Cairo, Illinois: Can This City Be Saved?

Despite a last-minute plea from desperate Missourians, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plan to flood 132,000 acres of prime Missouri farmland will go forward. Flooding the farms will spare the tiny town of Cairo, Illinois, population – 2,800.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that as of yesterday (Saturday, April 30th), floodwaters in Cairo crested at 59.2 feet, and have now reached 59.8 feet (as of 3:40 pm, EST). If the levees in Cairo give way, the town will be flooded. Opening up levees on the farmland in Missouri will spare Cairo, and ruin the farmland for years.

The Chicago Tribune is also reporting that crops have already been planted on some of the farms that will be inundated with this “man-made tsunami,” destroying the crops and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the local farmers. In addition, about 100 homes would be lost.

Cairo is an interesting little town, and was full of history, but much of their historically significant architecture is gone, and the remnant is in poor condition. A few grand old manses remain, but they’re the exception. Most of the businesses and all of the industry left long ago. Cairo’s downtown is a ghost town, and a virtual trip back in time to the 1960s. To learn more about Cairo’s history, click here.

We’ve got to protect our farms. With the rising costs of food, it’s time to start showing a little respect to the few family farms we have left in this country, many of which are in Missouri.

This time, it might be best to let Cairo be the sacrificial lamb, rather than lose our farmland.

Pictures of Cairo are below.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood gates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.


Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.


Downtown Cairo. The barricade is presumably there to protect citizens from collapsing buildings. You'll notice the building on the far right has mostly fallen in on itself. This photo was taken about 11 am in the morning. This is the morning rush hour in downtown Cairo.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.
Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?


School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

More views

Capt'n Wades appears to be the only viable business in the whole of downtown. However, this photo was taken in 2003, and when I was there in 2010, this building was collapsing.

Another view

Another store in downtown Cairo, complete with a 1960s Maytag sign.


Another view of downtown Cairo. All these stores back up to the Ohio River, and they're all now empty, waiting for nothing fancier than time to take them down. Visiting downtown Cairo really is like taking a step back to another time. Cairo was abandoned - in a hurry in the mid 1960s - when race riots decimated the city. The city went from a population of 13,000+ to 2,800 (current) in a very short time. The business owners and captains of industry are the ones who fled the city, taking their businesses with them.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.


A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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1 Comment

  1. Krystal

    I was born in what is now that weed filled hospital. My grandparents were among those who abandoned their home and downtown building that housed their business (just 2 months before the mortgage would have been paid off), during the riots. Some family members still reside there. While there are historical homes, brick streets, and an incredible parade of magnolias lining Washington street………..I have to admit, I’d pick the productive farmland over the town. There are, however, small towns that actually do support productive communities surrounding Cairo that are worth saving. There is one more thing worth saving – BBQ, really great BBQ. You missed my favorite photo op, though. Next time you’re out that way, don’t forget to stop and take your pic by the city limit sign for Future City. However did you miss it?