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Cairo, Illinois USA

Updated on May 16, 2013

Cairo, IL - Gateway to the South

Looking for information on Cairo, Illinois?

Historically, Cairo was a thriving city. People thought Cairo was going to be what Chicago is now. It is located at the southern tip of Illinois (Ohio and Mississippi rivers), so it was perfect for river trade. I live 1 1/2 hours away from Cairo. My mom and dad grew up and went to school there and I went there often as a child to visit my grandparents. The main picture on the left is an old postcard at the intersection of 8th and Commercial looking west.

Country artist Josh Thompson recently recorded his music video for "Way Out Here" in Cairo. If you take a look at his video, and then look at my pictures - you might recognize some places!


A quick overview

There were great expectations for Cairo, Illinois when it was founded in 1837. Located at the lower tip of Illinois, between the Mississippi and Ohio river, was a great city for transferring goods. There were steamboats all along the river for river trade. The town also had railroads which was also a plus for attracting people to Cairo. It was slowly growing, but did not become what was expected.

Cairo was named after Cairo, Egypt (although not pronounced the same) because of its location by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Some call Cairo, IL "Little Egypt".

Cairo was centered around an intense civil rights movement. There were many riots and historical events that took place in Cairo, Illinois. My family can tell you many stories of this time period, but there are are books listed below that capture the history of this town very well.

cairo illinois
cairo illinois

Here is a small time line of a few famous people that visited Cairo.

1813: Gen. Andrew Jackson camped on the site of Cairo with 1,500 troops.

1842: Charles Dickens

1861: Generals Prentiss and Grant establish their headquarters at Cairo.

1881: President Jefferson Davis

1907: President Theodore Roosevelt

1909: President William H. Taft

Present Time

Even though Cairo itself seems unwelcoming now, some of the people are still very friendly. They are old timers who have been there for years, and will help you with whatever you need.

Many people have left due to the lack of money and interest in Cairo. Cairo is full of history and stories, but has been left in abandonment. It is a sad place to be because there is so much potential and it is not being fulfilled for one reason or another. Much of the city is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

(Photo taken by me winter 2009)

Books about Cairo, Illinois

Learn even more about Cairo Illinois by reading these books.

Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois 1967-1973
Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois 1967-1973

About the civil rights in Cairo Illinois. Includes over a hundred black and white photos!


Josh Thompson - Way Out Here

This was recorded in Cairo, IL. He showcased the rundown downtown area for most of the video.

Take a Poll about Cairo

Why are you interested in Cairo?

See results

Civil War

Cyclone In Calico The Story Of Mry Ann Bickerdyke
Cyclone In Calico The Story Of Mry Ann Bickerdyke

The true story of a Civil War nurse taken place in Cairo, Illinois.


Greetings From Cairo, Illinois

The town of Cairo, IL even inspired an entire music album! Preview the songs here and click on them to buy the ones you like!

Cairo Video

This is a video I found that has a lot of good video images of Cairo.

Tips for visiting Cairo, Illinois

1. Don't speed through town. I have heard many stories of being pulled over easily going 1 mile over. I never chance it!

2. Visit during the month of December. The town sets up a big Christmas tree, lights up the town park, and decorates Magnolia Manor.

3. If you would like to see the Magnolia Trees in bloom, travel during the spring or summer.

Nearby Sites of interest:

- Mounds City National Cemetery

- Horseshoe Lake

- Cache River

Have you ever been to Cairo, IL? Lived there? Have a story to tell? Like my Lens? Leave your feedback here.


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    • bjj james profile image

      bjj james 

      5 years ago

      I am on the opposite end of Illinois, want to visit the southern end at some point.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very interesting lens on Cairo. Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 

      7 years ago

      I like to visit travel oriented lenses, and enjoyed yours very much. I agree with your summation that Cairo has much unfulfilled potential. The video and photos of abandonded homes and empty storefronts is both depressing and fascinating.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      ~ Cupid Kisses by a Squidoo Angel ~

    • CoolFoto profile image


      7 years ago

      Fascinating lens. Blessed by neighborhood Squid Angel and added to .

    • photofk3 profile image


      8 years ago

      Awesome lens.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 

      8 years ago

      Nice Lens Thanks

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I submitted my vote was was requested to leave a message in your guestbook.

      Well, I am from first established Cairo, Egypt and was looking up the Internet for cities named after Cairo Egypt and it happened to find this website.

      It is interesting to read about it and sad to hear what happened to this town.

    • mikerbowman profile image


      8 years ago

      I absolutely LOVE the pictures in this lens! So beautiful, and kinda moody too... this is a great, informative lens on a town that sounds like it's well worth visiting! Thanks for sharing this.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My family and I were traveling back from Shreveport, LA to Wisconsin. My wife wanted to say she had been to Kentucky, so we went in via the bridge from Cario. What a haunting town Cairo is! You could tell that the hope and vision for the town had left. There is still pride showing with some buildings and community spots still maintained. However, so many buildings had been abandoned for so long, and are in such disrepair, that many have passed the point of reasonable restoration. Even the state of Illinois seems to have abandoned the town with Fort Defiance State Park in disrepair.

      I have read of the new "american gost towns" in the current economy, and while this town's misfortune is obviously not new, I fear that there will be others across the country following suit.

      As someone who started their career in construction, to see so many buildings sitting empty is truely sad. To realize that each of those buildings represented a person's, or family's abandoned dreams is what makes the town so very, very haunting and unforgetful.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My family is historically from Cairo. I also lived there as a child. Some of my realatives still live there. It is so sad to see what the years have done to this lovely and historically rich town. I wish there was a way to turn things around for this town and the people who live there.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My family and I recently went thru Cairo. We stopped in Wickliffe, KY and spoke to a woman that has lived in the area for many years. She said Cairo was basically abandoned in the sixties during the race wars. She told us that it was basically a haven for drug dealers. Especially after dark. We saw one person when we went thru Cairo. S be careful!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hello! I'm thinking about making a trip down to Cairo to explore the abandoned buildings. Since you've been there a few times, do you think that's something people are able to do without getting in trouble? Everyone talks about it being a ghost town but people do live there, so I want to make sure that walking around abandoned areas isn't abnormal.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very well done! I remember the time that you and I went to Cairo and it was a very interesting experience! Many parts are comparable to visiting a ghost town.


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