Further South than Richmond, Virginia: Cairo, Illinois


Cairo, Illinois 192

I finally made it to Cairo, Illinois with my father last week.  I have to admit, while I was prepared to see what many of my friends have already been documenting for years, I was struck how much more there was to this infamous town than just Commercial Avenue (seen above), which is the most common subject in Cairo “ruin porn.” In reality, while much of the town is vacant buildings or lots, a surprising amount of the town is in good to great condition.  Over the next week or so, I will show the various facets of Cairo, the town described once as “further south than Richmond, Virgina” both literally and figuratively.

Cairo, Illinois 166

Above the public library, which locals describe as the Queen Anne Style, which I will accept, though that style usually utilizes wood.

Cairo, Illinois 169

Above, the stunning and well preserved Italianate style US Customs House.

Cairo, Illinois 178

Abandonment of both wood frame houses, and brick commercial buildings, dominates the east side of Cairo.

Cairo, Illinois 184

The Second Empire style Riverlore Mansion, and the the Italiante Magnolia Manor show the opulence of the town’s elite.

Cairo, Illinois 210 Cairo, Illinois 212

But much of the rest of the lower and eastern part of town, as mentioned above, is in rough shape.

Cairo, Illinois 233 Cairo, Illinois 250

6 Responses

  1. Pete

    04/21/2014, 11:13 pm

    I spent a year working about 15 miles north of there – on a little federal-budget-draining $3B dam project that pops up in the newspapers from time to time – and, every now and then, would take detours after work, through Cairo, back to my rental house in Cape. Mostly, I just wanted to see what the big deal was (everybody in that part of the world “knows” about Cairo)…but I wish I’d have seen some of those nicer structures; all I saw was sadness.

      • Pete

        04/22/2014, 10:52 pm

        I worked in Olmsted, IL (population 200; a phenomenal place to build a $3B lock/dam on the Ohio River), and some of the locals – people from Marion, Carbondale, etc. – that worked on the project with me always spoke VERY negatively about Cairo. “Hood”. “Ghetto”. Crazy dangerous. Abandoned. Made it seem like East St. Louis x 800. Call it morbid curiosity; I wanted some verification. Plus, with a background in city planning, I know that almost no area is ever as bad (or perfect) as its reputation, and that propagating something a person hasn’t seen or experienced firsthand…not good. Anyways…after a few detours through Cairo on my way back to Cape, Cairo seemed liked a place that had suffered through some pretty hard times, but wasn’t quite as bad as everybody made it out to be. That said…a city can only experience so many floods and race-related turmoil and the general decline of river traffic, etc., while being in the poorest region of the entire state…eventually…Cairo happens, I suppose.

  2. Rick

    04/28/2014, 10:54 pm

    So, Chris – what were your impressions? Who lives there? Were do they work? Did you fell safe?

    Great post, BTW.

    • Chris Naffziger

      04/29/2014, 12:30 am

      I never felt unsafe. In many ways, I wondered how really “Southern” the town is nowadays, at least judging by accents. There is very little good food–something I found surprising. You’d think there would be at least one really good restaurant. The food was poor at the place we ate; there is no great barbeque as some would suspect in a “Southern” town. People were friendly; we did not encounter any hostility, though my dad and I looked in many ways like we were from another planet. I guess in many ways, it is a perfect example of rural poverty–so much different in appearance from urban poverty–that is so often forgotten about in America.


Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published