Jonesboro is a city in Union County, Illinois. Jonesboro is famous for being the location of the third of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, on September 15, 1858. It was named for Doctor Jones, a pioneer settler.
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.
Sometimes when I find one of these obscure, random places to write about in my blog its hard to find enough information to write a sufficient article. Others I uncover enough interesting facts and history that you could write for hours and that is the case with the Old Shawneetown State Bank.
The Shawneetown Bank, a four-story, brick and stone behemoth with five massive columns was built in 1839 and is the oldest bank building in the state.
When its charter was first granted — the first bank in Illinois Territory in 1816 — it housed a federal land office and was the hub of financial activity in Shawneetown, an important commercial center, home to the state’s thriving salt industry. That bank, which started in a log cabin in Shawneetown, collapsed in a financial panic that swept Illinois in the early 1820s, but its charter was retained. When prosperity returned in the mid 1830s, the bank reopened and the Bank of Illinois’ board of directors planned a new building.
On Aug. 3, 1839, trustees laid the cornerstone of the Shawneetown Bank; it opened for business in 1841. The bank’s style-Greek Revival-style, a popular one for banks of the period, was believed to express the American ideals of liberty and freedom.
Soon after the new building opened, however, another financial depression set in, causing the Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown to suspend operations in 1842. The building stood empty for a decade until the State Bank of Illinois opened there in 1854.
By that time, Shawneetown had fallen on hard times. Railroads and canals had cut into the river traffic upon which the town depended before the Civil War and afterward, the population gradually declined.
The bank housed numerous financial institutions from 1854 to the 1930s, but finally closed its doors in 1942 and was deeded to the state. Some restoration was completed in the 1970s, but budgetary problems prevented further work. In 1972 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Landmark Illinois, a state historical preservation organization, listed Shawneetown Bank as one of the 10 most endangered sites of 2009.
This truss bridge carries old Illinois state route 3 over Sexton Creek near the community of Gale in northern Alexander County, Illinois.
The bridge was constructed in 1933 and bypassed by the reconstruction of state route 3 to the west in 1990.
The bridge is 337 feet long and 23 feet wide. It was rehabilitated in 2011
This bridge is elegible to be considered to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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.
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.
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!