The Gem Theatre opened its doors in 1910, and seated 685.
A fire in 1934 completely gutted the theatre, and it was rebuilt two years later in Art Deco style, including a new, elegant marquee. The Gem Theatre continued to operate for nearly another half century, before it was closed in 1978. On January 26, 1979 the Cairo Historic District, including the Gem Theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sadly, many of the buildings included in that district have fallen to the wrecking ball in the last 5-10 years.
As you can see from the pictures above, the last 5 years has not been particularly kind to the Gem Theatre. As buildings surrounding it have fallen to the wrecking ball, a giant tree now grows out of the side, bursting through the brick wall of the Gem.
The Cairo-Mississippi River bridge was constructed in 1929 and carries US 60 and US 62 from Cairo Illinois across the Mississippi River to a point in Missouri just north of the town of Charleston. The bridge is 5,175 feet long.
he bridge originated as a toll bridge in 1929, constructed by the American Bridge Company and the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company. Traveling downstream, the Cairo Mississippi River Bridge is the southernmost crossing of the Mississippi River prior to its confluence with the Ohio River and lies just 2000 feet west of the mouth of the Ohio. Many people have pondered the question if the construction of the two Cairo River bridges played a role in the town’s demise. In the years since the construction of the two bridges, the town of Cairo has experienced an 81% population decline (1930 to 2010), the most dramatic decrease of any principal city in the United States. The bridges initially played a part in the town’s demise as the ferry and railroad industries were severely impacted. In 1978, the Cairo I-57 Bridge was completed less than five miles upstream, bypassing Cairo and contributing to its further decline.
The Cairo-Ohio River Bridge carries US 51, 60 and 62 across the Ohio River from Wickliffe, Kentucky to Cairo, Illinois. Of all the Ohio River crossings, it is the furthest downstream; the Mississippi River can be seen while crossing the bridge and looking westward. Construction was awarded to Modjeski and Masters and the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company. It was finished in 1937 and rehabilitated in 1979. The bridge spans 5,863 feet and is 20 feet wide.
Today the Cairo Ohio River Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Two of my most fascinating and intruiging abandoned discoveries were by complete accident. McDowell County, West Virginia and Cairo, Illinois.
The first time I arrived in Cairo was in 2012 on spring break. I was headed for the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Little did I know the treasure trove of historical matter I was about to stumble upon. The town, just like McDowell County did, has stuck with me since and I often find myself wondering about the history, current state and future of a town I have no ties to whatsoever.
Cairo is the southern-most settlement in the state of Illinois, it lies right at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers right at the corner of the state where Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky all meet. The town has been subject to a turbulent history which has lead to a steep decline in population. The town was founded in 1858. The population peaked during the 1920 census at over 15,000 people. By 1980 that number had fallen to 5,931. The 2015 US census estimate puts the total at 2,467. Thats a decline of just under 85% in less than 100 years.
What happened? What went wrong? For that information I am going to link you up to my buddy Sherman Cahal’s blog entry covering Cairo and its decline. His article can be found by clicking HERE.
The former Famous-Barr Department Store building sat on the vaccant lot to the left of the van in this picture. That building was still standing when I was here in the spring of 2012. Oddly enough, so was that van.
The post office is proof of the scope and size of Cairo in its original form.
As are the wide streets all through the town that are mostly bare. The main street even included a rail car of some kind at sometime. The rail is still visible in the brick street. What few buildings are left standing in the Cairo business district are overgrown with trees and have fallen into a state of decay that is almost beyond repair. The really sad part about this is that much of the business district of Cairo has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/120051008@N03/32458816573/in/dateposted-public/” title=”Cairo, Illinois (March 2017)”> Over the next few weeks I will have several entries on this blog focusing on several landmarks in the city that are still standing, including an abandoned school and the abandoned hospital that has been closed for over 30 years.
Until then, please enjoy these pictures from around Cairo.
Over the past few days I have been rambling about the Bluegrass state and the southern edge of Illinois and a small corner of Missouri. Why you might ask? Well, like I stated in this blog earlier this week I just had to go back to Cairo one more time before the town declinds even further and also, as you might have figured out I have this weird obsession with docummenting and experiencing Sears / Kmart as much as possible, especially since their future doesnt look particularly bright. What does Sears and Kmart have to do with this area of the country? Well in January, Sears Holdings announced they would close 7(SEVEN?!?!?!) more Kmart stores across the Bluegrass State. All of the ones that were closing that I hadnt been to were from Bowling Green West. Couple this with the fact that the stores close for good on or about March 19th (my spring break isnt until mid-late April) and the fact that once I got to Paducah I would only be 30 minutes from Cairo I just had to do what it took to make it happen.
It snowballed into a trip covering 4 states and by the time I realized I would only be less than an hour from one of the very last Sears stores built from the ground up ( built in 2006 ) AND it is also one of the very last Sears Grand stores still signed as such…..I covered a little over 900 miles, 7 new to me Kmart stores (side note: I have now been to every Kmart store currently opene in the bluegrass state! , 2 Sears stores, (1 closing and 1 Sears Grand) Multiple abandoned schools, throw in an abandoned hospital and the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and I have had a very busy, but fulfilling time. I will be covering all of these discoveries and explorations in the blog over the next month or so. I look forward to sharing my disooveries with you!
Back in March of 2012 I took a meandering road trip crossing back and forth across the Ohio River between Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and eventually Missouri. When I started this road trip just north of Louisville, I knew my ultimate endpoint was Cairo, Illinois, the southern most town in Illinois. At this time the only significance I knew of about Cairo was that it was the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. I had no idea the deep history I would uncover when I actually visited the town.
Once I got to the town of Cairo I was floored with the amount of urban decay, and I say that in a very loving way. I hadnt been that impressed since I stumbled upon the coal towns of southern West Virginia.
Cairo was founded in 1858. The peak population of Cairo occured in 1920 at nearly 16,000 people. The 2015 estimate is fewer than 2,500.
According to updates on google earth many of the buildings in my photos are now demolished. In the very near future I am returning to Cairo complete with updated pictures and definitely more documentation than I had from the trip in 2012. Be on the lookout for the update in the next week or so!