.

But the people were determined, and on a fall day in 1938, a group of Cairo and Kentucky citizens gathered among the cottonwood trees that lined the Illinois shoreline, and turned the first earth for what was to become the magnificent Ohio River Bridge.

It took years of labor, but when completed in 1938, the Ohio River Bridge was decidedly a success. It was a massive structure - the total length being 5,865 feet. The length of the Kentucky approach was 2,464 feet, the Illinois approach was 571 feet, and the length of the main river spans was 2,830 feet.

The piers - sunk 60 feet in the sandy river bed and made of reinforced concrete - were 183 feet high. The tallest pier, 290 feet - was equal to the height of a 30 story building. All piers had openings or windows for appearance, to lighten the weight, and lessen resistance to floating ice.

Clearance under the bridge was 57 feet, with the highest known water in 1937, and 116 feet at low water.

The total weight of concrete used in construction was 56,400 tons and weight of structural steel was 6,700 tons.

In case of violent temperature changes, provision was made so that it was possible for the bridge to expand or contract 4.9 feet lengthwise, in accordance with the weather conditions.

The cost of this long anticipated link between Illinois and Kentucky was approximately 3,000,000 dollars. This expense was shared by the Public Works Administration and the states of Illinois and Kentucky.

On November morning in 1938 officials of Illinois and Kentucky participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, thus opening the bridge to traffic. With this action a silent farewell was bid to the now unneeded ferryboats which had been the source of transportation across the river for many years. An estimated 80,000 persons congregated in Cairo for the dedication festivities.

The bridge was successfully operated on a toll basis for 10 years. Then on Armistice Day, November 11, 1948, bridge-freeing ceremonies were held in Cairo, and toll charges were removed from the Ohio River Bridge. Now the people of Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri were united in friendship and commerce through Cairo - the City of Bridges.




During the existence of the Holbrook administration from 1836 to 1842, when the population ranged from less than a hundred to two thousand people, there were, no doubt, one or two schools in Cairo. There is no real record about these schools; but in 1864 a short history was written which named one or two individuals who taught school here then. To understand this better we will have to know a little more on the history of the schools.

In 1853 the first trustees of schools were elected. At the beginning of the year they had no school-house, and their first step was to apply to the legislature for money obtained from the sale of school lands for the erection of a school house. On the 10th day of February, 1853, the Legislature passed the act they requested. Under this act the Trustees had to have the vote of the people before they could build a school. The voters assembled on the 21st day of May, they voted for a new school not costing over 500 dollars. On May 31, 1853, a contract was given to build a new school, twenty-five by forty-five feet and twelve feet high.

Charles T. Lind was the first to teach at this school on September 1, 1853. The building was used for sixty-five years. This first school has been gone for some time.

Two of the schools of Cairo are Douglas, which was located on Walnut Street between Douglas and Fourteenth Streets, and was erected in 1864. The other is Safford School, erected in 1867.

It was not until the year 1865 that the Trustees chose a superintendent of schools was Mr. E. A. Angel, who was in charge from 1865 to the summer of 1866.

Three of the older schools of Cairo are Douglas, located in the down town area; Safford, midtown, and Lincoln, which served the up town area. Douglas was built in 1864, Safford in 1867 - Safford was first used as a combination grade and High school. It was located in the middle area of town so it could be easily reached by high school students from all parts of town and grade school children of the immediate area.

There were also a number of private schools in Cairo during early times. The Catholics maintained a "Female Academy of the Sisters of Loretto" known as the Loretto Academy. The academy was built on the western side of Cairo, opened in October, 1864, and patronized largely by the people of Cairo, however it did draw students from nearby areas. Later the school was discontinued and the Catholic schools, from primary including high school, were placed in the Church itself. A second private school was operated by the Lutheran Church. German was taught in this school. These schools were open to any who wished to attend. This school was also discontinued and no provision was made for those attending other than public schools.

This essay has attempted to provide a brief glimpse of education in the past years of Cairo and to give some idea as to the growth of the Cairo school system. Truly, Cairo has tried through the years to give its people a better and more liberal education.


Mrs. H. N. Thistlewood - Chairman
Rev. Bascom Hopkins - Co-chairman
James Bourland
Herman Hirsch
Fred E. Lehning
Dr. Robert Williams
Carl Worthington

Note: All members of this Commission have received awards from the Illinois Sesquicentennial Commission for their interest and effort.

Extracted 30 Dec 2017 by Norma Hass from Alexander County Profiles, published in 1968, pages 58-67.

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