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Cairo, Illinois: America's most depressing city

Dan

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#62
Has anyone been to both East St. Louis and Cairo? How do they compare?
Been through ESL (off the highway, drove around for a few minutes, back on, which probably doesn't count), and in Cairo (driving through most neighborhoods, walking around downtown and the Washington Street area.)

ESL ; population almost exclusively black, almost nonexistent middle class, some industrial remnants.

Cairo: about 30%-40% white, small middle class (east of Sycamore St) and some old money remnants, almost no industry (soybean plant, nautical services). Cairo has a functioning Ford dealer in the City limits, which surprised me. Cairo also has a growing community of black Jews. (!)

Also, ESL is the "little brother gone wrong" to St. Louis, right across the Mississippi. Cairo has no "big brother" city.

East Cleveland and Hough didn't scare me. Neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago don't scare me. The East Side of Buffalo doesn't scare me. ESL scared me. Cairo has a reputation for corrupt law enforcement ("Y'all got a broken headlight, bo-ah! *smash*) and a population of gruff "river rats" that don't take kindly to blight tourists, so I felt somewhat on edge there.
 

Dan

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#64
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#65
It is probably better than waiting for the bureaucracy of demolition funding and state/local/epa permits to play out. Sometimes a dark night and a bulldozer would be a good option for some of these buildings.
 

mgk920

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#66
On that note, I've sometimes wondered why some seriously declining cities don't sell 'time' on their abandoned/uninhabitable and beyond economic repair and restoration houses and other buildings to various fire agencies for live-fire training. Doing that, they could bring in some revenue, offer that valuable training to those guys and get rid of those severely blighted structures all in one swoop.

Or maybe they haven't thought of that.

Mike
 
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#67
On that note, I've sometimes wondered why some seriously declining cities don't sell 'time' on their abandoned/uninhabitable and beyond economic repair and restoration houses and other buildings to various fire agencies for live-fire training. Doing that, they could bring in some revenue, offer that valuable training to those guys and get rid of those severely blighted structures all in one swoop.

Or maybe they haven't thought of that.

Mike
Many of these building have serious structural issues, that when combined with a fire would make them very dangerous for fire fighters to enter. I know that there are certain buildings around here that the fire department just lets burn and their primary job is to ensure it don't spread.
 

Linda_D

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#68
On that note, I've sometimes wondered why some seriously declining cities don't sell 'time' on their abandoned/uninhabitable and beyond economic repair and restoration houses and other buildings to various fire agencies for live-fire training. Doing that, they could bring in some revenue, offer that valuable training to those guys and get rid of those severely blighted structures all in one swoop.

Or maybe they haven't thought of that.

Mike
That's a fairly common way for rural/small town VFDs to get training in nearby Cattauraugus and Allegany Counties, but not so much here in the Jamestown area where there actually is a fire training center. These are mostly old houses and barns that are burned, however. I'm NOT sure about burning old industrial sites. Probably old grist or saw mills would be no worse than old barns or houses, but old factories might have lots of contaminants.
 
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#70
Cairo: I remember

All these posts about Cairo are amazing to me. I haven't been there in about 45 years, since I was a kid, but my mom was born there. We used to go down there on weekends. Picking pecans and peaches was the best part of the trip for me as a kid, but watching the happenings around the docks and levee were fun too, especially since we lived up around the similar setup around Granite City. I never noticed any of the people being unfriendly, but that just could be the mind of a child. There were some rundown neighborhoods, but I never ever expected to see the loss I have seen in the pictures here today. For a town to be so full of hate and prejudice that it can basically show up as an advertisement against itself is just outrageous to me. Now, I'll have to be sure I make the trip next time I go home!:(
 

Dan

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#71
The Cairo Citizen, Cairo's print newspaper, finally seems to have a reliable, regularly updated presence online. The photography is excellent.

http://thecairocitizen.com

This is a sad article: New Businesses Bring Growth to Cairo. Not sad because it's growth, but sad because businesses would be seen as nothing out of the ordinary elsewhere are seen as signs of hope in Cairo.

Short said he will be opening a Subway, a Chester’s Chicken and a Blue Fish General Store in the old Piggly Wiggly
 
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#72
I have been fascinated with this town for so long, after driving past and through it so many times on my way south from Chicago. Glad to see the interest and so much info here. I've been doing research on Cairo on and off ever since I found the book, 'Let My People Go' back in college 20 years ago.
 
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#73
Things have changed!

Perhaps this has been mentioned somewhere else on the forum, but did anyone read about this project that a small record label owner attempted in Cairo, IL a few years back? It's a pretty interesting read:

http://pix.hijinx.nu/index.php?topic=34429.0

Moderator note:
(Dan) New user, post with a URL, I know, but relevant, so I approved.
These folks that were on the cover of Time magazine are long gone and NEW business has moved in several months ago as well as NEW business on 7th and Commercial streets. You need some new pictures....
 
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#74
Depressing.....Yes

I am not from Cairo, but I have numerous relatives that come from there and lived there their entire life. My parents E. B. Cramer and my mother D. V. Stone both lived in Caire and attended school there and married there. My mother was born in Deilhstadt, Mo, which is across the river from Cario, close to Charleston, Mo., and my brother was also born there. I have many fond memories of visiting Cairo as a child and into my teens. It was a great place to visit, it was starting it downturn and was loosing people and business's at that time. My grandparents (Cramer) are buried at the cemetery just outside of town, my uncle Joesph Cramer, who was killed in WW II is also buried there. My father was a member of Co. K. Its sad to see Cairo as it sits today. To me Cairo will always be remembered for Mac's BBQ and the now instinct Buttertop Coffeecake, which was just about all I ate when we visited. My last relative that lived there passed away recently. My cousin Pee Wee Stone (Albert L. Stonee Jr.) died last year in the nursing home there. I will always remember Cairo the way it was in my youth.
 
