Illinois is Home to an Abandoned Town Most People Don’t Know

Illinois boasts numerous attractions and landmarks, including Chicago, the Lincoln Home, and Starved Rock State Park. However, a hidden gem lies in the southern tip of the state – the abandoned town of Cairo, nestled at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. How did this once-thriving town fall into obscurity?

The Rise and Fall of Cairo

Cairo was founded in 1818, the same year Illinois became a state. Its location at the junction of two major rivers made it a strategic point for trade and transportation. During the Civil War, Cairo served as a Union base and a supply center for troops. The town prospered from the steamboat industry, which brought goods and people from all over the country. Cairo also became a cultural hub, with a diverse population, a vibrant downtown, and a rich musical heritage.

However, Cairo’s fortune began to decline in the 20th century, as railroads and highways reduced its importance as a port town. The town also struggled with racial tensions, as segregation and discrimination fueled violence and unrest. In 1967, a race riot erupted after a white police officer shot and killed a black soldier. The riot lasted for several days, leaving many buildings burned and looted. Many businesses and residents left Cairo after the riot, and the town never recovered.

The Ghost Town of Today

Today, Cairo is a shadow of its former self. The population has dwindled from over 15,000 in 1920 to less than 2,000 in 2020. Many buildings are abandoned, boarded up, or demolished. The town’s infrastructure is crumbling, and the local economy is stagnant. The town also faces the constant threat of flooding, as it sits in a low-lying area prone to water damage. In 2011, the town was evacuated when the Mississippi River reached record levels, and many residents never returned.

Despite its bleak situation, Cairo still has some signs of life and hope. Some historic landmarks, such as the Magnolia Manor and the Custom House, have been preserved and restored. Some local businesses, such as the Nu Diner and the Cairo Public Library, still serve the community. Some residents, such as the Cairo Citizens Committee and the Cairo Vision 2020, still work to revitalize and promote the town. Some visitors, such as historians, photographers, and urban explorers, still come to see and appreciate the town’s unique history and character.


Cairo is a town that most people don’t know about, but it is a town that deserves to be known. It is a town that witnessed the rise and fall of American history, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. It is a town that reflects the challenges and opportunities of rural America, from economic development to environmental protection. It is a town that offers a glimpse into the past and a vision for the future. Cairo is a town that is not dead, but alive with stories and possibilities.

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