The town of Cairo, Illinois was established in 1836 in the heart of "Little Egypt". That's where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge, in an area with the lowest elevation of any location within Illinois. In 1855, Cairo became the terminus of Illinois Central Railroad and the town flourished as trade with Chicago spurred development. By 1860, the population exceeded 2,000.
During the American Civil War, Cairo became a strategically important supply base and training center for the Union army, even though much of the city's trade was diverted to Chicago. However, due to Cairo's strategic location, the town flourished after the War. It became a center for banking and an important steamboat port, with so much river traffic that the city had been designated as a port of delivery by act of Congress in 1854. Moreover, Cairo became a hub for railroad shipping in the region. Wealthy merchants and shippers were attracted to Cairo, building numerous fine mansions in the 19th and early 20th century.
The peak of Cairo's population came in the 1920's, surpassing 15,000 people. Ferry traffic had already started declining as the railroad was now able to cross the river after new bridges were constructed. Cairo was no longer an important hub.
With river traffic and rail traffic drastically reduced, much of Cairo's shipping, railroad, and ferry industries left the city and employment prospects were gone with it. Racial tension was strained by the late 1960s as the United States was in the middle of the civil rights struggle. Racial violence, protests, and riots between police and Cairo's black community intensified the city's decline. In 1978, with the opening of a new Interstate 57 bridge across the Mississippi River Cairo was bypassed and the town was now crippled. Restaurant and hotel businesses, and even Cairo's hospital closed.
By 2010, Cairo had only 2,831 people. Poverty, crime and unemployment still remain a challenge for the town. In the recent years there have been attempts to restore some of Cairo's abandoned buildings to develop heritage tourism focusing on its history and relationship to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
SEE ALSO: More ghost towns around the world // More abandoned places in the United States // LIST OF ALL DESERTED PLACES
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