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#75
Here is something interesting I heard about Cairo. One of its major industries had to do with Sears homes. In hearing this, I think that this could have been a major cause of strife among the working class in Cairo. Sears homes died out after WW-2 when developers realized they could deliver homes at a much greater profit and a lower cost by producing them similar to an auto assembly line. Naturally there was more competition for jobs starting in the 1950's and that could have been part of the us vs. them mentality that divided the town. In addition, it had to have taken the economic wind out of the sails as they had fewer goods they could export. This could have caused a downward spiral similar to what had happened to Detroit due to global competition.
 
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#76
Needin' a "Little Egypt" Spring

Those were some truly amazing pictures at the head of the thread. And as someone else mentioned, it looks pretty desolate; no one is walking around.

The Mississippi Valley is unique and unusual, IMO, compared to the rest of the Midwest/Midsouth/South that the river goes through.

Despite that, in many places elsewhere, it appears that Cairo is one of the pioneers. Yea, a pioneer of decline. When this thread started is about the same time when plenty of boom towns were going bust. Plenty of long-time economic powerhouses have reached a point where the economic erosion has become serious enough to say in those places, it's not just a temporary downturn but long-term ...or even that life is permanently changed, like in Cairo.

True turn-arounds are becoming fewer and farther between. Along the Mississippi, Davenport/Quad Cities and Dubuque were once considered the epitomes of Midwest rust. These days they are doing pretty well. But these are the lucky ones. Other towns seem immune to economic resuscitation - or there is not enough of the gravy to pass around the table.
 

Dan

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#77
Despite that, in many places elsewhere, it appears that Cairo is one of the pioneers. Yea, a pioneer of decline. When this thread started is about the same time when plenty of boom towns were going bust. Plenty of long-time economic powerhouses have reached a point where the economic erosion has become serious enough to say in those places, it's not just a temporary downturn but long-term ...or even that life is permanently changed, like in Cairo.
When I lived in Austin, I'd take frequent weekend journeys on the farm-to-market roads leading out of town, seeing what lies beyond the hipsters and bats. East of Austin, the blackland prairies are littered with dying little towns. They last prospered in the 1920s, when weather was unusually good, farming and light industry was extremely labor intensive, intercity roads were still bad, and the middle class was coming onto its own. Most of these towns no longer have a reason to exist; they hang on through inertia, pride, and to some extent, economic development programs. They'll never come back. They're too far from any larger city to be a bedroom community, they have no critical mass of their own to build on, and only a few have unique advantages or charms that make them stand out from the hundreds of other prairie towns. No amount of Main Street programs, enterprise zones, tax incentives, public works projects, lot giveaways, or campaigns promoting their "family friendly" nature will save them.

This phenomenon is nothing new. Throughout Europe, thousands of small villages have emerged and disappeared through the centuries. The United States is still a young country. Even though we try to prop up these small towns, I think over the next century or two, most of the places that have lost their reason for existence will disappear from the map. Cairo will probably be among the larger communities that eventually cease to be, but others will follow.
 

mgk920

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#78
When I lived in Austin, I'd take frequent weekend journeys on the farm-to-market roads leading out of town, seeing what lies beyond the hipsters and bats. East of Austin, the blackland prairies are littered with dying little towns. They last prospered in the 1920s, when weather was unusually good, farming and light industry was extremely labor intensive, intercity roads were still bad, and the middle class was coming onto its own. Most of these towns no longer have a reason to exist; they hang on through inertia, pride, and to some extent, economic development programs. They'll never come back. They're too far from any larger city to be a bedroom community, they have no critical mass of their own to build on, and only a few have unique advantages or charms that make them stand out from the hundreds of other prairie towns. No amount of Main Street programs, enterprise zones, tax incentives, public works projects, lot giveaways, or campaigns promoting their "family friendly" nature will save them.

This phenomenon is nothing new. Throughout Europe, thousands of small villages have emerged and disappeared through the centuries. The United States is still a young country. Even though we try to prop up these small towns, I think over the next century or two, most of the places that have lost their reason for existence will disappear from the map. Cairo will probably be among the larger communities that eventually cease to be, but others will follow.
I agree, towns come and go and if the money isn't there, no amount of academic thought will bring them back.

And, IMHO, a larger one that I know of that is on that same track is Ontonagon, MI, located in da wesdern YooPee, a general region with many mining ghost towns. With a 2000 Census population of 1769, it had shrunk to 1494 by 2010, when the Smurfit-Stone paper mill - and the city's (actually organized as a Village) main reason for existing - closed and the plant has since been demolished. My expectation is that it will eventually shrink to about 200-300, enough to service tourists to the nearby Porcupine Mountains and support the county's government. I believe that it will be an interesting planning case study in the decline of a place that has lost its reason for being.

Mike
 
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#79
the rest of the story

I grew up in Cairo and left in 1960. the racial issues were so hidden from us that we didn't really know they existed. a look at the Cairo High School yearbook from 1960 is an illustration of this ..it revers to a "Norman Rockwell" existence this is a town that died of racism.
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#80
Interesting city

I like all of the pictures. I just read an O. Henry short story "The Exact Science of Matrimony" and the town that the story was set in was Cairo, IL. So I looked it up. The story was probably written in the 1910's when Cairo was booming.

Very sad Cairo looks, but I would love to visit as I am intrigued by cities that have risen and then fallen. I guess there is no solid solution to saving Cairo. I feel like if you could buy one of the buildings or one of the older homes you could use it as artists studios, if that would work in that region, rent them out super cheap and give artists and craftspeople a place to work for cheap!

This original post was from 5 years ago! so maybe something positive has happened since then - I hope :)
 
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