Illinois Abandoned, Creepy May 21, 2020
Exploring The Abandoned Town Of Cairo, Illinois Is The Closest Thing You’ll Get To Time Travel
Cairo, Illinois is an abandoned town that sits at the tri-state with Kentucky and Missouri. Basically the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places, and history is hidden everywhere.
Like many towns in America, here is one that began with prejudice and racism, and it is one that was swallowed up by it as well. A town named after greed itself, this once beautiful place is now a shell of its former glory. Read on to learn more about the true story behind this Illinois ghost town.
Also known as "Egypt," southern Illinois' abandoned town of Cairo sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and is on a peninsula with water on three of its four sides.
Europeans first came across it in the late 1600s, but it was not settled until 1702 when French pioneers pushed Native Americans off of their land and built a fort and tannery. The Cherokee eventually revolted by killing most of the 30 or so men and taking the furs they were collecting to sell.
About 100 years later, in 1818, which is the same year Illinois became a state, a man from Baltimore bought 1,800 acres of land on the peninsula and gave the town its infamous name.
Several attempts to survey the land were made throughout the 1800s. A hotel was built as well as a shipyard, warehouses, sawmills, an ironworks, and several residential cottages. Eventually, a railroad was completed in 1853 that connected Cairo all the way to Galena. There was a time when people believed this town should be the capital of the United States as it was such a hub for steamboats and other activities.
Prior to and during the Civil War, this historic town was an important stop along the Underground Railroad. At this port, fugitives would actually use rail lines to escape further north to Chicago.
In the late 1990s, tunnels believed to have been used during the Underground Railroad were discovered beneath the streets near the tracks in Cairo. They run for about five or six blocks and were likely used to hide people.
When the Civil War began in 1861, the population of the city was about 2,200 people, and it was being used as a training base for the Union army. Thousands of troops and artillery were sent to the camps there.
Camp Defiance was a prominent facility located in Cairo. General Ulysses S. Grant used it as a naval base and supply camp. It was dismantled after the war and has since become the location of a state park.
The end of the Civil War brought many African Americans to Cairo. Some were runaways and others were deposited there by the Union Army. These individuals were considered contraband and kept in "Contraband Camp," which was maintained by the army.
Most African Americans left these camps to become sharecroppers in the south as no one would give them work in the north. Only about 3,000 remained in the area, but without money to buy land, people felt desolate.
By 1890, the population had reached 6,300 residents. There were seven rail lines and the place was growing into a popular river town, but several blows to the town's economy, culture, and structure quickly tanked its reputation.
In 1905, a new railroad bridge was built which crossed the Mississippi River, except this one stopped in a town just north of Cairo. No longer did cargo need to be passed on ferries. The town also began to encounter flooding so bad that many people would only rent properties rather than buy because they knew their time there was not permanent.
The most horrific event that destroyed this abandoned town was the November 1909 lynching of Will James, who was accused of raping and murdering a 22-year-old white woman. A mob of angry townsfolk took him from police custody and murdered him.
People in the town were upset because they wanted a speedy trial, and it was being delayed. The sheriff of the town was hiding James in the woods about 30 miles north of Cairo for his protection. People in town were spreading rumors that James had not only committed the crime but confessed to it. The angry mob that formed hunted James down and removed him from police custody to take him back to Cairo where they hung him in the town square. When the rope broke, mobsters shot his still breathing body and then dragged it through the town before setting it on fire. They beheaded him and stuck his head on a pole placed in the ground.
The mob attempted to find a man they believed was an accomplice to James' crime. Unable to locate him, they found a man who had allegedly murdered his wife a few months prior and lynched him instead. The mob remained in a state of riot throughout the night until the governor called in the National Guard to disperse them.
Cairo's peak population was about 15,200 residents in 1907. The decline began to occur with violence and flooding.
In 1910, a police officer was shot while trying to prevent a lynching, and the National Guard had to be called in once again. In 1917, there were times when nearly 15 percent of the population was locked up in jail, and the town was beginning to gain a new reputation. The 1930s brought the Great Depression, wiping out more of the population, and in 1937, a great flood forced the town to evacuate. Heavy winter storms caused the Ohio River to swell to record levels that year and wipe out towns big and small. That same year, though, the town had the highest murder rate in the state.
Just after World War II, the town became a prime hub for organized crime and bootlegging operations. In the 1960s, it faced similar race tensions as other towns around America and saw waves of violence and discrimination, prejudice, and segregation.
African American Wily Anderson was shot by sniper bullets, and a few weeks later, a white police officer was shot. Yet again, mobs began to form, and the governor had to call in the National Guard to break them up. Marches, protests, the bombing of buildings, and even 150 nights of gunfire took place in the 1970s. By this time, the population was less than half what it had been 50 years prior.
Today, there are about 2,000 residents left, most of whom live in Cairo because they have no place else to go. This near-ghost town offers an inexpensive place to live, but there are not many businesses left for people to utilize. If you’ve ever been to this abandoned town, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experiences and photos with us below in the comments.
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11 abandoned places in Illinois before they wither away. Address: Cairo, IL 62914, USA